Hannibal Lecter gave f-f-f-fava beans a bad name, I think, when he proposed them as the perfect accompaniment to a human liver, along with “nice Chianti.” Fava beans are wonderful accompaniments to whatever we garden-variety neurotics eat, too, even if the bright green beans do take some extra trouble. I like them best as the stars of a simple salad: soft, soft lettuce (like Bibb) the favas and some curls of good Parmesan, dressed with lemon and excellent olive oil. Or, for a spectacularly colorful plate, maybe sliced roasted beets and walnut oil with a few walnuts thrown in too.
The first favas I ever tried to cook were dried ones from a Middle Eastern grocer. I just boiled the big brown beans like I would have any bean. Wrong. Who knew they had a second skin that had to come off before they were edible. A mess!
Buying a passel of them recently in an outdoor market in Patterson N.J., an old gentleman who may have Egyptian, told me he cooks fresh favas right in the outer pod. I did find one such recipe in my cookbooks, but usually, I (and most recipes I’ve seen) cook fresh favas this way:
First, I split the fat, fibrous outer pod and shell out the beans. Then, I cook the beans lightly in a half inch of water, cool them and then slip the grass-green center out of a second thin shell, taking care not to squish the damn things. They are worth the trouble, really. They are tender, flavorful, almost nutty and not at all pasty, as some beans can be. If you can’t find fresh ones, frozen are a better option than dried. Dried favas still have to be cooked and disrobed from the inner skin.
I saw fava beans growing a couple of years ago on the island of Crete, Greece. I was surprised to see that while they are indeed legumes, they grow on a kind of sturdy bush with thick stalks and leaves that resemble pea leaves a little. I can often find them at an ethnic market or even, briefly, at a good supermarket, but I was thrilled this year to see fresh, local favas at my very own CSA farm a few weeks ago. The dry, hot weather of the Mediterranean is ideal for favas, not the Hudson Valley. Still, there they were. In fact, my CSA farmer Isaac said he loses about 1/3 of the blossoms on his bushes to the damp and humidity here. I’m glad he persists.
Cooks in the Mediterranean must really like the meditative, old-fashioned task of shelling beans because they eat tons of favas there. This recipe (from our book Over the Rainbeau: Living the Dream of Sustainable Farming) requires prepping a pile of them, but it makes a healthy and gorgeous dip. I bet you could use edamame or sweet peas in it earlier in the season, too. I don’t have that patience, so I use favas as an element in the salads I described above or as an addition to a summery grain dish. They add color to barley, rice or quinoa. Maybe Dr. Lecter should have tried that instead.
Recipe: Fava Bean Dip
2 to 3 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled, yielding about 2 cups
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 T. lemon juice
1/4 cup water
5 ounces fresh goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Blanch, drain, cool and skin the beans. Sauté the chopped garlic gently in a little olive oil. Pulse beans and garlic until smooth in a food processor. Add 1 to 2 T. more of olive oil and the goat cheese. Pulse again until combined. Season to taste.
As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City ‘burbs.