Alhambra's Sunday Morning Farmer's Market
With the abundance of new seasonal produce at the farmers market, it's kind of sick that all I could think of while carrying back my full produce bags was a horror flick about canibalism. Now, I was way too young to see "Silence of the Lambs" when it was released, but every kid in my grade knew the quote about Hannibal Lector eating one of his victims: with "fava beans and a nice Chianti."
Despite the unpleasant association, fava beans — aka broad beans, field beans or horse beans (depending on the variety) — are a spring treat, usually only lasting until the beginnings of summer. Believed to be first cultivated alongside other Old World crops such as lentils and chickpeas, favas are culinary staples in many cultures, including Asia, South America, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Each pod carries roughly five to six beans, nestled comfortably in a cotton-like batting. As the beans mature, they grow a waxy skin which will need to be removed prior to eating, giving favas a reputation of being fairly labor intensive.
When choosing fava beans, look for pods that are unblemished, and are a light to bright green. Give the pods a little squeeze to make sure the beans inside are firm. If possible, zip open a pod to check the quality of the bean, as well as making sure the inner cotton-like material is moist. Store unshelled fava beans in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or paper sack for up to 10 days.
Favas can be cooked in their pods (especially young and tender favas). Toss them in a bit of olive oil and salt and grilled or sautéed. The outer pod will develop a nice toasty char, while the inner beans will still be bright and tender. If you want just the beans, it'll take a bit more work. Take a pod in hand and grab the top, unzipping it along its seam. Take out the beans and blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds, followed by a nice shocking ice bath. The waxy coating will easily slip right off, and the beans will remain a vibrant green (Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn has a beautifully photographed guide to help). You can now use these in a range of recipes, either tossed in salads as is or sautéed with butter and garlic. They can also be deep fried, a favorite savory snack in China, Latin America and Peru, or used in Falafels in Egypt and the Middle East. Younger favas can be pureed into a brilliantly green spread, served with toasted bruschetta or croutons. Don't be discouraged to try fresh favas in ful medames, an Egyptian staple breakfast dish which is traditionally prepared with dried favas. And because it's most appropriate, there's nothing wrong with serving it alongside some liver and onions.
A little side trivia: the Hannibal Lecter character is a psychiatrist, so he understood that fava beans (along with liver and Chianti) are rich in tyramine, and when taken with antidepressants can cause a fatal spike in blood pressure. There is also a hereditary disorder called favism, which can cause anemia in those that are allergic (possibly the reason why Pythagoras refused to come into any contact with the bean). Since favism is also common among Jews, it's also the reason why hummus in Israel does not include fava beans, even though it does in Egypt and other Arab countries.
Have you tried fava beans, or has Silence of the Lambs permanently ruined them for you? Let us hear about it in the comments or send them our way at [email protected]!