Fava beans harvested small–2-3 inches/ 5-7 cm–and tender 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 use as a dry bean. Dry, shelled fava beans can be soaked, boiled until tender, and used cold, whole, or puréed in salads and appetizers.
The fava bean like asparagus, peas, and artichokes is a harbinger of spring. It is one of the first vegetables harvested each year.
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.
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 is to open the pod, peel away the skin, and taste the bean.
But bitter tasting is not bad in all cultures. The contrast of bitter and sweet tastes is like fresh grass.
Choose. Select fava beans that are light to bright green whose pods are evenly developed. Early fava beans will be pale green and smooth podded.
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 freshness of a fava, open a pod: the downy lining inside should be moist.
Store. 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.
Prepare. 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.
Serve. Favas beans can be eaten fresh or dried. Prepare immature and mature seeds in the same way as green or dry lima beans.
Cook. 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 hour (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 go well with bacon, broccoli rabe, chiles, cilantro, cumin, curry, duck, garlic, ham, mustard greens, onions, oregano, sage, shallots, smoked turkey, thyme, and tomatoes.
Nutrition. Fava beans are a good source of folic acid, potassium, and magnesium. They contain vitamins A, B, C, iron, and dietary fiber.
Health note: Eating fava beans or inhaling fava pollen can have a potentially fatal affect on some people of southern European ancestry. The symptoms include muscle weakness and paralysis. This inherited disorder is called Favism.
Fava bean facts and trivia. 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.