Fava Knows Best

How can it be that fava beans, whose culture is so ancient that it has no known wild form, whose use is so widespread that it is considered common fare from China to England, Iran to Spain, Africa to South America, have not become part of American cuisine?

In China fava beans have been included in the diet for close to 5,000 years. Italians consider favas their special province, as they have since ancient times (faba, which means bean, is named after the Fabii, a noble Roman family). In the south of France fava season is a time of celebration. Old English cookbooks refer to the broad bean (its usual name in most English-speaking countries) as "the common bean." On the Iberian peninsula broad beans appear dried, fresh, and fried and salted-as they do in China, where they are also sprouted. In a large part of the Middle East fava beans are the daily fare.

Although the venerable bean was introduced into this country in 1602 and hordes of people from the areas mentioned above have since made their homes here, the fava has gained little popularity outside of regional cuisines. Fava beans can be eaten at various stages of maturity, although the older, larger beans may need to have their chewy skin removed. The skinning yields beans of springtime-green (and occasionally reddish, brown, purplish hues) that resemble baby limas and are surprisingly melty in texture, not starchy. The fava has a slightly bitter, yet nutty flavor. They often have an acerbic aftertaste, like fresh grasses or certain dry white wines.

Use: Fresh fava beans are a luxury to be savored alone or with a few choice ingredients. Do not hide them or overcook them. Preparation:
Fresh Beans- Shell 'em and cook 'em, its that simple.

Mature Beans- Cut the tips from the pods, then press open the seams. Pull out the fat beans from the cushioned plush sleeping bag, removing the little stems if necessary. Drop the beans into salted, boiling water for 30 seconds (more than a minute and they mush when you try to skin them). Drain and drop in cold water. When they are cooled, slit each skin with your nail and pop out the bean, working carefully so they don't break. Cook as you would any fresh bean.

Dried Beans- Soak the beans for 4 hours and cook for about 1 to 1.5 hours. After cooking, strain & separate the skins from the beans. Great addition to chili, soups or casseroles.

Nutritional highlights:
Fava beans are low in calories-about 80 per cup, cooked. They are high in protein, iron, and fiber, are good sources of vitamins C and A and potassium, and contain modest amounts of the B vitamins.

Fava beans have high concentrations of L-dopa (dopamine), an amino acid that is a neurotransmitter in the brain. Dopamine facilitates all functions of brain activity, whether it is memory, energy, sense of well-being, or sex drive. As we age, we begin to have declining levels of dopamine in the brain cells, and many of these functions decline as well. Who knows, maybe fava beans are a venerable "fountain of youth."

Fava Bean Provencale
  1. Shell and steam 1 lb. fresh fava beans just until crisp & tender. Rinse in cold water to stop cooking.
  2. Meanwhile, sauté 3 large minced shallots in oil for a minute or two, add 1 clove minced garlic and continue to stir until shallots turn translucent - do not brown. Add a few drops of water if necessary to prevent scorching. Add 3 medium chopped tomatoes and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally until mixture is reduced by one-third. Add fava beans to the tomato mixture, add a faint dusting of cayenne pepper and nutmeg and stir to combine. Serve hot. Goes well with pasta or rice, especially brown basmati.
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This page built by Ray Neff andDavid ResSeguie Last update: May 23, 1996