Good Food Corner: Fava Beans

Posted on Monday, February 28th, 2005 at 3:52 pm by MSK

Fava Beans are one of the more than 400 whole foods Diane Onstead breaks down in The Whole Foods Companion. Fresh fava beans are large, flat, and oval, with a firm creamy texture and dainty, nutty taste. Young beans are quite tender, but as they mature, the skin covering the bean becomes coarser and tougher. Older beans need this coarse outer skin removed or “slipped” before they are eaten. If you are fortunate enough to be in possession of young beans, cook them whole. Simply trim the ends, rinse, and cook in boiling water for four to five minutes. The young pods are unexpectedly filling, and you will find one pound in weight will happily satisfy six to eight people as a side dish. Dried favas look like large lima beans and have a mealy, granular texture and an assertive flavor; they need long, slow cooking and their thick skins peeled before eating. Favas can be eaten on their own, in casseroles, or in salads. Served hot with melted butter, seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper, and sprinkled with chopped parsley or basil, they are delicious. In most recipes, favas can be substituted for limas

In the Greek and Roman world the broad bean was highly regarded, although there have been some very curious beliefs regarding these beans. Herodotus (History, II.xxxvii) recounts that the Egyptian priests regarded broad beans with horror as unclean, and Pythagoras, who imported many Egyptian elements into his religion, similarly despised them. A tenet of his doctrine of metempsychosis is that souls may transmigrate into beans after death. This may have some connection with the fact that bean feasts traditionally ended funerals, and that they figured in rites to rid households of the evil effects occasioned by the nocturnal visits of lemurs, the wandering souls of the wicked (in England, several beans were placed in graves to keep ghosts away, and if you happened to see a ghost, you were to spit a bean at it). Yet broad beans were popular enough with the lay folk, to whom they were distributed by candidates for public office at election times. The politicians were not simply currying favor, since the beans were used as voting tokens during magisterial elections… In Rome even now, a holiday cake is baked with one fava bean hidden inside; the one who gets the piece with the bean is crowned king (or queen) of the festivities.

Find out more about fava beans and other whole foods.

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