Fava beans are among the world’s oldest cultivated plants, with evidence of playing a part in human diets as far back as 6000 B.C. While many home cooks find their large size intimidating, the rich taste and smooth texture of fava beans have made them a popular seasonal ingredient for fine restaurants around the world.
The fava bean enjoys a place of honor in many traditional cultures. The ancient Egyptians offered fava beans to the gods, and used them as a temptation exercise to purify priests. It was also believed by Mediterranean people that eating fava beans helped ward off malaria (a belief borne out by later scientific studies). Fava beans were used as the symbol for the Christ child baked into Twelfth Night Cake or King Cake, leading to their general use as a symbol of good luck. To this day, fava beans are the central dish for Sicily’s St. Joseph Day celebration, and Sicilian tradition adds that keeping a fava bean in the wallet will bring good fortune.
Along with significant protein content, fava beans are an excellent source of vitamins B6 and K, as well as zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and folate.
Store unshelled fava beans in a plastic bag or paper sack in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
Traditional uses of fava beans include Italian risotto, Egyptian falafel, Lebanese ful medamas, and Indian dal. Steamed fava beans add soft, chewy texture to salads, grain bowls, and pasta dishes. They can also be baked or fried into fritters, puréed into hummus, or grilled in the pods and eaten like edamame.
Steam fava beans, then add to a frying pan with plenty of olive oil, salt, garlic, and chunks of spicy sausage. Fry together until the edges of beans and sausage are crisp, then remove and sprinkle with wine vinegar. Serve as a side dish or use as a filling for flat bread.
After being shelled and cooked, fava beans will still have a thin, translucent skin around them. Removing this skin before eating will make the texture more palatable and rid the bean of any residual bitterness.