Broad beans (also known as Fava Beans) can be intimidating to those who are not totally familiar with them. They look a bit like overly-mature swollen peas, and they are somewhat complicated to prepare. You see, they require a double peeling in most cases – once to remove the beans from the pod and a second time to remove the outer shell from the bright green tasty bit hidden inside the bean. This was dreaded work for the kitchen staff when early spring emerged from the dark and cold winter days.
But despite this non-approachable presence and labor-intensive nature, broad beans continue to be one of the Mediterranean region’s most popular vegetables…as well as the spring darling of many trendy chefs…as long as they aren’t the ones doing the actual preparation that is.
Prior to the influx of new world vegetables, broad beans were the only legume consumed in Europe. Today, fresh broad beans are mostly enjoyed throughout Italy, Morocco and Egypt…but they are making a bit of a comeback, so jump on them when you see them in your supermarket or local farmer’s market.
Dried broad beans are available almost everywhere. They remain an important source of protein throughout the year in many cultures.
Fresh broad beans are available from mid-March through mid-June.
Look for large, bright-looking and plump pods. Avoid any which are slimy or have black spots. If possible, run a thumb along the pods to make sure they are full.
Like any fresh legume, broad beans will begin to lose their flavor and nutrition once they are harvested. Store unpeeled broad beans in the refrigerator for a maximum of 2-3 days. Alternatively, peel the beans twice, then store the small uncooked beans in cold water for 1-2 days or freeze them and keep in an airtight bag for up to 6 months (this will also take up less real estate in your refrigerator).
Early-season broad beans are quite tender and delicate in flavor. They are often enjoyed raw with a touch of extra virgin olive oil, lemon and salt. Mature broad beans take on a slight bitterness and must be cooked. These are usually added to soups or stews at this stage in their life.
Dried broad beans are normally re-hydrated, cooked until soft then puréed.
Preparing broad beans is simple. Just remove the beans from their pod by running your thumb along the seam to dislodge the beans. Plunge the beans in boiling water for one minute, then immediately drop them into cold water. The outer hull can now be removed by gently peeling or squeezing it away. At this stage, broad beans can be eaten raw (if young) or cooked for an additional 2-5 minutes.
Broad beans are high in protein and carbohydrates (above average relative to other legumes). One negative side effect is favism. This condition mostly affects people of middle-eastern or African heritage. Consuming under cooked broad beans can cause severe cases of anemia, although this condition is considered rare.
Jack’s Fresh Tip
I never make fresh broad beans the main vegetable attraction because the work in preparing them is simply too much. But, these little green jewels are delicious when combined with other small green vegetables that garnish a seasonal spring dish.
Prepared fresh broad beans are excellent scattered on pasta dishes (especially ravioli), mixed with early season cherry or date tomatoes, in a tofu scramble, in a clear vegetable soup or stew, and on and on go the possibilities.