Hannibal Lecter was on to something here. Fava beans, also known as broad beans and field beans, are commonly found in North African, Mediterranean, and Southeast Asian cuisines. They've been a staple of human diet since before biblical times. However, in recent years, they've been finding their way onto American dinner plates as well.
Fava bean pods are very long, but only contain five to six beans, so to get a lot of beans, you have to buy a lot of pods. They are a little time-consuming to shell; first, you unzip the soft, fuzzy pod on both sides and drop the beans into a bowl. After getting the desired amount of beans, drop them into boiling water for 30 seconds to blanch them. Remove from the boiling water and dunk them in ice water, and then peel off the waxy shell that coats each bean. Now they're ready to be used in recipes.
To cook fava beans, they can be sauteed in oil or steamed lightly. Or, they can be enjoyed raw. They can be combined with bacon and pasta, or steamed and tossed with a little feta cheese, olive oil, cayenne, lemon juice, and parsley into a simple salad. You can even boil them, mash them, and then spread them onto bruschetta with tomatoes and olive oil. Or serve them with some liver and a nice Chianti. (Just kidding!)
Favas have a buttery texture and a slightly nutty taste. They taste like the freshness of Spring and make us think of freshly mowed grass. They are high in fiber, protein, and iron. They can also be purchased in dried form.
(Image: Kathryn Hill)