Tag Archives: fava beans


Things just seem to come together at the farmers market. Vegetables and fruits that complement one another seem to ripen together. Maybe not, but there are combinations that work, like strawberries and rhubarb or squash and corn. Another great combination is dill and favas. They both peak in the spring and trail off in the summer. A while back at my favorite market stall I found some beautiful fronds of dill tied up in bundles along with a big bin of favas ready to be scooped up. I was mindful of the effort that lay ahead of me, but the  earthy taste of fresh green favas compensates for the work involved to prepare them. Although favas can be used in many ways once they are shelled, a simple preparation highlights their flavor. Nothing could be easier than this way to serve fava beans.


Dilled Fava Beans in Sour Cream


  • 3 pounds (about) unshelled fresh fava beans
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh dill fronds
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • salt and pepper


  1. Shell the beans by pressing the seam of the pod between your fingers and popping the beans into a container.
  2. Blanch the beans by adding them to a large pot of boiling salted water. Return to the boil after adding the beans and boil for one minute. Drain and chill immediately in ice water.
  3. With your thumbnail, pop the thick bean coating open and squeeze out the bean to a waiting container.
  4. When you have finished shelling all of the beans, combine them with chopped dill, sour cream and lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.


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Recently I wrote about a pasta-bean salad that included fava beans. Carol had told me that they had appeared in a local market, so I immediately went there to buy a pound for the salad. Fresh fava beans, along with green peas and asparagus, are among the joys of the spring garden. They also become a labor of love and of diminishing returns. Preparing them requires a couple of labor-intensive steps (at least in the USA and France). As well, a large pile of bean pods wind up as a handful of bright green beans.

Favas, also called broad beans, have been around for thousands of years. They have been an important part of the diets of many civilizations in the Middle East and around the perimeter of the Mediterranean. In Egypt they were considered to be a food of the common people. In other places, they have been elevated to the status of a delicacy, and of course they were included in the menu of Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s request for a final meal in the terrifying movie, “Silence of the Lambs.” The beans are versatile: they can be an alternative to chickpeas in hummus; they can be fried crispy and serve as a snack; they can be sauced with vinaigrette and stand alone; they can be eaten as any other bean. And they are delicious.

Fava beans also gave rise to the term, favism, a mysterious illness that puzzled medical people for many years. Victims who ate fava beans could develop anemia, jaundice, fever, pain, kidney failure, and even death. Careful research eventually demonstrated that the illness was due to substances, vicine and related compounds,  in fava beans that caused the red blood cells of susceptible individuals to break down, releasing their contents including hemoglobin. This resulted in all of the serious effects. Susceptible individuals were found to have an inherited deficiency of an enzyme, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), that is important in glucose metabolism and produces glutathione, a critical protectant against oxidation within red blood cells.  Vicine is a potent oxidation agent, and similar substances in various foods and medications can cause the same illness. An irony is that the populations most commonly affected by the deficiency are those surrounding the Mediterranean – people who often use fava beans as an important part of their diet. The nature of the genetics is that men are much more likely than women to be affected.

When you prepare fava beans, you need to be ready for a lot of effort. In the USA, there are 3 steps and a pound of raw bean pods will yield only about a half cup of brilliant green, flavorful beans. You need to decide whether or not they are worth the effort. Removing the inner shell is a step that is often skipped, especially if the beans are young and tender. Also, the inner shell adds to the crispiness if you decide to fry the beans for a snack.

Step 1: Shell the beans. This is easy and uses the same method that one employs for shelling green peas or black-eyed peas or Crowder peas. Select pods that are full. The beans in younger pods may be more tender and may obviate the need for Step 2. If you have a lot of beans to prepare, this is a perfect place for the old East Texas approach of several folks sitting on the porch in rocking chairs, gossiping while they pop the beans into bowls in their laps.

Step 2: Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Plunge the shelled beans into the boiling water, working in batches if necessary. Return to the boil for 1 minute. Then transfer the beans rapidly to a generously sized and well-iced bowl of ice water. When the beans have cooled, transfer them to a bowl.

