Fresh fava beans add a nice Mediterranean flair to any meal. (Photo Credit: Fava by Flickr user twohelmetscooking)
Fresh fava beans add a nice Mediterranean flair to any meal. (Photo Credit: Fava by Flickr user twohelmetscooking)

On an early morning, the sight of a high stack of giant velvety pods on a stall at my favourite greengrocer catches my eye.

“What are these?” I asked the lady working that morning. “Fresh fava beans” she replied. “We are in high season.” I had eaten fava beans before at restaurants or used frozen ones when I could find them. I really love their delicate earthy flavour and they are so healthy. I couldn’t miss such a rare occasion to try them fresh.

Back home with two kilos of the lovely pods, I realized that I didn’t even know how to prepare them. Well now, I am quite an expert. Do you want to become one?

Let’s start at the beginning.

An ancient member of the pea family, native to north Africa and Southwest Asia, the fava beans have a nutty taste with a buttery texture. In the Middle Ages, before being overshadowed by the common bean imported from the New World, the fava beans were the only beans known in Europe. In fact, they have a long tradition of cultivation in the Old World, being among the most ancient plants cultivated and among the easiest to grow. They are still very popular and widely used in the Mediterranean countries, quite the icon of spring there.

Yes, fava beans have been part of the European history and folklore for a very long time. In ancient Greece and Rome, beans were used to vote. They were also used as food for the dead during festivals. Did you know that in Egypt, these beans, along with lentils and chickpeas, were found in 4000-year-old tombs? In Italy, some carry a fava bean for good luck. In Portugal, a Christmas cake called Bolo Rei is baked with a fava bean inside. In Estonia, the magical beans found in the Jack and the Beanstalk story are fava beans! Some people might tell you that dreaming of a bean is a sign of impending conflict. Others will claim that planting beans on Good Friday or during the night brings good luck. Whatever you believe, fava beans have been around for quite some time.

Now, back to basics…

  • How to call them: You might know them already as these beans have many aliases. Broad beans, horse beans, pigeon beans, field beans, English beans, faba beans, or even Windsor beans, they are all the same.
  • When and where to find them: Peak season is late March through early May. Fresh open markets or greengrocers are the best locations to find fresh fava beans. Try also the frozen or canned food sections at grocery stores. They are not always easy to find, though.
  • What to look for: Seek out sturdy green crispy pods with a velvety fuzz. Avoid any pod with slimy brown spots. The beans inside should be tender and medium sized. If the beans are bulging out of the pod, it means that they are a bit old and overgrown.
  • How to store them: If bought fresh, you can refrigerate for up to one week.
  • How to prepare them: It will take some work to enjoy them. They have to be shelled then cooked in boiling water for about one or two minutes. This step is called blanching. Transfer the cooked beans to ice water then drain. To remove the outer skin, gently squeeze the bean. It will come off easily. This step is by far the longest. Don’t forget that one kilo of unshelled fava beans yields only about a cup of shelled ones!
  • How to use them: Don’t eat them raw.  They are wonderful as appetizers, just blanched, with a sprinkle of salt and olive oil. You can add them to your omelets, salads, soups, dips, pasta dishes, and casseroles. They can even substitute for garbanzos in falafel. You might also enjoy them Hanibal Lecter’s style, from the film “Silence of the Lambs” with liver and a nice Chianti.

Now that you are acquainted with these magical beans, will you neglect them or are you ready to give them a try? And if the time-consuming skinning part still stops you from enjoying these strange fellows, well, I found that peeling the beans with my daughter was quite an experience in itself, a great way to spend time together and chat. So worth it!

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About Christine Cognieux

Christine is a life enthusiast, attracted to happiness, creativity and beauty in everything. It is not because she is French that she loves Fashion but she does. Photographing her food is becoming a habit of hers!

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14 Responses to "How to Eat: Fava Beans"

  1. Anne  19/10/2015

    Hi Christine!
    my favorite tasting is, in spring, when the beans are all fresh … raw, walking, picnics, as an aperitif, sprinkled on a salad of raw vegetables, … 🙂
    but cooked, I find them tasty too! “each his own” !
    I also appreciate the shelling with my daughter … but she crunches soon pod beans opened… !
    Thank you Christine, I’m looking forward to the return of spring!

    Reply
    • Christine Cognieux  26/10/2015

      Thank you Anne. Always a pleasure to read you.

      Reply
  2. Norma Wheeler  20/10/2015

    I like fava beans. You can always find them in the can or frozen when the fresh season is over. I like to include them soups as well. Hi Christine!

    Reply
    • Christine Cognieux  26/10/2015

      Thank you Norma for your nice comment. I can’t wait for the fresh season to start again !

      Reply
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  4. Michele Peterson ( A Taste for Travel)  08/04/2016

    I’ve seen lots of recipes for fava beans and was wondering what to do with them. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
    • Christine Cognieux  08/04/2016

      Thanks Michele. Hope you try some soon and let me know how it was.

      Reply
  5. MariaAbroad  08/04/2016

    This is perfect. I had a bag of frozen Fava Beans appear in my freezer (must have slipped in with my bulk veggie purchase, hehe), and I had no idea what to do with them so far. I had the bag in my hands several times, but always a bit reluctant to try them. Now you’ve inspired me and I actually know what to do with those beans. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Christine Cognieux  08/04/2016

      You are welcome Maria. I love them. They are a great addition to so many dishes! Give them a try!

      Reply
  6. sumti  08/04/2016

    I was not aware of fava beans.. But it sounds interesting 🙂

    Reply
    • Christine Cognieux  08/04/2016

      Thanks Sumti. It is some work if you get fresh ones but they are wonderful in so many dishes. Give them a try!

      Reply
  7. Rosemary  11/04/2016

    What a great write up. I so rarely see fava beans and it’s glad to read more about them. Didn’t know they were the same as pigeon beans 🙂 Love the idea of eating them as a simple appetizer. Will need to get some soon. Thanks 🙂

    Reply
    • Christine Cognieux  11/04/2016

      Hi Rosemary, happy that you liked the article. I didn’t know that Fava beans were also called pigeon beans, how funny! They are delicious as an appetizer, kind of the way Japanese eat soya beans. Enjoy!

      Reply
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