In the summer, beans were for dressing in a gloss of olive oil, tossing with a confetti of crisp, chopped vegetables, and having as salad. In the winter, we simmer them with rich fats, sometimes with finely chopped (less colorful) vegetables, which dissolve into the resulting soup or baked casserole. While it’s definitely winter, I tried to make a compromise between these two polar opposite ways to eat beans. Starting with the king-size fava (or “broad”) bean, dried.
The dried fava bean is like a mollusk of the earth. Their sturdy, kidney-shaped skins hold inside them an ambiguously-textured mush, at least when cooked well. Unlike fresh fava beans, which we’re much more inclined toward when they’re in season, the dried, and reconstituted version is a lot more of a mouthful, it seems. They’ve lost their bright green color and much of their sweetness, and have transformed into carb-heavy bobules with thick outer skins. Kind of like how I feel in the middle of winter, too.
Because of the gargantuan size of these beans, I thought them more fitting for a stew, rather than soup. The recipe’s easy, and its flavor relies much on fresh thyme. I added some oyster mushrooms for a deeper, earthy flavor to complement the mushy beans. I’m not sure whether my fava beans had been dried fairly recently, but they took less time than anticipated to cook. An hour of simmering after a night of being soaked rendered them sodden sponges, with their sides just splitting open.
To turn the stew a rich, brown color and add welcome tang, I added a small can of cherry tomatoes (from Italy, and a surprise to find). These burst into the stew without my having to crush them by hand. If you can only find whole, peeled plum tomatoes, go ahead and crush them by hand before pouring them in.
The next day, I thinned the mixture with vegetable stock, and had as a soup. Try adding bacon to this in the first few steps, if you don’t have a vegetarian you’re cooking it for.
Hearty Fava Bean Stew
(makes about 6 servings)
8 oz. dried fava beans, soaked overnight
1 large carrot, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
16 oz. canned cherry tomatoes (or peeled plum tomatoes, crushed by hand)
about 3 oz. fresh oyster mushrooms (or a mix of mushrooms)
1 bunch thyme
1/2 tsp dried or fresh oregano, marjoram, or both
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive oil
Drain and rinse soaked beans. Cover with 3 inches of water in a pot and bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until almost tender, about 1 hour.
Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Sweat the onion, carrot and celery over medium-low heat until soft, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the roasted red peppers and sautee another minute. Add the mushrooms and sautee another minute. Add the white wine and increase heat to let boil, while stirring, a minute or so. Add the tomatoes, stock, bay leaf, herbs and half the bunch of thyme, secured with string. Add the almost-cooked beans and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 1 hour or until liquid has reduced to a thick stew. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Separate leaves from remaining fresh thyme sprigs and add. Garnish with good olive oil and an additional sprinkle of thyme.
(for 6 servings)
8 oz. dried fava beans (at $1.99/lb): $1.00
1 carrot: $0.30
2 stalks celery: $0.35
1 large onion: $0.35
4 cloves garlic: $0.10
1/4 cup roasted red peppers (jarred from the summer): $1.00
1 can cherry tomatoes: $1.49
abut 3 oz. fresh oyster mushrooms: $2.50
1 bunch thyme: $2.00
1 cup white wine: $2.50
2 cups vegetable stock (homemade): $1.00
olive oil, salt, pepper, dried herbs: $0.40
Three brownie points: This one is way down there, again, as it can serve as a hearty, full meal. The fava beans are a good source of fiber and potassium as well as protein, although they are pretty high in carbs. (That’s why I didn’t add any potatoes to this stew.) When using canned or preserved ingredients, such as the tomatoes and red peppers, it’s always best to check ingredients to make sure they’re as pure as can be. You definitely don’t need to be eating calcium chloride or excessive salt, and home-canned versions are prone to tasting even better, too. This meal could use some greens, though, so have with a light salad on the side, or garnish with copious amounts of fresh, flat-leaved parsley.
Six maple leaves: Again, think of reducing your carbon footprint not by where your ingredients came from, but what they are. Dried beans require much less energy and stress on the environment to produce than animal proteins, in addition to being cheap and healthy for you. This is a good recipe to use any preserved ingredients you might have from the summer, and tough winter herbs that can withstand the winter, like thyme. (Mine’s still growing… is yours?)