It's Meatless Monday! Which can also mean, try something new! This week, I'm encouraging you to try fava beans. When I say the words "fava beans" to a group of people, I'm guaranteed to get mixed reactions. Several people won't know what a fava bean is, or have tried one. Most people in the group will be quoting lines from Silence of the Lambs and anyone who has ever cooked them will swoon at their flavor but balk at their preparation.
In short, fava beans, also known as broad beans, are light green beans with a buttery texture and mild flavor. You can find fava beans at farmer's markets and in larger grocery stores in late spring and summer. They're very popular in the American South, the Mediterranean, Middle East and parts of Asia.
Favas grow on low leafy bushes that heave with weighty beans towards the end of summer. You know when fava beans are ripe when the beans are firm to the touch within the pod. Avoid any squishy bean- it's not ready! I love eating fava beans in salads, smashed on a crostini like you would an avocado, or simply tossed with good olive oil and quality salt.
To cook fava beans, first remove the small beans within the large pod. You can pull the string from top to bottom of the bean or you can use your thumbs to pry open the thick outer shell. You will be surprised to find that the inside of the pod is fur-lined, like a sleeping bag, holding the buttery seeds in their pajamas. The beans inside are not ready to eat on their own. The outer layer, (the pajamas) must be removed first, via blanching.
Once you have removed all the small beans from all the pods, ( I go with 6 fava bean pods per person), add them to salted, boiling water for about a minute. You will know when they are done, when they float near the top. Remove them and shock them in ice water. Next, peel off the thin, rubbery outer layer of each bean. The small, bright green bean within is the edible bean!
Similar to eating crawfish or crab, it's a lot of work for very little meat, but the reward is worth it. I still remember how sore my fingers were after I had to tackle 20 pounds of fava beans for a catering gig, three hours later, I had only reached half way through the box, all for a garnish!
That is what I recommend when trying out favas for the first time- start off experimenting with fava beans as a garnish. Unless you grow them yourself, or happen upon a farmer's market that is exploding with the season's crop, they can be a bit pricey. yet another reason to buy within the season. Good food takes time. Grab some friends, a recipe for favas and Parmesan and pair them with a nice pinot grigio, (not a Chianti) - this is the part where I queue the Hannibal Lecter "Fth fth fth fth fth."
Below are three Meatless Monday recipes inspired by this Monday's featured food- the fava bean.