Featured in our TakeHome cases in spring are Fava beans (Vicia faba). Go ahead, go ahead — say it: “Fa-fa-fava beans and a nice Chianti.” Maybe it took a scary movie specter to get fava beans some attention, but that would only be in recent history. The humble fava bean has been around for a long time, reportedly as far back as the Egyptian pharaohs. In Sicily, sometime during the Middle Ages, it enjoyed an elevation in status. There, it had been used as fodder for livestock when the starving population turned to it during a famine. It became the “lucky bean.” It is used as a token from the altar of St. Joseph—a fava bean in a coin purse means the bearer will never be out of money.
Also known as “horse bean” or “broad bean,” it’s often used dried and even ground, as it is in some Middle Eastern recipes for falafel. But to appreciate the real rich flavor of the fava, it’s best enjoyed straight from the field. Farmers know the blessing of favas—and not just as food. Fava beans are also used to bring nutrients back into the soil. Favas, like other members of the leguminous vetch family, are nitrogen fixers. When a fava bean plant is uprooted, the little power packets of nitrogen can actually be seen clinging to the roots. Thank you, fava.
Preparation: Split the pods open to extract the beans, then discard the pods. To remove skins from the beans, blanch in boiling water for one minute and rinse in cold water; slip the skins off, then boil or steam the beans until tender (approximately 2–5 minutes).
Storage: Keep in a plastic bag in the fridge. Best used within 3 days.