A Springtime Fava-rite, now in season
If you’ve ever had authentic, Middle Eastern falafel, there’s a reasonably good chance that fava beans have crossed your lips even without your knowing it. But if you haven’t tasted the fava bean divorced from the context of a heavily-seasoned, deep fried ball stuffed into a pita bread with all sorts of other stuff, then my friend, you haven’t really tasted a fava bean.
Your luck is about to change, though, because I spotted the first fresh fava beans of the season–in their pods and all– this weekend. Which means you still have a chance to run out and grab your share of them while I’m busy shelling and skinning mine.
Our friends across the pond refer to Fava beans as “broad beans,” but sadly, they’re not in very wide circulation in our country under either name. But in the Middle East, Italy parts of Africa and some parts of Asia, favas are a very common staple.
- In Egypt, savory, seasoned favas are used in the country’s national dish called “ful medames” (which I’ve seen spelled, quite unfortunately, as “foul medames” on some restaurant menus) and typically eaten for breakfast accompanied perhaps by a hard boiled egg.
- In Ethiopia, dried favas are used to make a dish called Elibet (aka “Ethiopian hummus”), which can be accompanied by this nice gluten-free version of the spongy, crepe-like bread called injera
- In Italy, Favas are traditionally eaten on March 19 for the Feast of St. Joseph; in Rome specifically, fresh, uncooked favas are eaten along with pecorino cheese cheese on May 1.
Because their season is so short, you’re most likely to encounter favas as dried (or frozen) beans. Which is all the more reason to snap them up now and use them in recipes that take advantage of their delightfully buttery texture and slightly nutty flavor . Fresh favas are featured in all of their splendor in the springiest possible recipes one could imagine:
- Martha Stewart’s Asparagus, Artichoke and Fava Bean salad, prepared with lemon, mint and a crumbly, salty cheese of your choice. (Gee, I wonder if THAT tastes good?)
- Martha Rose Shulman’s uber-vernal recipes for Risotto with Asparagus, fresh Fava beans and Saffron (or if you can’t find fresh favas but still want to capture the springy feeling, try her Fava Bean Soup with Mint)
Favas: Fun for *almost* Everyone
There is a genetic condition called “Favism” that most commonly strikes people of Mediterranean descent, in which the body is missing an enzyme it needs to produce a particular antioxidant that
protects red blood cells. As a result, these peoples’ red blood cells are fragile and can burst when exposed to various stresses, causing anemia. Certain compounds in fava beans also trigger blood cells to burst in people with Favism. Interestingly, it appears that these weak red blood cells wound up protecting people with Favism from malaria (it’s believed that blood cells infected with malaria burst and get filtered out of the body before they can do much damage). So if you’ve got Favism, no malaria for you (yay!), but no fava beans for you, either (bummer).
Additionally, people who take a class of medications called MAO Inhibitors should avoid eating fava beans. That’s because they’re high in an amino acid (protein building block) called tyramine, which interacts with these drugs to cause dangerously high blood pressure.
If you’ve successfully overcome these two hurdles and are ready to enjoy favas, you’ll be rewarded with a very tasty and nutrient dense bean. A very modest 1/4 cup portion of raw, shelled favas contains 130 calories, 22g of carbohydrate (of which an unbelievable 9g is fiber… which means 13g of net carbohydrates) and 10g of protein. They also contain 2.5mg of iron (14% of the daily value), 40% of the daily value for folate. This nutrient density comes in handy when dealing with fresh favas, since they’re a bit of work to prep (see below). You don’t need to eat very many of them to get a meal’s worth of protein and healthy, complex carbohydrates.
Coaxing Fresh Favas out of their Shells
To cook with fresh favas, you’ll need to remove the beans from their shells, and then skin them; (The inside of the pod will be lined with white furriness). The best way to do this is to blanch the shelled beans in boiling water for a minute, remove them from the water and dunk them into an ice-bath (the old “blanch and shock”). Then, slit the bean’s waxy/filmy skin and slide it off with a little pinch. (For a play-by-play, see this quick reference guide from Saveur magazine.) If you can’t find them fresh, you can buy dry ones online from Purcell Mountain Farms.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.