About Fava Beans

April 16, 2008

About Fava Beans

Fava beans (Vicia faba), also know as broad beans, faba beans, horse beans, field beans, tic beans, or habas are native to north Africa and southwest Asia, and extensively cultivated elsewhere.

Fresh fava beans are a fleeting seasonal spring treat. They are also, without a doubt, a labor intensive treat since they must first be removed from their outer pod and then, unless they are very small and tender, slipped out of the tough skin that enveops each bean. The easiest way to skin them is to blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes, then slit the skin with a knife or your thumb nail, and squeeze gently to slip the bean out. If that’s too much trouble for you, you can leave the shelled beans inside the skin, saute them in some olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and let each diner perform the final extraction of bean from skin with fingers and teeth.

Fava beans have a long tradition of cultivation in Old World agriculture, being among the most ancient plants in cultivation and also among the easiest to grow. It is believed that hey became part of the eastern Mediterranean diet around 6000 BC or earlier, along with lentils, peas, and chickpeas. They are still often grown as a cover crop to prevent erosion because they can over-winter and because as a legume, they fix nitrogen in the soil.

The beans can be fried, causing the skin to split open, and then salted and/or spiced to produce a savory crunchy snack. These are popular in China, Peru (habas saladas), Mexico (habas con chile) and in Thailand (where their name means “open-mouth nut”). In the Sichuan cuisine of China, broad beans are combined with soybeans and chili peppers to produce a spicy fermented bean paste called doubanjiang. In Egypt, shelled and dried fava beans are boiled then seasoned with oil, lemon, salt and cumin. In most Arab countries the fava bean is used for a breakfast meal called ful medames. Ful medames is usually crushed fava beans in a sauce although the Fava beans do not have to be crushed.

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