Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I Finally Found You, Fava Bean

I'm always reading cookbooks and kept seeing a reference to the Fava bean -- a type of bean I was unfamiliar with.

They are not found in our grocery stores and I’m not aware that it is grown in local gardens. Then recently, without purposely looking for it, I found Fava Beans in one of my favorite stores in which to rummage around in for specialty foods (Big Lots).

I have had the package a few weeks now, but decided today I’d try them. There was a recipe on the package for Fava Bean Salad.

2 cups cooked Fava Beans
1/4 cup yellow pepper
2 tomatoes
1/3 cup red onion, chapped
1/3 cup shitake mushrooms
3 ounces extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon shallot
salt and pepper to taste

 (I left out mushrooms because I didn't have any; I added chopped fresh basil.  It seems to me any number of adjustments could be made to this recipe: corn, avocado, black and/orgreen olives; the possibilities are endless!)

After draining the beans, I added them while still hot to the remaining ingredients which had already been prepared. 

Plated and ready to eat, garnished with flat-leaf parsley. Good while warm, I'm also looking forward to eating it cold on another day. Note how the garlic and oil clings to the other ingredients!

I ate it and declared it very good! The beans have a nutty, earthy taste. Although similar in looks to what we call butter beans or lima beans, the taste is altogether different.

A bit of reading up, and I learned that Fava beans are one of the oldest plants under cultivation, are native to north Africa and southwest Asia and were eaten in ancient Greece and Rome.

Despite the name, Fava beans are a member of the pea family, though they are also known as broad beans, pigeon beans, horse beans, and windsor beans.

They are popular in Mediterranean cuisine, with many summer dishes celebrating the seasonal bean, although they are also dried for winter use. Fava beans have a distinct flavor and creamy texture that makes them a great addition to a wide variety of dishes.

The cookbook that introduced me to Fava beans, although the recipe included calls for fresh ones. Love this cookbook! So many interesting recipes are here, including a lemon olive oil cake -- my main reason for buying the book in the first place.

 Along with lentils, peas, and chickpeas, they are believed to have become part of the eastern Mediterranean diet around 6000 BC or earlier. They are still often grown as a cover crop to prevent erosion, because they can overwinter and because as a legume, they fix nitrogen in the soil. 

They are among the easiest of beans to grow and has high plant hardiness. They can withstand cold climates; and unlike most legumes, can be grown in soils with high salinity, as well as in clay soil. However, it does prefer to grow in rich loams.
Fresh Fava beans. Credit: Wikipedia

In much of the English-speaking world, the name "broad bean" is used for the large-seeded cultivars grown for human food, while horse bean and field bean refer to cultivars with smaller, harder seeds (more like the wild species) used for animal feed, though their stronger flavour is preferred in some human food recipes, such as falafel. The term fava bean (from the Italian fava, meaning "broad bean") is usually used in English-speaking countries such as the US, but the term broad bean is the most common name in the UK.

Fava bean trivia: (from Wikipedia)

  • In ancient Greece and Rome, beans were used in voting; a white bean was used to cast a yes vote, and a black bean for no. Even today, the word koukia (κουκιά) is used unofficially, referring to the votes. Beans were used as a food for the dead, such as during the annual Lemuria festival.
  • In Ubykh (associated with Turkey) culture, throwing beans on the ground and interpreting the pattern in which they fall was a common method of divination (favomancy), and the word for "bean-thrower" in that language has become a generic term for seers and soothsayers in general.
  • The colloquial expression 'not worth a bean' alludes to their widespread economy and association with the peasant diet. (Our current usage, a variation , is “not worth a hill of beans.”
  • In Italy, broad beans are traditionally sown on November 2, All Souls Day. Small cakes made in the shape of broad beans (though not out of them) are known as fave dei morti or "beans of the dead". 
  • According to tradition, Sicily once experienced a failure of all crops other than the beans; the beans kept the population from starvation, and thanks were given to Saint Joseph. Broad beans subsequently became traditional on Saint Joseph's Day altars in many Italian communities. 
  • Some people carry a broad bean for good luck; some believe that if one carries a broad bean, one will never be without the essentials of life. In Rome, on the first of May, Roman families traditionally eat fresh fava beans with Pecorino Romano cheese during a daily excursion in the Campagna. In northern Italy, on the contrary, fava beans are traditionally fed to animals and some people, especially the elderly, might frown on human consumption. But in Liguria, maritime region near northern Italy, fava beans are loved raw, and consumed fresh in early spring as the first product of the garden, alone or with fresh Pecorino Sardo or with local salami from Sant'Olcese. 
  • In some Central Italian regions, a once-popular and recently rediscovered fancy food is the bagiana, a soup of fresh or dried fava beans seasoned with onions and beet leaves stir-fried, before being added to the soup, in olive oil and lard (or bacon or cured ham fat).
  • In Portugal and Spain a Christmas cake called bolo Rei in Portuguese and roscón de reyes in Spanish (King's cake) is baked with a fava bean inside. Whoever eats the slice containing it, is supposed to buy next year's cake. (King’s Cake is traditional in New Orleans, Louisiana, and is eaten during Mardi Gras).
  • The Grimm Brothers collected a story in which a bean splits its sides laughing at the failure of others. Dreaming of a bean is sometimes said to be a sign of impending conflict, though others said they caused bad dreams.
  • European folklore also claims that planting beans on Good Friday or during the night brings good luck


  1. Your beans look delicious. DH tried growing them one year. The plant has beautiful flowers (for a veggie) but the raw beans are a pain to deal with. First the pod and then removing the inner skin on the bean. I think I'll look for the dried ones you used.


    1. It was indeed a delicious bean salad. I did read about the pain of harvesting them, esp. removing the inner skin on the beans. The dried ones would definitely be the easiest route, but I may plant some in the spring anyway just for curiosity's sake.

  2. Have grown broad beans in the past,fresh straight from the pod is best,they are my favourite Summer beans.
    Also use fava split beans in Winter soups mixed with other beans.Runner beans I cannot stand as they are too stringy,don't know why we call them beans as it is the pod part that is eaten!!

    Happy bean eating. Ida

    1. These beans apparently are not widely grown here. Perhaps because of the difficulty of preparing them, as Darla mentioned. What is your take on that?

      Nor are they available in cans or frozen. I though the dried ones turned out good; have you tried using the dried ones?

    2. Have never had a problem removing them from the pods,then popped into steamer/boil for 10mins & ready to serve.We sprinkled the seeds in either October or early Spring and they are ready to pick in August,fresh,green & young.Maybe the problem is your climate or they pick them late?

      The Romans when they interduced them to Britain they called them horse beans.
      You can buy them frozen/tinned or dried as favor beans.Ida

  3. Oh, Fava beans. Familiar over here too, though I have not bought them. Those must be tried.
    Your dishes look nourishing. Olives, yum!

    1. Let me know if you have luck finding them in the markets, either fresh, canned/frozen or dried. As for olives, I love the black canned ones, but the green picked ones are so salty I can hardly eat them.

  4. Hello Sanda, I truly enjoy your blog. Each post I have read gives me a sense of calm, peace, and happiness, just as you want to express.

    The Fava Bean salad sounds wonderful. I am definitely going to try it. I had never heard of the Fava Bean and love to learn new things.

    1. Thanks for joining my blog and for your comment and kind compliment! I find blogging to be such a good thing! I have enjoyed reading yours as well.


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