Vivid and new-growth-green fava beans belong in the springtime the way the deep red jewels of pomegranates belong in the fall. The pods, fat with flattened beans, span about five to seven inches and take a few hours worth of prep to yield, well, not very much. Their flavor, status as one of the seasonal heralds, and standout size (they look like overachieving green beans) make them tops on most spring lists. We watched as a market patron weighed her options, voicing her doubts about whether or not it was really worth it. She eventually grabbed three giant handfuls and stuffed them into a bag. "It's spring," she said, smiling as she recounted how she'd be spending her Sunday afternoon with her beans.
Favas, or broad beans, are a Mediterranean import and are a staple in many cuisines from that region (one of Egypt's national dishes is mashed favas with garlic, lemon, and cumin on bread). They've been around since ancient times but they've only enjoyed a slowly growing popularity here in the past decade. They grow very well out here and are pretty tolerant of our sometimes finicky spring weather patterns. Packed with nutrients and a soft, nutty beanness, fava beans have gained a foothold among seasonal eaters, albeit a brief one. Their season is short, sometimes as little as two to three weeks, so if you're going to give them a go, get going.
The prep work was one of the fava's obstacles in achieving a quicker and higher regard -- you have to shell the beans from the thick pods, then parboil the beans in their secondary skin, peel off the skin, and then cook them for your dish. From start to finish, prepping a pound of pods can take over an hour, so plan accordingly and get a couple of extra hands involved. The promise of a fava bean meal may be enough to entice friends into work.
If heavy prep work is not your ideal gateway to springtime gustatory bliss, there is an alternative. McGrath Family Farms also offers fava bean tips, the tender, grassy young stems at the top of the plant. Chef Diep Tran from Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park stir frys them. And Marta Teegan at Cookbook in Echo Park is serving a farro and fava bean tip salad this week. We have both of their recipes.
Editor's note: Fava beans are toxic to individuals with favism, caused by an inherited blood enzyme deficiency. Be cautious when trying fava beans for the first time.
Stir Fried Fava Bean Tips
From: Good Girl Dinette chef Diep Tran
1 bunch of fava bean tendrils
1 clove crushed garlic
a splash of canola oil
2 dashes of fish sauce (Tran uses Three Crabs Brand)
a few drops of sesame oil
1. Heat up a dry skillet or wok for a minute, then working quickly: Add a splash of oil; then the crushed garlic, it should sizzle as it touches the oil. In about 30 seconds, the garlic will release its aroma into the oil.
2. Add tendrils and cook until the tendrils collapse (about 2 minutes), shaking the skillet constantly to prevent the garlic from scorching.
3. Take the pan off the heat and add two dashes of fish sauce, toss in residual heat. Transfer tendrils onto a plate and finish with a few drops of sesame oil
Farro with Fava Tips, Sheep's Milk Feta, and Herbs
From: Cookbook's Marta Teegan
Note: Farro and fava tip salad is best eaten the same day and at room temperature.
2 cups farro
3 cups water
¾ pound fava tips - try to choose smaller leaves and flower buds and avoid too
1 large bunch cilantro, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 large bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 large bunch mint, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted
½ cup raw pistachios, shelled & toasted
1 cup sheepʼs milk feta, crumbled
extra virgin olive oil
1 Meyer lemon
Maldon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring water to boil in a kettle.
2. Set a Dutch oven or a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Toast the farro lightly, stirring frequently, until you can smell a warm, toasty aroma, about three minutes. Turn off the heat.
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3. Being very careful to avoid splashing and steam, pour the boiling water from the kettle over the farro. Stir in a pinch of salt.
4. Return to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until tender, 20-30 minutes. Once tender, turn off the heat and let rest in the pot for 10 minutes. Drain off any excess water.
5. Add fava tips to warm farro in pan. Stir in toasted cumin seeds and cover. Let stand for 2-3 minutes, until the fava tips are slightly wilted.
6. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add herbs and pistachios. Toss with olive oil and a squeeze of Meyer lemon. Taste. Season with salt & pepper, but not too much salt, as you will also add feta. Immediately before serving, toss with crumbled sheepʼs milk feta. Taste and adjust olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper accordingly.