Step 3: Using your fingers or the sharp tip of a paring knife, open the thick shell of the bean and pop out the bright green inner bean. Repeat the process until all of the beans have been harvested. Use the beans in whatever recipe appeals to you. In general, the simpler the preparation the better the result because the flavor of the bean stands out.



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Spring is well along, and the local farmers’ market is in full swing with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables available. Everyone in our local family is on one or another diet, not to mention their variety of food proscriptions: no onions, no mayonnaise, nothing spicy. So when it became my turn to cook our weekly family dinner, I decided it was a good time for salads. Let everyone push to the side whatever ingredient they wouldn’t or couldn’t eat. The main dish was a cross between a pasta and bean salad with the addition of vegetables and eggs from the farmers’ market as well as some canned items from the grocery store. There was a lot of prep time. I shelled fresh fava beans. I roasted corn. There were eggs to hard boil, chicken to cook and dice, and cans to open. But once that was all done, assembly was quick and easy so that I could sit in the family circle and participate in the discussion. The beauty of pasta and bean salads is that there really is no recipe, and you can add or subtract whatever you want. This version came so loaded that finicky eaters could have a field day picking out ingredients. Since I didn’t include onion or chiles and dressed the salad with vinaigrette, I addressed those objections at the outset. I didn’t see anyone picking at his or her plate,


Pasta-Bean Salad Primavera 


  • 1 pound fresh fava beans, shelled, blanched, husked. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • 2 ears fresh corn, dry roasted and kernels removed. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • 4 jumbo eggs, boiled and peeled. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble
  • 1 large chicken breast, poached, cooled, and cut into ½ inch cubes. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • 2 bell peppers, seeds removed, diced. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • 2 ribs celery, diced. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • large cucumber, seeds removed and diced. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • ½ pound mushrooms, boiled for 15 minutes, cooled and halved. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • 4 ounces pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet. Set aside until ready to assemble
  • 1 cup each of pasta shapes, cooked and drained.  (I used orecchiette, penne and farfalle, but you can use your favorites)
  • 1 cup olive oil vinaigrette, home-made or bottled
  • 14 ounce can, cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 14 ounce  can, black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 14 ounce can, black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 14 ounce can, large, pitted black olives, drained and rinsed
  • 14 ounce can, quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 5 ounce can, sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 5 ounce can, sliced bamboo shoots, drained
  • 8 ounces feta, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • ½ cup snow peas, ends removed and cut into ¾ inch slices
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Boil the pasta according to directions. If cooking times for the various pastas are greatly different, add the individual varieties at the appropriate time. Drain the cooked pasta and combine with half of the vinaigrette.
  2. In a very large bowl, and reserving the hard-boiled eggs, add all of the remaining ingredients to the pasta: fava beans, corn, chicken, peppers, celery, cucumber, mushrooms, pine nuts, cannellini beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, olives, artichoke hearts, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, grape tomatoes, snow peas, and feta.
  3. Stir in the remaining vinaigrette and sesame oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a large serving bowl and arrange sliced hard-boiled eggs on top.

Cook’s Notes

  • This recipe makes LOTS of pasta salad. It is easily enough to serve at least 12 people generously. It also makes great leftovers for the next day’s lunch
  • Roasting corn in a dry skillet over high heat gets a nice char, but you can also achieve the same thing in the oven or over an open flame.
  • I used four different colors of bell pepper for contrast and used only half of the diced peppers for this recipe, reserving the other half for another recipe.
  • Boiling the mushrooms causes them to compact and absorb the vinaigrette better. If you like, you can boil them in water with a little vinegar and pickling spices to make them a little tastier.
  • Dry roasting of pine nuts brings out their distinctive flavor. Just be careful not to scorch them.
  • You can use whatever shape pasta you like, but ones with ridges or indentations – like macaroni, penne, or orecchiette – will soak up the dressing and the melded flavors. Just be sure to check on cooking times because if they are too different you could wind up with a mixture of firm and mushy pasta.
  • You can substitute crumbled feta or any other cheese you favor. I like cubes of feta because they hold their shape and have a distinctive tart flavor.


