Also called broad beans, favas were a dietary staple of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and continue to be widely consumed in Latin America, Morocco, Italy and India. In fact, dried fava beans are the primary ingredient in many Middle Eastern recipes for falafel. Yet somehow these tasty little fellers haven't gone mainstream here in the United States. But they should.
A member of the pea family, fava beans resemble lima beans in shape and texture, but they're creamier and boast a taste all their own. Their season runs from mid-spring through late summer. If you can't find them at the supermarket, try a farmers market. They also are available online from suppliers such as Melissa's.
The only trouble with favas is figuring out how to prepare them. Favas come in pods, like peas, but they have to be peeled as well as shelled. That second step is easily accomplished by blanching the favas in boiling water, transferring them to ice water, pinching off the ends of the skin and popping out the beans.
This multi-step routine is just about exactly as repetitive as it sounds. The most efficient way to get it done is by completing each step for all of the beans before moving on to the next step. Given that it's the kind of job made for an assembly line, you might want to enlist your kids or other family members to help. Each pound of raw beans yields about 1/3 cup of shelled, peeled beans.
Fava beans are plenty tasty all by themselves, tossed with a little olive oil or butter, or added to any recipe to which you might add peas or lima beans (Fava succotash, anyone?). They also pair up nicely with rice, grains, or couscous, as in this recipe.
SPICED COUSCOUS AND FRESH FAVA BEANS
I added more liquid to the couscous than is typically suggested because I prefer my couscous on the moister side.
Start to finish: 1 hour 30 minutes (1 hour active)
2 pounds fresh fava beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
3/4 cup uncooked couscous
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Ground black pepper
Chopped fresh cilantro, to garnish
Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Set a bowl of ice and water nearby.
Run the tip of a sharp paring knife down the outside or inside seam of each fava bean pod. Open the pods at the seam and remove the beans. Separate the beans by size if they differ greatly in size. Add the beans to the boiling water in batches. Blanch smaller beans for 30 seconds; remove a bean and see if the skin will peel off easily. If it doesn't, simmer the beans for 10 seconds more. When the skins are loose, use a slotted spoon to transfer the beans to a strainer set in the bowl of ice water. Repeat the procedure with the remaining beans, adding them in batches according to their size and increasingly cooking time as needed.
Once all of the favas are in the strainer of ice water, drain the favas. Pinch off one short end of each bean, then press hard on the opposite end to make the inner green bean pop out. Set aside the inner beans and discard the peels.
In a small saucepan over medium, heat the oil. Add the onion and a hefty pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic and cumin, then saute for 1 minute. Set aside.
While the onions are browning, in a second small saucepan bring the broth to a boil. Add the fava beans and simmer until the fava beans are tender, about 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the beans to a large bowl. Return the broth to a boil.
Add the couscous to the cooked onions and stir until combined well. Pour the hot broth mixture over the couscous, add the butter and stir once. Cover tightly, remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork, then add the shelled favas and salt and pepper, to taste. Serve right away, garnished with the cilantro.
Nutrition information per serving: 330 calories; 100 calories from fat (30 per cent of total calories); 11 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 170 mg sodium; 46 g carbohydrate; 9 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 13 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."