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How to Cook and Serve Fava Beans

Salad with fava beans tomatoes and red onion.
Fava bean salad
Salad with steamed fava beans tomatoes and red onion.

The fava bean—which is also known as the broad bean, English bean, Windsor bean, and horsebean–can be eaten fresh or dried.

As fava beans mature, their flavor grows increasingly starchy and strong. The smallest beans—less than the size of a small fingernail—are the sweetest. The outer skins of medium- and large-sized fava beans have a high tannin content that makes them increasingly bitter tasting as they mature.

The best way to determine how bitter or sweet a fava bean is to open the pod, peel away the skin, and taste the bean. Bitter tasting fava beans is not bad in all cultures.

The fava bean, like asparagus, peas, and artichokes, is a harbinger of spring. It is one of the first vegetables harvested each year.

fava beans in pods
Fava beans shelled

Choosing Fava Beans

  • Select fava beans that are light to bright green whose pods are evenly developed. Early fava beans will be pale green and smooth podded.
  • Small fava beans–2-3 inches/ 5-7 cm–are tender and have a sweet flavor. You can eat them raw or cooked shelled or pod and all.
  • Medium-sized favas can be shelled and used fresh like English peas. Cook them quickly in a little water or lightly steam them and serve with butter. They are right for shelling when the pods are plump.
  • Large fava beans—pods as long as 12 inches (30 cm)–are best used as a dry bean. Dry, shelled fava beans can be soaked, boiled until tender, and used cold, whole, or puréed in salads and appetizers.
  • As favas mature, they will turn yellowish-green and the pods will become lumpy. The beans inside, however, will still be green. The oldest beans have the most yellow pods.
  • Avoid pods that are wrinkled or have blackened ends. To check for the freshness of a fava, open a pod: the downy lining inside should be moist.

How to Store Fava Beans

  • Unshelled fava beans will keep in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or paper sack for about 10 days.
  • Dried shelled fava beans can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months.
Raw shelled fava beans
Raw shelled fava beans

How to Prep Fava Beans

  • Open fava bean pods along the seams on each side as you would a string bean. Then put the beans in boiling, salted water for 30 seconds, drain and drop in ice water (to stop further cooking). Slice the whitish skin around each bean with a finger-nail and pop out the bean.
  • Young small fava beans can be cooked and eaten unpeeled. For larger beans place the pods in 1 inch of boiling water in a skillet and cook gently until tender about 4 or 5 minutes. Snip off the tips and squeeze each bean out of its skin.

Fava Bean Serving Suggestions

  • Favas beans can be eaten fresh or dried.
  • Prepare immature and mature seeds in the same way as green or dry lima beans.
  • Fresh young fava beans can be served in the pod without cooking and served like nuts dipped in coarse salt.
Fava beans with parsley
Fava beans with parsley

Fava Bean Cooking Suggestions

  • Fresh or dried fava beans can be cooked with or without their skin. Fresh beans should cook for about 20 minutes. Whole dried beans should cook for about 2½ hours. Skinned dried beans that have soaked for 8 to 12 hours will cook in about 1½ hours.
  • Cook and eat immature pods like edible pod peas. Tender, small beans may be steamed or boiled like lima beans or English peas.
  • Large fava beans should be skinned before eating: to remove the skin, plunge the shelled bean in boiling water for a few minutes, drain and rinse under cold water allowing the skin to slip off. The skins of beans soaked for 12 to 24 hours (change the water frequently) also will slip off easily.
  • Serve raw favas with coarse salt, pepper, and olive oil.
  • Marinate raw favas in oil, lemon juice, and freshly chopped dill for 24 hours.
  • Serve steamed fava beans with a light white or cheese sauce.
  • Top steamed fava beans with a little sautéed parsley, garlic, and onion.
  • Purée large cooked favas add cream, butter, and a little lemon juice.
  • Fava beans can be prepared in any way that lima beans can. (Fava beans are often grown in regions where the weather is too cool for lima beans.)
Fava beans boiled
Boiled fava beans

How to Boil Fava Beans

  1. Shell the beans and wash them well.
  2. Bring a saucepan or pot of lightly salted water to boil and put the beans in the water.
  3. Cover and boil the beans until just tender, about 10 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the beans.
  4. Drain; if the skins seem tough, you will need to slip the skins by pouring cold water over them and removing the outer skin of each bean.
  5. Serve hot (reheat if necessary) with butter, or olive oil, garlic, and a spritz of lemon juice or seasoning.
Sauteed fava beans
Sautéed fava beans

How to Sauté Broad Beans

  1. Boil as directed above and drain.
  2. Return the beans to the saucepan and add butter–enough to coat the beans.
  3. Shake (sauté) over medium heat until the beans are coated with butter.
  4. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and serve with chopped parsley.

