Have lentils been letting you down? Chickpea hummus leaving you feeling humdrum? It may be time for a new legume.
Fava beans haven’t enjoyed much favor in this country, where other beans have always been bountiful, but as one of our oldest cultivated plants, they’ve fed Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, at least, for the past 5,000 years. Buttery in texture, nutty in taste, fresh favas – now at peak season – can be pureed with garlic and olive oil till creamy, then spread on toast or scooped up with crudites. Egyptians choose dried favas over chickpeas in their falafel, and you’ll find fava-flavored foul mudammas in many a Mideast breakfast spread.
Fava bean preparation is notoriously labor-intensive: the youngest ones can be eaten pods and all, but late-season beans require both shelling and peeling (blanching the beans makes it easier to slip them out of their skins). You could shell out some extra bucks for pre-peeled favas, if you can find them, but some people find the process meditative, and sharing the labor with friends and family makes shelling social. Or, if you want your guests to work for their dinner, try grilling or sauteeing the beans in their pods and letting diners pop them out themselves.
And let’s not leave out the leaves. Favas are a popular cover crop, but because the beans will hog all the plants’ nitrogen, you can’t have your fertile soil and eat your favas too. But you can harvest the tender leaves, to toss in a frittata or simply steam.
Have you always shied away from fava beans, fearing they won’t be worth the work? Now that they’re at peak season (in warmer climates), find out for yourself: pick up a few pounds at the farmer’s market and get ready to come out of your shell!