A pile of fava beans pods sits before me like a jangle of alien's toes: thick, elongated, waxy pods with bulges and bumps and scruffy black marks. Inside, they're crammed full of plump oval beans, pale green and smooth and surrounded by cottony pulp. I love favas for their sweet, green flavor and creamy texture. I love them like I love asparagus, sharing as they do this brief season that makes them even more precious. I love them for their alien-toe looks and dozens of culinary uses from all over the world. But I especially love them for their inconvenience.
In our modern kitchens we hold convenience as a high priority, equating it with with excellence and efficiency. We believe it will improve our lives and indeed in many ways it has (just ask your grandmother about keeping house in her day!) So of course we value convenience, but putting it above other considerations such as flavor and texture and nutrition in our food, or looking the other way when the packaging piles up, has created a whole new set of problems. We're not evil for doing this, just very busy people who have made some choices about our priorities.
And that's why I love the favas. They remind me that I don't have to barrel through my experience, that it's not all about the finish line and the quickest way to get there. I love it when cooking is a meandering process that flows throughout my day. And I've grown to love kitchen tasks that require me to slow my pace, to sit down even, and work with my hands.
My fava pod pile is enormous but in the end my yield will be considerably smaller, maybe 4 cups, and it will take about an hour of shucking, blanching, cooling and peeling to get there. All this before I can even get started cooking! How wonderfully, beautifully inconvenient! It would obviously be quicker to pull a bag of something from the freezer and sometimes that's just what I have to do. But I treasure these fava bean times, these inefficient foods that take so much effort but then pay back with so much flavor and satisfaction.
So if you have a chance this weekend, sit at a table with a big pile of favas and start popping the beans from their pods. If a loved one is near, allow your activity to draw them in for the kind of quiet talk that comes when two people are sitting together with busy work on a quiet afternoon. This is an ancient way of being and relating, one that human beings have partaken in since, well, since we started to eat. I find it quiets my mind and settles my heart, bringing a gentle joy that is as sweet and sustaining at the food itself. Sitting around the table, shelling favas and talking about politics and prom dresses may not be efficient, but it is exactly how I want to spend my afternoon.
Bonus Video: How To Shell Fava Beans from Mariquita Farm in Watsonville, CA.
(Image: Dana Velden)