When friends come to visit, I cherish the opportunity to take them on sightseeing tours around the San Francisco Bay Area. Besides Muir Woods, a trip to the deYoung and dinner in the city, we always take our guests on a ride along Highway 1 to show off the beautiful coastline of Northern California. On one such recent trip, my friend Bettina and I ended up at a farmstand in Bolinas where all kinds of fresh produce were on display. Radishes, greens, lettuces and, to my delight, two big boxes of fresh fava beans! Dinner was sorted. Come and cook with us!
Fava beans, also known in some areas as broad beans, have a rich history. Their earliest cultivation dates back several thousand years when they were a steady part of the Eastern Mediterranean diet along with lentils, peas and chickpeas. But these beans had other uses as well, for example in ancient Greece and Rome fava beans were used to cast a vote: a white bean for a yes vote and a black bean for a no. To this day, fava beans are very popular in Italian cuisine. A classic Italian dish is to serve fresh young fava beans with pecorino cheese, a great combination whenever you find yourself with a bowl of fresh fava beans.
When it comes to the health benefit of fava beans, they are packed with all sorts of interesting phyto-nutrients such as isoflavone and plant-sterols. They are also high in L-dopa, a precursor to neuro-chemicals in the brain. Additionally, fava beans pack a healthy punch of dietary fiber, they are an excellent source of folates and contain good amounts of Vitamin B5 and thiamin. However, fava beans can interact with certain anti-depressant drugs and can be lethal if you suffer from Favism, a genetic condition affecting a very small part of the population, including many who live on the island of Sardegna in Italy.
Compared to other beans which one mostly buys dried, fresh fava beans are a very popular vegetable to grow and can be easily grown in backyard gardens. A little more love is needed to prep them for dinner, which gives them somewhat of a bad wrap. When my kids grew fava beans in their preschool yard, we spent time together to prepare them for cooking. The kids had to work hard to break the beans out of their pods and then peel each bean to remove its outer light-green layer. While very young fava beans can be eaten with this skin on, they are more tender when they are skinless, slightly sauteed and mixed with a few fresh herbs. My favorite way to serve them is alongside fresh peas, mint and some crumbled goat cheese – or grated pecorino if you want to stay true to the classic Italian style. Come and cook with us!