Meatless Monday: The Fresh Feeling of Favas

It’s about that time of year when fava beans (aka broad beans) make their debut in the produce aisle (or if you’re lucky, at the farmer’s market). If you’ve never had the pleasure (or only know them because of Hannibal Lechter), the fava bean (which acts more like a pea in its cushioned pod than a bean) is a glorious green treat worth trying. In the past, I’ve compared the prep work of a fava to that of the artichoke (another spring arrival), but I’ve decided that the fava is a piece o’ cake compared to the thorny armor of the ‘choke. Plus, underneath its suitcase padding, the fava packs a ton of nutrients.

(Kim O'Donnel)

In addition to high fiber and protein, the fava is chockfull of iron, manganese and folate, as well as L-dopa, a substance used for a variety of medical applications, from treatment of Parkinson’s to libido dysfunction.

An ancient legume that looks like an oversized lima bean, the fava is revered and beloved around the world, from Egypt to northern China -- everywhere but here, it seems. Two things you need to know about favas: You gotta shell ’em out of their pods, then you need to parboil them, to help loosen their waxy skins. After the prep (which I find relaxing and meditative), cooking with favas is a blast. Unlike other members of the legume family, the fava has a creamy rather than a chalky bite and purees into a silky green pudding. I love its herbaceous flavor and love how it plays well with other spring greens, from arugula to watercress, and how it's equally happy as a main dish (risotto, pasta) or as a snack (pureed on crostini, recipe details to follow).

Fava fiends, have you got a favorite way to feast on your beloved green beauties? Share your secrets in the comments area.

Arugula and Fava Bean Crostini
Adapted from the May, 2009 issue of Gourmet

1 cup shelled fresh fava beans (About 1 ¼ pounds in pods), or shelled fresh or frozen edamame
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ cups packed baby arugula (KOD: I used a mix of local greens, including spinach, arugula, mustard, kale)
3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Toscano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 baguette
1 garlic clove, halved crosswise
16 mint leaves

Cook fava beans in boiling water, uncovered, until tender, 3-4 minutes. Drain and transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking. Gently peel off skins (if using edamame, don’t peel).

Pulse fava beans in a food processor until very coarsely chopped, then transfer half to a large bowl. Add ¼ cup oil, ½ cup greens, cheese, lemon zest and juice, plus ½ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper to remaining beans in food processor and puree until smooth. Scoop mixture out of food processor and to mixing bowl. Coarsely chop remaining greens and gently fold into fava bean mixture.

Preheat oven to 350 and toast baguette slices. (KOD: I didn’t bother toasting my bread, just sliced up and spooned the puree atop). Garnish with mint leaves, a lovely complement to the bean puree.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 11, 2009; 7:10 AM ET Meatless Monday
Previous: Go Postal Tomorrow and Donate Food | Next: Meet the Triticum Family, aka Wheat


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I am experimenting with fava beans for the first time. I wanted to buy fresh or dried beans, but couldn't find them. Last week at Trader Joe's, I found a pack of pre-cooked but unseasoned fava beans. What would be the best way to use them? Would these be ok for this recipe? Or are they better used in a soup/stew?

Posted by: TappanZee | May 11, 2009 4:35 PM

TappanZee, interesting coincidence: While researching recipes, I found one in the May issue of Saveur, alos a puree, but made with dried favas. Beans cook for about 45 minutes with garlic, then pureed w/ olive oil, toped with wilted/braised dandelion greens.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 11, 2009 5:26 PM

Just sharing a super healthy and tasty fava bean preparation:

It is very quick and easy to make and one of the most nutritious dishes i know!


Posted by: groover016 | May 11, 2009 5:34 PM

I seem to recall reading that some people are quite sensitive (allergic?) to fava beans. Is this true?

Posted by: tresa_mie | May 11, 2009 11:44 PM

Hi Kim,
Hoppin' John Taylor here. In response to tresa's query, yes, there is an enzyme deficiency called favism, most prevalent amongst people of Mediterranean descent, which is ironic since fava beans are native to North Africa. It causes anemic reactions to fava beans. I have just returned from two weeks in Liguria (NW Italy, the Riviera) where I used to live and where I ate them raw with salami, as is the tradition there. See my blog at for more about them.

Posted by: HoppinJohn | May 14, 2009 12:40 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company