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This past week I discovered a new vendor at the farmers market, a young man with a big basket of fava beans. I bought what I thought was a huge bag, forgetting that fava beans are one of those joys of fresh vegetables that is associated with a lot of effort and a very small return except in flavor. I shelled what looked like a quarter bushel of favas,  blanched the beans, took off the rubbery outer layer, and wound up with a cup of bright green beans. It’s no wonder that many cooks consider them either the equivalent of gold or not worth the effort.

Fava beans are one of the few (only?) Old World beans, and they have been grown for centuries in the Mediterranean basin. It seems a quirk of geography and genetics, then, that some individuals of Mediterranean extraction, most commonly, may harbor a deficiency of an enzyme, glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase (G6PD for short) that makes them susceptible to substances found in fava beans. If an individual is sensitive, he – more common than she – may experience a sudden illness with rapid breakdown of red blood cells, and even kidney failure and death unless it is recognized and rapidly treated. The illness is well-known and has been called favism to show the link with fava beans. Fortunately, the vast majority of individuals can eat fava beans without worry.

I had thought that favas and prosciutto would go well with lightly sautéed bucatini pasta, but alas there was none to be found in any of the local stores. At that point I turned to my copy of Encyclopedia of Pasta, written in Italian by Oretta Zanini de Vita and translated by Maureen B. Fant (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2009). If you haven’t seen that little volume, you should check it out. It describes nearly every pasta shape you can imagine, tells how each pasta is made, and suggests how to use each one.

With all of the sensory overload of that beautiful book, I remained undecided until I remembered some wonderful pasta that I had purchased at our village market. I found it in the pantry, four-foot lengths of pappardelle folded in half and dried for “easy storage”. The manufacturer, Maestri Pastai,  makes all kinds of unusual types and sizes of pasta. That’s great if you have a hard time finding exactly what you are looking for and don’t have the time or skill to make it yourself. Check out their website.

The rest of the ingredients for this dish were easy to find. I had a spare package of prosciutto in the refrigerator, and that seemed like the perfect foil for the favas. The scallions came from the market, the mint from the back yard, and there is always a chunk of Parmesan in the refrigerator.


Pappardelle with Fava Beans and Prosciutto


  • 2 pounds fresh fava beans
  • 5 ounces dried pappardelle
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 scallions cleaned and cut into ½ inch slices, white and green ends
  • 3 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced and cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 25 fresh mint leaves cut finely into chiffonade
  • 2 ounces fresh Parmesan, grated
  • salt and pepper


  1. Shell the fava beans by breaking off one end and opening the pod along the seam. Collect the beans in a small bowl
  2. Plunge the shelled beans into two quarts of vigorously boiling salted water. Return to the boil for one minute – no more – and then drain the beans and transfer to a large bowl filled with ice water.
  3. When the beans have cooled, remove the outer skin with your fingers, being careful not to mash the beans. Collect the bright green inner beans in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. In a large pot, bring three quarts of salted water to the boil. Add the dried pappardelle and stir occasionally until the pasta is cooked, al dente, about 12 minutes, longer if you live at high altitude. Drain the pasta but do not rinse.Return to the pot along with the butter and olive oil. over medium heat. Add the scallions. Stir occasionally until the butter is completely melted and slightly colored. The pasta should have absorbed the oil and butter and sautéed lightly, but not browned.
  5. Stir in the fava beans and prosciutto until they are warmed through – 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in the mint leaves.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Top with grated Parmesan,  and serve immediately.


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Crowds at the farmers market

Marin County Farmers Market is sort of the country cousin of the Ferry Building market in San Francisco. Many of the same vendors are at both venues, and you are likely to see San Francisco chefs looking for great products in Marin. The market is smaller than its San Francisco counterpart, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the same excellent selections. Because of the driving distance, there are far fewer tourists so that gives the vendors a chance provide the best products and catch up on what’s going on in the restaurants. Not only is there talk of food but also of family.


The market meets Sunday morning on the grounds of the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael. The Center itself is a Frank Lloyd Wright- designed futuristic building looking like an enormous pink space ship just landed in the parking lot.

On our last visit to San Francisco we took a Sunday break after a grueling week of restaurant preparation. Our plan was to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, visit the lighthouse on the Marin Headland, and then go to the market for the fixings for our evening meal. Our plans were changed by the heavy summer fogs at the Golden Gate, but the weather cleared completely as we drove inland to San Rafael.


