My friend Benjy recently pulled up to my door with 5 lbs of magnificent fava beans from his overflowing garden. And as luck would have it, along with the beans came an amazing recipe for a Greek fava bean stew.
I cooked it this past weekend and can’t recommend it enough. It is simple, elegant and insanely delicious, yet it is unlike any fava dish I’ve had in the past. This recipe is a true gem.
Since I didn’t have rice like the recipe calls for I added a bit of cooked farro to the stew. I also garnished it with a hint of crème fraiche, because I had it.
Huge thanks to Benjy for sharing this wonderful recipe.
Benjy Weinberger has been eating food for over 30 years, and has held strong opinions for almost as long.
The Fabulous Fava Bean
by Benjy Weinberger
As Tennyson wrote, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love”. In my case, it turns to love of the fava bean. This delicious legume makes an all-too-brief appearance in the late spring and early summer. Blink and you’ll miss the fava season. So don’t blink, get down to your favorite farmers market and load up.
Favas, or broad beans, are a staple in Egypt, where they are known as ‘Ful’, and are popular in Iran, Italy, Greece and elsewhere around the Mediterranean. Many recipes use dried favas, which are available year-round, but there’s nothing quite as good as the fresh variety.
Favas are easy to grow, with a single plant growing multiple stalks up to 6 feet high and yielding several pounds of unshelled beans. Plant them in late fall for a spring crop. Like all legumes, favas are notable for fixing nitrogen in their root nodules, thus replenishing the soil throughout the winter. As a result they make a great cover crop, and can be plowed under to make way for summer plantings–after harvesting the precious pods of course.
Favas are high in protein, fiber and other nutrients, and have a strong, meaty flavor when cooked, so that you don’t need a lot of them in a dish. But note that two pounds of unshelled pods yields just under a pound of shelled beans. Fava bean pods can be 6″-10″ in length when fully mature. After shelling, a pod yields 3-6 beans, each of which is encased in a skin. Some recipes require removal of this skin, and the best way to do this is to soak the beans in boiling water for a few minutes, after which the flesh will pop out easily.
One caution: In rare cases, people with G6PD deficiency, a hereditary disease, may have an adverse reaction to fava beans. In these severe cases the disease is known as “favism”. So make sure your dinner guests know what you are serving, which is a good practice anyway.
Pasta dishes love fava beans–try sauteing the skinned beans in olive oil with some chopped leeks, and add a little cream, black pepper and shaved parmesan on some penne. Or blend some cooked, skinned beans with parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper and spread on crostini as an antipasti. Or of course you could follow the advice of Hannibal Lecter and serve them with liver and a nice chianti….
But my favorite Fava dish has to be the hearty breakfast stew of mashed favas, onion, garlic and lemon juice that is known in Egypt as Ful Medames. It is best eaten with hummus. The following recipe is a variant on
this stew, possibly of Greek origin.
Eti’s Fava Stew
- 2.5 lbs of fava bean pods (yielding just over a pound of shelled beans)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 bunches of green onions, finely chopped
- 2 large or 2 small bunches of fresh dill, chopped
- Juice from 1 lemon.
- Optional: 4 chunks of marrow bone.
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Boiling water
- Shell the pods. Skin 1/4 of the beans by blanching them in boiling water for a few minutes and removing the skin.
- Nick the skin of the remaining beans carefully with a paring knife so the cooking sauces can permeate the bean.
- In a deep saucepan, saute the onion, green onion and skinless beans in some olive oil.
- For extra-deep flavor, add in the marrow bone chunks.
- Add salt and pepper.
- Add remaining fava beans, drizzle with the lemon juice and stir.
- Sprinkle the chopped dill on top.
- Add boiling water until the dill is covered and bring to a boil.
- Cover the saucepan and simmer for 2-3 hours, adding water if needed.
Serve over rice.
How do you cook fava beans?