Celebrate May Day with Fresh Fava Beans and Spring Onions

Shelled, cooked fresh fava beans

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

As a proud pescovegetarian, it’s hard to admit that I like any of the same foods as the world’s most famous cannibal, Hannibal Lecter, of The Silence of the Lambs, but like Hannibal, I really enjoy fresh fava beans (with or without a nice chianti, but definitely minus the liver).

Fresh fava beans–also known as broad beans–are often viewed as a harbinger of spring, although they’re usually available during the summer, too.  Appropriately enough, I’m writing this post on May Day, the day when Roman families traditionally savor fresh fava beans with a little Pecorino Romano, according to Wikipedia.

Unlike dried fava beans, which can be flavorless and starchy, fresh fava beans are sweet and almost delicate. They taste more like a vegetable than a dried bean, with just enough starch to feel substantial enough to serve as a meat substitute. They also absorb flavors well.

I went on the Internet to look for some recipe ideas, and at the suggestion of Vegan Teen Cuisine, decided to grill my fava beans, instead of boiling them.

Grilled fresh fava beans in shell

I washed and dried the beans in their pods, and swizzled them in a little extra virgin olive and sea salt before putting them in an oiled hot grill pan.  I grilled them for about eight minutes on each side, covering the pan with a cookie sheet to trap as much of the smoky flavor as I could.

The outer pod of the bean is inedible, so you can grill the beans as black as you want. Once the shells cooled off a little, I slipped the beans out of their pods.  At this stage, the beans have a thick skin, which is edible, but fairly tough.

Cooked fresh fava beans

The bright green beans to the left have been skinned; the beans on the right have not.

Since the skin had absorbed some of the smoky, salty flavor, I decided to remove it from about half of the beans and leave it on the rest of them.  I put the beans back into the grill pan for a few minutes to let them absorb more of the good smoky saltiness.

To continue the spring theme, I made a little spring onion and wild mushroom ragout.  Since most local spring vegetables are still scarce and expensive in the Northeast, I decided to complement the sweet kick of the spring onions with dried wild mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, as well as some chopped carrots and celery. Chipotle powder and dried Italian herbs completed the flavor.

As an aside, I just have to rave about one of Costco’s best bargains, their 8-oz Shitake-Ya Gourmet Mushroom blend. Although this enormous plastic jar costs $14.99, it contains enough dried porcini, morels, Brazilian, Ivory Portabellas, Shitake, and Oyster mushrooms for dozens of recipes.  All you have to do is soak them in hot water for five minutes to reconstitute them.  I give them a quick squeeze and add them to my sauté.  As an extra bonus, I pour the soaking liquid into the pan towards the end and let it cook down into a flavorful sauce.

In the meantime, I cooked up a half package of Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend, a blend of Israeli-style couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans, and red quinoa, a tasty, healthy, inexpensive, and fast-cooking side dish.

The resulting meal was a nice light spring dinner, fit for a Roman.  I thought the earthy flavor of the fava beans was a nice complement to the woodsy spring onion and wild mushroom ragout. We paired it with Chablis, not Chianti, but I like to think even Hannibal would have enjoyed the meal.

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