Seasonal Eats: Get Fava Beans While They're Fresh!

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Fresh Fava Beans at the Farmers' Market (Heather Parlato/LAist)

If you've been to the farmers' market recently, and noticed these large, fuzzy beans and put them off for next time—think again! Fava beans are only available fresh for a short time in spring, so get them while you can. Though they can be prepared so you can eat the pods and all, favas require a bit of work to shuck and shell, but if you're able to plan ahead a bit, you'll be rewarded by a tasty, hearty bean with a fresh nutty flavor.

Fava beans are popular in Mediterranean cooking and have a long tradition in old world agriculture, not only as a staple that is easy to grow, but as a nitrogen enrichment to the soil. As a native of north Africa, fava beans figure into the Egyptian national dish, ful medames, and are among the most popular legumes in Ethiopia. For their health report, favas are a good source of protein, thiamin, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and copper, and are a very good source of dietary fiber, folate and manganese.

If you're not into the work of extracting the beans, pick some young fava bean pods and try grilling them and eating whole. For most other preps, you'll at least be shucking the pods and parboiling the beans (30 seconds will do). At this point, the waxy coating is edible, so you can choose whether to shell or not. In my experience, the smaller beans have shells that are more tender, but I don't think I'd want to eat a whole serving of unshelled favas. However, for those willing to shuck but not shell, there's this roasted fava bean alternative that will cook up the shells plenty.

Once you have shelled beans, there are all kinds of delicious ways to enjoy them. As for salads, there is fava, asparagus and arugula salad with shaved pecorino or this Mediterranean-style emerald chutney salad. There are also several puréed fava spreads and dips to be enjoyed, or assembled into a bruschetta appetizer, such as arugala and fava bean crostini, fresh ricotta and fava bean bruschetta or bruschetta with fava beans, greens and blood oranges. On the other hand, leave the beans whole and do it up as tuna and fava crostini.

On the more traditional side of fava bean purées and dips, there is the very southern Italian fava beans with dandelion greens. If you're working with dried beans, try out fava bean dip with roasted garlic and yogurt with your next plate of crudité. As for the national dish of Egypt, I have two recipes for you, ful medames, and then another ful medames with more spices.

If you're ready to get cooking with fresh seasonal fare, swiss chard is a popular partner to fava beans, leave room on the grill for grilled rainbow chard with fava beans. Spring peas are also paired with favas for several fresh dishes, such as spring vegetables with shallots and lemon or spring vegetable sauté. Onions, especially young, fresh onions are called for in fava beans with red onion and mint, or try out an Italian Scaffata, braised spring legumes.

Fava beans also shine in flavorful soups. Keep it fresh with fava bean and spring vegetable soup, or this lovely Persian New Year's soup with many other legumes and spices. If you like blended soups, there are fava bean soup with mint or fava bean soup with carrot cream. If you're more for the stews, get hearty with spring vegetable ragout, or used dried favas in fava bean stew with garlic, thyme and bay leaves.

Being an Italian staple, there are tons of pasta recipes, not least of which include pasta with fava beans and ricotta, or this fresh tagliatelle with fava beans and pecorino. Mix them in with your ricotta leek gnocchi, or blend them up and stuff them into agnolotti with curry emulsion.

Finally, the meat dishes. Enjoy favas with spicy ginger and miso in miso-marinated cod with fava beans. This meat and fava stew has both Lebanese and Egyptian alternative preparations in the instructions. Try this lemon and garlic roasted chicken with fava beans, radishes and pecorino where the chicken is roasted, but the side dish is a raw, fresh contrast. Similarly, sliced filet mignon with fava beans, radishes and mustard dressing uses the vegetables raw or lightly cooked as a fresh, crunchy accompaniment to the beef. Finally, get rich, decadent and dairy-laden with fricassée of beef and fava beans.

For my own dish, I stuck with a simple Italian-style sauté of fresh fava beans, onion, fennel and lemon juice. Next week, I may have to get the gamut of fresh spring veggies to try out some of the recipes I found here.

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Fresh Fava and Fennel Sauté (Heather Parlato/LAist)

Fresh Fava & Fennel Sauté


3 lbs fava beans, shelled

3 tb olive oil


1 medium onion, chopped


1 fresh fennel bulb, sliced


1 tsp fennel seeds


1.5 cups vegetable broth, heated to a simmer


zest and juice of 1 lemon


salt & pepper to taste, finishing salt to serve

Sauté onion and fennel in a large pan on med-high, 5 minutes. Add fava beans and fennel seeds and toss to mix thoroughly. Add vegetable broth and simmer 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat, add lemon juice and half the lemon zest and season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, garnish with remaining lemon zest and finishing salt of your choice. serves 4.