If there were a design award for legumes, the fava bean would win hands down.
Crack open a shiny green pod and you’ll understand why. Each bean is nestled in a velvety white bed attached to a jaunty nightcap that snaps off when you release the bean from its cosy nook.
Favas also win the award for the most time-consuming preparation since they’re peeled twice. Europeans may nibble raw baby favas as an appetizer, but the fresh beans we get from California or closer to home have a tough skin that benefits from a quick blanch in boiling water before use.
Nick the skin and pop out the brilliant green inner bean for an instant hit of spring.
Fresh favas lend a nutty, slightly bitter goodness to spring salads and pasta, and they love splashing around in olive oil with other fleeting edibles, from asparagus and morels to baby artichokes.
These buttery beauties are only around for a few weeks, so if you spy an overflowing bushel at a fruit and vegetable store, be sure to grab some.
Fresh favas lend a nutty, slightly bitter goodness to spring salads and pasta, and they love splashing around in olive oil with other fleeting edibles, from asparagus (now in season) and morels to baby artichokes.
International starThe Chinese have been eating favas for 5,000 years, fresh or fried and salted like peanuts. Romans serve fresh faba, meaning bean, in a classic spring dish with artichokes. The Brits call them broad beans and the French gourganes.
My first lunch in Apulia, in the heel of Italy’s boot, was a puddle of warm beige purée of dried split favas served with a tangle of boiled bitter greens — the famous fave e cicoria. Egyptians use super-nutritious dried favas in their national dish ful medames.
Look for plump shiny green pods. Since 90 per cent of each one will go to compost, buy lots.
Run your thumb down the leathery pod to ensure it’s full of beans and not blanks.
A hint of rusty colouring is fine, but the “rustier” the pod gets the older the bean will be.
Cut off the top and bottom of each pod and pull down any strings.
Press the seam from top to bottom and open pod to remove beans.
Cook beans in lots of boiling water for 1 minute. Drain in colander and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.
Pinch off a bit of skin at the bottom of each bean and gently squeeze out the inner bean. Round up kids or friends to help, or shell favas while chatting on the phone or watching TV.
Refrigerate whole pods in a bag for several days.
Blanch and peel favas one day ahead and refrigerate in a zipper bag.
To store longer, freeze blanched favas in a small plastic container.
High in protein and fibre and low in fat and calories, fresh favas make a perfect snack.
For a delicious dip, purée 1 cup (250 mL) blanched, shelled fava beans with 3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of salt and pepper. Thin with water.
Sprinkle blanched, skinned favas as an accent with any lamb dish.
Add to a spring salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and top with shaved pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Stir into pasta or risotto.
Gently simmer fresh beans in a little butter, cream or olive oil. Season with fresh herbs such as mint, savory, thyme or sage.
Go wild with a ragout of wild leeks, morels and blanched, peeled pearl onions.
Soak and use dried favas in falafels in place of or in addition to dried chickpeas.
Shrimp and Fava Salad
Add some spring to your long weekend with this spectacular green-on-green salad adapted from Epicurious.com. I found fresh favas on the Danforth, a container of mâche salad mix at Loblaws, Compliments frozen Pacific white shrimp at Sobeys and superb oil at the Olive Oil Emporium, 1707 Bayview Ave.
1 tsp (5 mL) honey
1/2 tsp (2 mL) Dijon mustard
2 tbsp (30 mL) fresh lime juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1/3 cup (75 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1.5 lb. (675 g) fresh fava beans, shelled (about 11/2 cups/375 mL)
1/2 lb. (250 g) asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 2-inch (5 cm.) pieces
20 medium shrimp, thawed if frozen
6 cups (1.5 L) pre-washed mâche (lamb’s lettuce) or blend of greens
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely chopped fresh chives
For the dressing, in small bowl whisk together honey, mustard, lime juice and tarragon. Whisk in oil slowly until thick and season with salt and pepper. May be prepared one day ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature to serve.
For the salad, fill large bowl with ice and cold water. Bring large saucepan of salted water to a boil on high heat. Add favas and cook 2 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer to ice water to stop cooking. Drain favas and pinch to remove outer skin. Transfer bright green beans to large serving bowl; discard skins.
Add more ice to bowl. Bring cooking water back to boil and cook asparagus 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Transfer to ice water with slotted spoon. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
Return water to a boil and cook shrimp until just pink and curled, about 2 minutes. Drain and cool on paper towels. Shell and devein if necessary.
In bowl with favas, toss asparagus, shrimp and greens with just enough dressing to coat everything. Garnish with chives and serve immediately with remaining dressing on the side.
Makes 4 servings.