Fava beans are in season from late April through June in this region. These beans are tasty, versatile and really nutritious, making them popular with everyone from vegans and vegetarians to Hannibal Lecter, who is certainly at the other extreme of that scale! Also known as broad beans, field beans, bell beans, pigeon beans and English beans, these little legumes were cultivated in the Middle East for 8,000 years before they were grown in Europe. They were found in early human settlements and believed to date back to the neolithic era. Fava beans were cultivated in Egypt, Greece and Rome, although they were considered "poor people food" in ancient Egypt and therefore shunned by the upper classes.
How to Prepare Them
Check that your beans are fresh by opening a pod. The lining inside should be soft and moist. Fava beans keep in the refrigerator for up to 10 days, either in a paper bag or a plastic one. In France and the United States, the outer skin of the beans is removed before the beans are blanched, but in many other countries the skin is not removed. The beans are young and tender when they are harvested in the middle of spring, while the main crop sown in early spring is ready for harvest in mid to late summer.
The immature pods can be eaten, as well as the the young leaves of the plant, raw or cooked. Fava beans can be fried, which makes the skin split open. They are then spiced or salted to make a crunchy snack. Mashed fava beans are a common filling for Mexican antojito snacks. These beans are a popular addition to soups in Colombia, and they are also popular in Pakistan and the eastern province of Iran.
Health Benefits of Fava Beans
As well as being very high in protein and a good source of dietary fiber, fava beans are high in phytonutrients and L-dopa, a precursor of the brain's neurochemicals like epinephrine and dopamine. They are rich in folates and also contain Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6, niacin and riboflavin, along with copper, iron, calcium and magnesium. Fava beans are one of the best plant sources of potassium, something many Americans are lacking from their diet.
In a Starring Role at: Dandanah Café & Grill
Known for its exciting Egyptian and Middle Eastern cuisine, Dandanah offers a wide range of exotic treats. If you want to enjoy seasonal fava beans, consider the foul medemas (pronounced "fool") which are slow-cooked fava beans. You can get it prepared with tomatoes, garlic, lemon and tahini sauce or garlic, cumin and lemon, or in combination. Falafel is always popular and at Dandanah, these crunchy balls are made with fried, ground fava beans, herbs and spices. The falafel comes with tahini sauce, lettuce and tomatoes on homemade bread. The falafel platter is similar but includes pickles too. For dessert, choose the flaky, buttery, sweet feteerah with custard and nuts.
Recipe: Fava Bean and Fennel Spring Salad
This light and tasty salad pairs the fava beans and fennel with Parmesan, mint, green onions and lemon juice, for a crisp and zingy appetizer to showcase the fresh taste of the beans. This recipe makes four servings.
- 2 pounds fresh fava beans
- 1 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
- 2 sliced green onions
- Extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 10 fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced
- 2 ounces Parmesan, sliced
Shell the fava beans by squeezing them with your fingers and bending the pods. You should end up with about 1 1/2 cups of beans. Put the shelled beans in a pot with 2 quarts of boiling salted water. Simmer for 3 minutes or until just tender. Remove them with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. This also encourages them to turn bright green. Let them sit in the water for 2 minutes then drain and remove the outer peel. Mix the beans with the fennel and green onions. Add extra-virgin olive oil and salt and black pepper and stir well. Add the lemon juice, mint and Parmesan and toss to mix. Serve garnished with some fronds from the fennel bulb if liked.
Stay tuned every week to learn more about what's fresh and exciting at the market and discover where you can enjoy the flavorful bounty of the season.