Raise your hand if you knew what fava beans were before the movie “Silence of The Lambs.” The famous line from the movie:
Dr. Hannibal Lecter says: A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Well, skip the liver, human or otherwise, and enjoy these scrumptious beans by themselves as a snack, side dish, salad or soup addition, or pressed into hummus….their versatility is almost endless.
Fava beans are known by several other names such as broad beans, pigeon beans, field beans, horse beans, and Windsor beans. It is believed that these beans originated in the Middle East and then spread to Western Europe (hence why my Italian ancestors grew and ate them) and are an ancient bean, dating back thousands of years BC. Check out Wikipedia for more info.
One of my favorite ways to eat fava beans is sautéed in a small amount of olive oil with a bit of garlic and then mixed with swiss chard. My uncle Frank grew all the ingredients in his garden in Los Angeles (garlic, fava, and swiss chard), and when he cooked up the favas, it was sooooo good.
Although Uncle Frank has been gone for many years, I have to give him a shout out not only for being a great gardener and a wonderful cook, but for convincing my grandfather to come to America (from Italy), and introducing him to my grandmother. Uncle Frank was married to my grandmother’s sister (well there were 14 siblings in that family at one time, so there was a large selection to choose from). Lucky for us, his wife and my grandmother were very close, so we saw him quite often back in the day. I learned a lot about gardening and fava beans from him.
Young plants a few weeks in the garden.
Flowers turning to bean pods.
This is the first year I was brave enough to grow favas in my garden. Wow, are they an easy garden vegetable to grow. I planted six starts in late April, and we are harvesting in June. Did you know the beans grow up? I’ve never seen another bean pod grow towards the sky, all the other bean pods that I’ve seen hang down on the stalk.
Our first harvest. Let the shelling begin!
What most people don’t realize is that you can eat the favas in the outer shell when they are a tender young bean. They look almost like a string bean in the early stages of growing and can be cooked and eaten just like a bush bean.
Or you can eat them shelled, cooked in boiling water, and then sautéed at what I call “stage one.” Many people think this is the actual bean and don’t realize that the real bean is found at “stage two.”
The shelling process can be a bit laborious. No one has an Aunt Bee who sits out on the back porch and shells beans on a lazy summer day, right?
Fava leaves (shown above) can be used in salads too. To me they resemble kale and can be a bit tough, and bitter, but some people love them. A simple fava leaf salad: sliced oranges, crumbled feta, chopped walnuts, and a drizzle of vinaigrette or olive oil and balsamic.
Removing the fava bean from the outer shell is easy once the beans have been par boiled – it softens that outer skin. In my opinion, the best way to eat them is at this stage.
If you want to try these beans for yourself, Farmer’s markets carry favas in the spring to early summer in most parts of the US. I’ve not seen them in grocery stores, but Amazon has quite a selection of resources you can purchase online.
Myth of the fava bean
Since I’m half Sicilian, I have to share the myth of the fava bean which originated from Sicily (I think). The Sicilians have a long-standing tradition of the St. Joseph Table or St. Joseph Altar around mid-March every year. As part of this celebration, fava beans were cooked and served to the masses, and became known as a lucky bean. Legend has it that you will never be broke as long as you carry one. (I keep a dried one in my purse. And when I change purses, the fava bean comes along!) Some people believe that if you keep one in the pantry, there will always be food in the kitchen. (I have a whole jar of them now, you can get dried favas from Bob’s Red Mill.)
Thanks for letting me share my passion for fava beans. And to Hannibal Lecter I say, “Eat your favas anyway you like, and a good chianti enhances any meal.”