How to Make Garlicked Broad Beans

  1. Boil as directed above and drain and remove the skin if they are tough.
  2. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in the bottom of a heavy skillet.
  3. Add a few cloves of chopped garlic and a half cup of finely chopped onions and saute 3 t 4 minutes.
  4. Add finely cut basil and pepper and toss well with the beans.
  5. Spoon into a heated serving dish and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.

How to Steam Fava Beans

  1. Remove the pods from the fava beans. Peel the skins for very tender steamed beans.
  2. Put one or two inches of water in a pot and lightly salt.
  3. Set a steamer basket in the pot; be sure the bottom of the basket does not touch the water.
  4. Place the beans in the basket and sprinkle them with thyme.
  5. Cook them until the beans are tender, 5 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the beans.
  6. Transfer the beans to a warm serving bowl, add the butter and salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve hot or warm.

Fava Bean Flavor Partners

  • Fava beans go well with bacon, broccoli rabe, chiles, cilantro, cumin, curry, duck, garlic, ham, mustard greens, onions, oregano, sage, shallots, smoked turkey, thyme, and tomatoes.

Fava Bean Nutrition

  • Fava beans are a good source of folic acid, potassium, and magnesium. They contain vitamins A, B, C, iron, and dietary fiber.

Fava Bean Health Note

  • Eating fava beans or inhaling fava pollen can have a potentially fatal effect on some people of southern European ancestry. The symptoms include muscle weakness and paralysis. This inherited disorder is called Favism.
Fava beans near havest
Fava beans near harvest

Get to Know Fava Beans

  • The fava bean is a cool-weather annual that grows upright and bushy to about 24 to 48 inches (60-122 cm) tall. The stems are squared and the leaves are blue-green. Short-podded varieties hold 4 beans or seeds and long-podded varieties hold 6-8 beans.
  • Fava bean pods are large and flattened to about 8 inches (20 cm) long and 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide—although some pods grow to more than 12 inches (30 cm) long. Inside each pod, the beans are protected by a white downy-like lining. Individual beans are ¾ to 2 inches (1.9-5 cm) long.
  • Because the fava bean is the only bean native to the Old World–all other beans are indigenous to Central and South America, it is in common culinary use from China to Spain.
  • Where exactly the fava bean got its start is unclear. Some believe it originated in the Mediterranean region, perhaps North Africa. The ancient Hebrews and Egyptians cultivated fava beans and so did the Greeks and Romans.
  • But the fava bean also appears in the cookery records of ancient China where it has been in cultivations for more than 5,000 years ago.
  • The fava bean got its botanical name from the Latin word for bean faba. The English gave the fava bean its “broad bean” name, broad meaning common. The fava bean is sometimes called a horse bean because it is so big.

The botanical name of the fava bean is Vicia faba.

Also of interest:

How to Grow Fava Beans

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12 Comments

  1. I want to plant tomatoes in my fava bean garden. Can I pull up the fava bean plants, with their green pods intact, and hang the plants in the shed to dry?

    • Yes you can take up the whole plant and hang it in the shed to dry or you can cut pods and set them on a screen to dry; make sure the beans get plenty of air circulation as they dry.

      • Thanks for the help with drying fava beans! I think I’ll let the scarlet runner beans dry on the vine. I’m planting them as part of a “red” garden along with red zinnias and red capers to feed the local humming birds.

    • Leave the beans in the shells to dry. Dry the beans in their pods on a screen or drying tray in a warm spot out of direct sunlight with good air circulation. The pods and beans should dry in 10 days to 2 weeks. Check a couple of pods and beans to be sure they then you can thresh the pods and beans.

    • Pick broad beans for fresh use like you would snap beans–when the seeds are about the size of a pea.
      Pick broad beans for drying when they mature and begin to yellow, usually about 85 days after planting. For dry beans, let the pods mature and turn yellow. Pick the pods before they darken or turn black (a sign of mold); this can happen quickly in humid or wet regions. If you allow the pods to turn black they will require additional time to dry. Dry fava beans on a screen or cookie sheet in a warm, sheltered spot with good air circulation; do not dry beans outdoors if it is humid. Beans can also be dried in a food dehydrator set on low heat. The skin of the fava bean will wrinkle when it is dry. For more on fava beans, see the post How to Grow Broad Beans, Fava Beans

  2. To dry broad beans you need to remove the outer shell or the beans might rot. In Malta they are used in many ways – fresh, dried, cooked. We have the famous Biggilla – extraordinary cooked dried beans with chili then made as a dip with plenty of oil and garlic. Yummmm

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