Ah, fresh fava beans. Who else first heard of this legume via Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs? If so, it was a most disturbing way one can be introduced to a new food (and I am amongst those). No, I didn’t eat fava beans for a good long time after seeing that movie, but it wasn’t because I was afraid. It was because I never did encounter them, least of all fresh and whole still in their pods, until some twenty years later, at farmers markets in my city.
I had a lot of things to learn about fava beans, and growing pains along the way. Did I know that they were best eaten not just removed from the pods but extracted from the tough sheath of skin over each bean? No, not at first. I just sort of plowed into fava beans, fresh and dried, thinking they behaved like most any… bean when dried? Or pea when fresh? I wasn’t sure. This confusion was exacerbated several years ago by a chef friend of mine who was fond of grilling the pods whole over an open flame, dressed in a thin coat of olive oil and salt. The resulting beans were steamed inside, and the pods were charred and softened, so that you could really eat them whole by hand, leaving only the fibrous strings that held the pods together after taking a gigantic, sliding bite.
That was fun, but it tends to work only with really small, tender pods of fava beans. To get substantially-sized fava beans, look for the older, bigger pods, with the beans bulging from the inside. These beans are best shelled completely then removed of their outer skins. I did that with a good number of pods, by steaming them first to soften both pod and bean-skins, making them easier to separate from the vibrant green beans.
Then, you’re left with a much smaller portion of edible foodstuff than the hulking bag you dragged home from the market. Maybe you could take Dr. Lecter’s advice and enjoy them with liver and Chianti, but I made a chilled, summery soup instead. Aren’t you glad?
No, this simple bean soup would highlight the bean’s sweetness as well as its smooth, creamy texture once blended. They’re not as starchy as dried beans, but they’re more dense than peas, making them great for a puree. You can use chicken stock or vegetable stock in your own version, and serve it hot or cold. But a sprinkle of fresh herbs, whether basil, mint or parsley, gives its light taste a welcome boost. A summer soup that you won’t have to simmer for hours.
Chilled Fava Bean Soup
(makes about 1 quart, or 4-6 servings)
1 ½ lbs fresh fava beans in the pods (yielding about 2 cups beans once shelled)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
handful fresh basil, slivered (or substitute with chopped fresh mint, parsley, chives, thyme, oregano, or any fresh herb you like)
Remove the beans from the pods by snapping the tips and pulling down the fibrous strings. Place in a steamer and steam the beans for 5 minutes (or alternately, bring a pot of water to boil and boil them about 3 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, slip the paler-colored skin off, revealing the deeper-green beans.
In a large saucepan or pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat and add the chopped onions and celery. Reduce heat to low and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Stir occasionally until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, another minute. Add the shelled fava beans and the stock and increase heat to high. Bring just to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook, uncovered, 20-30 minutes. Let cool completely (or chill overnight). Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until very smooth. Next, pass the soup through a fine-mesh strainer or sieve, discarding any chunky or pulpy solids.
Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
(for 4-6 servings)
1 ½ lbs fava beans in the pod (at $4/lb): $6.00
1 cup chopped onion: $0.25
1 cup chopped celery: $0.35
2 cloves garlic: $0.10
3 cups chicken broth (homemade): $2.00
3 tablespoons olive oil: $0.25
handful fresh basil (from houseplant): $0.25
Three brownie points: This is a low-cal, low-carb soup that’s almost like a green smoothie. No, it’s not based on leafy greens, but its jade-green color is just as appealing, and instead of antioxidants and Vitamin K it will give you a generous boost of protein and fiber from the fava beans instead. Protein smoothie? Just pile on more fresh, chopped herbs for the leafy-green, detox benefits in addition.
Eight maple leaves: In my experience, you can’t generally get fresh fava beans in conventional supermarkets, but only from small, specialty farmers when they’re in season. Hence, this veggie is one of those rare gems you can get from local farms at the farmers market, which are so fun to explore.