Cookbook author Mindy Toomay's blog about eating for health, cooking with spirit, and celebrating life in northern California. Here she dishes up food rants and raves, recipes, and plenty of kitchen wisdom.

By your own efforts, waken yourself, watch yourself, and live joyfully.
-- The Dhammapada

Why not make a daily pleasure out of a daily necessity?
-- Peter Mayle


A personal fava-rite

One of the special treats of spring is fava (fah-vah) beans, yet I don't know too many people who eat them. In fact, when I stopped to fill a bag with the large, furry pods at Monterey Market, a friend of mine who is pretty food savvy blurted out in horror, "What's that?"

Well, it's part of the pea family and a very ancient vegetable. Evidence of favas has actually been found in Egyptian tombs. The plants make a great cover crop, infusing nutrients into the soil, but many farmers don't even bother harvesting them for the table.

My friends, Cathy and Rick, grow them as a cover crop but DO eat them and that's how I came to know and love them. I have fond memories of shelling huge piles of favas so we could enjoy them with soy sauce and shiso leaves as part of a Japanese feast at their lovely home in Sonoma County.

Cooks in the Mediterranean region use both fresh and dried favas, and have done so for a very long time. So long that some people of Med. descent have a genetic allergy to the vegetable and can be poisoned by the beans.

So let's recap. The fava is a funny-looking veggie that most people don't bother eating, and it can be poisonous. Oh, and did I mention it's kind of labor-intensive (more on method later)?

But here are the fava's good points: it has a buttery texture and subtle earthy flavor that is absolutely unique and delicious. It is plenty nutritious, too. (A compound in favas is the same one used in certain medications developed for Parkinson's patients. So they must be especially good for the nervous system.)

In the interests of expanding your culinary horizons, I suggest you bring home a big bag of favas the next time you're at a well-stocked produce market. Then here's what to do:

1) Remove the beans from the pithy pods, discarding the latter.
2) Drop the beans in boiling water and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, depending on their size; rinse with cold water, drain, and cool.
3) When cool enough to handle, peel the beans. Yes, one at a time (this is the labor-intensive part). You'll find each pale green bean is wrapped in a touch, milky skin. Just pinch a loose area and tear to open the skin and pop out the bean.
4) Dress the beans with hot or cold sauce, or use them in pasta or risotto. They are already fully cooked and are delicate in texture, so don't add them to a dish until the last few moments of cooking time.

The favas pictured above are dressed in a lemon and fresh parsley pesto, laced with ground fennel seed. Fresh basil would also work beautifully in this kind of preparation. I added bits of roasted red bell pepper for their smoky flavor and a nice color contrast.

Hope you'll make friends soon with this somewhat odd but completely endearing veggie.

Blessings and bon appetit!


At 5:57 PM, Blogger Melissa West said...

Fava Beans!!!! This has become the biggest joke between my husband and myself at our local Palestinian restaurant. They serve fava beans on Saturday (only!!!) - but you have to get there early before they are sold out! So we go in there on a Saturday and say "fava beans, please!" and they say "Fava all gone, come back next Saturday please!" I can't wait to try them! Sounds like they are really labour intensive, so I better keep checking the local Palestinian place... which seems to be more miss than hit on Saturdays even! LOL!

At 9:48 PM, Blogger Jennifer C. said...

Hi Mindy,

I was told by a vendor at our local farmer's market that it is not necessary to peel fava beans, that the skins are edible (and tasty). He said he had been eating them this way his whole life. I haven't tried fresh fava beans because of the whole shell, cook, then peel the skins ritual (seems like it would suck up too much time), but if the skins don't have to be removed I might rethink my position.

Oh and I loved your last post about the kitchen experiment gone awry. That happens to me somtimes too. My husband always jokes that when I improvise in the kitchen he'll "never see it again". Sometimes that's a good thing. LOL! But if you don't experiment in the kitchen, you might miss out on making something great.

At 7:43 AM, Blogger funwithyourfood said...

I've never eaten fresh fava beans (maybe canned). I'm pretty sure I've seen them and wondered what they were.
Thanks for the cool info on them and thanks for stopping by funwithyourfood!


At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Broke Vegan said...

Wow!! I've seen fava beans but never thought anything about trying them. Maybe I will the next time!!

Very nice blog!

At 6:11 PM, Blogger Mindy T. said...

It's true, jennifer, that the skins are edible. But I don't like to eat them, because they are chewy and one of my favorite things about favas is their buttery smooth texture.

And that's a weird story, dslayer. The restaurant must save their favas for their "special" customers. Rude!

Thanks for your comments, everybody...

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Jody from VegChic said...

Favas look tasty. I don't believe I've tried them before, but if I see them at the farmer's market here, I'll pick some up.

Your kitchen mishap story made me chuckle. On occasion, I do the same. The last mishap for me was an attempt to make corned seitan. I followed a recipe I got online, but the taste was hideous. There were a few attemps to use it, but finally a gave up and tossed it. ---A waste of seitan if I do say so myself.

At 10:26 PM, Blogger Dori said...

I have never seen a fresh bean in the pod such as this for sale around us. I am growing my own lima beans this year so I will have the opportunity to try fresh from the pod this way.

At 3:03 AM, Anonymous Julie said...

I just bought favas for the first time on Saturday and I wish I'd read this before I had. I didn't know about boiling them before peeling; I peeled them raw -- not an easy task.

I could have bought all sorts of food extravagances for less than I paid for the fava beans. They were $4 for a pint box and once I'd peeled them I had about two or three tablespoons.

I plan to grow them this fall and I think I'll wait for my future fava bean experiments until then.


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