Anatomy of a Fava Bean

Fava beans, initial shelling

For those Salemites who have an interest in unusual or organic foodstuffs and mourn the lack of a nearby Whole Foods, Wild Oats, or Trader Joe’s, LifeSource is a great resource. Of course, we may have been about the last people in town to figure that out, but now that we have a car, we’re trying hard to make up for the neglect. This last week we were fortunate enough to find a pile of fresh fava beans in the produce section, which for me was a big deal, because I’ve never found them for sale before, despite hopeful scouring of the farmer’s markets in May. I decided to use them to make up a bit of fava bean ‘hummus’ from Sunday Suppers at Lucques.

I’d heard an awful lot about what a pain fava beans are to shell, so I decided to document the process, just for fun. The pods are big and velvety, containing just 5 or 6 beans if you’re lucky. Many of them were lined with cottony fluff, as if to cushion the precious contents. I had a heck of a time getting the beans out of the pods, though; most of them refused to split open along their seams and just tore willy-nilly instead.

Fava beans, initial shelling

When I was done shelling, I had a sad little pile of bean left, just enough to cover the bottom of my bowl. I got some water boiling and blanched the beans for 2 minutes, then chilled them off until they were cool enough to touch.

Fava beans, second shelling

At this point, the outer skins needed to be removed from the beans, the extra step that is the source of so much complaint. It actually didn’t bother me at all, though, and I got a pretty good rhythm going. All they needed was a bit of a tear in one spot with my fingernail, and a gentle squeeze would pop them right out of their skins, very much like slipping the skins off of Concord grapes.

Denuded favas

Of course, removing the skins reduced the volume of bean remaining pretty considerably, and I barely had a handful of beans left for my recipe. Since the two of us only needed a little bit of spread to go with our dinners, that still worked in my favor.

Fava bean ‘hummus’

The spread itself was very easy to make: a quick simmer in some rosemary-garlic infused olive oil and then pureed and sprinkled with more oil and feta cheese. We had it with garlic-rubbed sourdough crostini.

Mediterranean Sunday dinner

Oh yeah, and there was also some delicious lamb souvlaki and garlicky tzatziki from The Food and Wine of Greece. Details… 🙂

I’ve never eaten fava beans before, and I liked them enough that we will certainly seek them out again, even if we’ll now have to wait a year for another opportunity. They had a very pleasant earthiness that was nicely complemented by the other flavors in the spread: olive oil, rosemary, garlic, and salty feta. I know favas are much more classically Italian than Greek, but I figured the olive oil and feta would bridge the gap nicely, and everything did taste good together.

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