Fava beans, also called broad beans, have been grown by humans for around 10,000 years in Israel
Fava beans, also called broad beans, have been grown by humans for around 10,000 years in Israel. They are widely used in Egyptian, Iranian, North African, and Middle Eastern cuisines. But I was surprised to learn that in Columbia, China, Japan, and Ethiopia, the fava bean is a staple in cooking as well. The fava bean has recently received the royal treatment as a key component in King Charles’ Coronation Quiche!
The first time I tasted a fava bean was in the Persian dish, Baghali Polo, where white rice and dill make a fluffy base for the light green bean. It felt a bit like an easter egg hunt to pick out the beans and be rewarded with a chewy, almost meaty bean. It was not until I was an adult living in Santa Monica that I saw what a fava bean plant looked like!
At the Ishihara Park Learning Garden, the gardeners identified the fava plants and explained their benefits. Fava bean plants are nitrogen-fixer plants and can improve soil health. They do this by pulling nitrogen from the air and storing it in their roots until the plants die and decompose, releasing the nitrogen into the soil for the benefit of the plants and crops that are planted after them. The fava plants at the garden stand as a 6ft bushy tower, easily the tallest plants in the garden, with large oblong leaves that dripped with pods of beans as long as my finger. I have learned that the best way to harvest the beans and leaves is to simply pluck them from the plant. I find the biggest pods I can and leave the smaller ones to grow out and incubate the tiny bean inside. I do the exact opposite for the leaves and search for the smallest, youngest, and therefore the most tender leaves to use in cooking. Most of the plant is edible, from the beans to the tender leaves, and I was sent home with a big bunch of leaves and fava beans to experiment with. The fava bean plant exudes a really bright, green, fresh smell reminiscent of English peas, but the beans themselves are much bigger.
To prepare the leaves for cooking, I fill a bowl of cold water and submerge the leaves for a few minutes, drain the water, and repeat. I separate the leaves from the stems as the stems can taste a bit woody, and I use a salad spinner to drain the excess water and lay the leaves out to dry on a dish towel. For preparing the fava beans, I choose to simply crack the pods in half and squeeze out or pluck out the large beans. I think there may be a more official way to do it with slicing them open with a paring knife, but there is something so playful about opening them this way. I get into a rhythm of breaking and snapping, and enjoying the gentle plink of the beans hitting the bowl.
I use the fava bean greens to create a pesto that hopefully leaves you with the taste of spring on your tongue, with a little hint of garlic of course. I simply roast the fava beans with olive oil, salt, and pepper in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes to use as a meaty topper for salads, pastas, and toasts (bonus points for using the fava beans and fava pesto in one meal!).
Fava Bean Green Pesto
2-3 large handfuls of cleaned and dried fava leaves
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup toasted walnuts
⅓ cup lemon juice
2-3 cloves garlic
Pinch of salt, pepper, and optional red pepper flakes
- Place all ingredients in a high speed blender or food processor and blend.
- Enjoy as a sandwich spread, dip, or sauce on pasta.
Dining in the Garden Guest Author: Salima Saunders