International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

Fava Beans: Buying, Storing and Using

Fresh fava beans

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Fava beans, broad beans, habas, fave, matter what you call these large, pale green beans, finding them in your local market is a sure sign that spring is here to stay.

Native to the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, fava beans (Vicia faba) were among the first crops cultivated by Neolithic farmers in the Old World, some 8,000 years ago. For centuries, fava beans formed an essential source of protein in Old World diets that were often poor in meat. In modern times, favas are enjoyed around the world. The one place they haven't yet really caught on is North America.

Fava Bean Varieties

There are two main varieties of fava bean. A larger type, often called the broad bean, is the fava most valued for food. It has long, green pods filled with big grey-green beans up to an inch long. Each bean is covered in turn by a thick skin that must be removed before eating. The broad bean has a delicate, nutty flavor with just a tinge of bitterness.

A smaller variety of fava, called the horse bean or field bean, is used mostly for animal feed. However, the horse bean's stronger flavor is valued by Egyptians for making falafel.

Fava Bean Seasonality

According to an old Italian tradition, fava beans should be sown on All Souls Day, November 2nd. This overwinter growing gives favas a spring harvest time. Fava beans usually start showing up in farmer's markets and specialty supermarkets in early April. The season often lasts into mid-July.

Buying, Storing and Preparing Fava Beans

Fresh favas are normally sold in their pods. Choose firm pods without blemishes or yellow spots. Avoid pods that are starting to dry out or that have beans bulging in the pod. These usually indicate beans that are over the hill.

About half the weight of favas is in the pods. So if a recipe calls for one pound of cleaned beans, buy two pounds of fresh favas in the pod.

Favas in the pod will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week after you purchase them.

Cleaning fava beans is time-consuming but well worth the effort. First take the beans out of their pods as you would with fresh peas. Then remove the waxy skin that covers each individual bean. To make easier work of removing the skin, first blanch the beans in boiling water for about 1 minute. Then rinse them in cool water and drain. The beans should now slip right out of their skins.

Fava beans are also available dried. To use dried fava beans, simply soak and cook them as you would other dried beans (see How to Soak and Cook Dried Beans).

Fava Bean Uses around the World

Favas find their way into many of the world's cuisines. In Egypt, where they are called ful, fava beans are the base of an essential breakfast dish called ful medames. Egyptians also prefer fava beans over chickpeas for tamiyah, the Egyptian version of falafel. Moroccans puree and season favas for a dip called bessara.

Along the northern Mediterranean, Greeks saute fava beans in olive oil with a touch of garlic, or gently braise them with artichoke hearts and a squeeze of lemon. Italians like them in salads and stews or simmered with tomatoes and sprinkled with grated pecorino Romano. Spaniards pair the big beans with spicy chorizo sausage or salty serrano ham.

In China, fava beans are mashed and fermented to make a spicy fermented bean paste called "doubanjiang," especially popular in Sichuan cooking. In Latin America, cooked fava are dried, salted and spiced to make a popular crunchy snack.

For a simple way to prepare fava beans, heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add some minced garlic and saute until it just starts to color. Add the favas and a saute for onother 2 or 3 minutes. Add a little water or wine, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until the beans are tender and cooked through. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

For a quick dip, take the favas you prepared above and puree them in a food processor or blender with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.

Fava Bean Recipes