Once at the market, we loaded our grandson in the stroller and started down the long rows of busy stalls. The choices were almost overwhelming. Northern California is becoming famous for producing seasonal sweet strawberries in sharp contrast to the woody flavorless ones which have come to be the standard on supermarket shelves all year-long. Berries were in abundance, so we bought more than enough for desert. Our grandson soon had a sticky red face.

Stone fruits of all sorts. Root vegetables of every color and variety. Then we saw the most beautiful display of fava beans. They were freshly picked, and the pods were thick and completely filled out. Who could resist? We bought a big sack of them.

Fava beans

Fava beans shelled and husks removed, ready to cook

Fresh green peas in the shell and ears of corn were in nearby stalls, so my daughter made an on-the-spot decision to make a succotash.

Green peas shelled and ready to cook

Raw corn kernels

There was a good display of mushrooms, though not the royal trumpets I was hoping for. Nevertheless a basket of cremenis found a home in our bags.

It was surprising to me that the summer squashes were already in good supply, and one vendor had large squash blossoms for sale. Another decision – squash blossoms stuffed with a bacon, squash, and mushroom filling.

Squash blossoms with sepals and stamen removed, ready for stuffing

Stuffed squash blossoms frying

My daughter found an artistic display of Persian cucumbers with their corrugated pale green skin and twisted shapes. Baskets of heirloom tomatoes were not far away, so a tomato and cucumber salad with radishes and leaf greens made the menu.

Persian cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes

We found some juicy pork shoulders at the Prather Ranch stall, and so my son-in-law decided to grill some.

Pork shoulders ready for the grill

By then the little one had fallen to sleep, and the grownups were hungry. It was hard to choose from all the food stalls: Indian curries, paella, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc, etc. We finally decided on baked-to-order pizzas. After we finished our meal, we loaded back in the car and headed home.

A tired shopper

It had been a successful day, but we were also looking forward to the meal ahead.

Pizza cooked to order at the farmers market


Fava Beans

If you have never had fresh fava beans, you should be aware that their preparation is labor-intensive. You start out with what looks like a huge pile of pods and wind up with a little bowl of prepared beans.  It  is a good idea for the cook to recruit a prep assistant. In this case, that was me. If you have never had fresh fava beans you should know that the reason folks are willing to go to all the effort is that they taste so good.

We started with about 2 pounds of unshelled fava beans.

  • Shell the beans
  • Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil
  • Pour the shelled beans into the boiling water
  • Return to the boil for one minute – no longer
  • Drain the beans and chill them immediately in a previously prepared  large bowl filled with ice and water. The salted water and blanching will keep the beans green and not mushy.
  • Chill the beans for at least 15 minutes and then drain them
  • Using your fingers and a sharp paring knife peel off the stiff, translucent husk from the bright green beans, being careful not to crush the beans
  • With a small knife, remove the tiny white sprout from the beans. You can skip this step, but the sprout can give a bitter taste to the beans.
  • Combine all of the husked beans in a small bowl and set them aside for later use

Fava Bean, Grilled Corn, and Green Pea Succotash

Succotash cooking


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, small diced
  • 1 pound  fresh green peas, shelled
  • 2 ears of corn, shucked, cleaned, and kernels cut off
  • 1 batch of prepared fava beans
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • butter for finishing
  • squeeze of lemon


  • Heat a cast iron skillet over a medium-high flame.  Add the oil and butter and continue to heat until the butter has stopped foaming.
  • Add the diced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent. Be careful not to burn.
  • Add the green peas and corn kernels.
  • Cook for five minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Just before you are ready to serve, add the fava beans and stir until completed heated through, another 2-3 minutes. If you add the beans too early in the process they may become mushy.
  • Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in the extra butter and squeeze of lemon and serve immediately.

Persian cucumber and heirloom tomato salad

The finished plate – ready to eat

With two professional chefs and an amateur but eager prep cook, the dinner came together surprisingly quickly. Things got plated out. We relaxed with a glass of wine. Perfect end to a perfect day. And thank goodness for a modern dishwasher (the electric kind)



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