Prepping fava beans is the bane of many a prep cook. Big cardboard boxes with holes, filled with huge green pods ready to be dealt with make for a nice chunk of busy work. Plump and fuzzy, the leathery outer shell is popped open and a thumb ran down the center, the whitish-green beans falling out one by one. The beans are then blanched in salted, boiling water and shocked in an ice bath, before being drained and popped out of their slippery shells. The bright green, flat beans are tender and mild, ready to be napped with beurre monte (a silky butter emulsion) and tossed with sautéed sweetbreads and tender-crisp asparagus or blended into a smooth fava puree to be served along roasted lamb.
They are rich, nutty and sweet, truly delicious. And a real pain in the ass. So, when I was walking aisles at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago, I passed up the fresh favas in favor of a huge bunch of spiky kale, some sweet yellow tomatoes, snap peas and local sweet onions, all easy sells in my book. The fava beans? Too much work for a summer meal at home!
But the farmer at this booth, he insisted. He even had copies of an Egyptian recipe for braised fava beans.
“Braise them whole, no work for you! They are so sweet and tender; you can eat the whole pod! Serve room temperature with labneh and pita, and you are good to go!”
No prepping, blanching or peeling? No overcooking? No sweat? Sounds like an easy yes to me. I looked at his recipe (one of those pages from a book that’s been photo-copied a million times) and made a few little tweaks, but for the most part, kept true to the method. The result was different than the bright green little beans I was used to, a whole different beast. Instead of being al dente, the pods are silky smooth, unctuous and extremely tender. Deeply vegetal and rich with olive oil, with an acidic touch from the wine and Sherry vinegar, the fava is elevated from haughty fine dining fare to the perfect casual mezze or antipasti addition, the juices begging to be sopped up by thick-cut peasant bread.
Whole Braised Fava Beans with Walla Walla Sweet Onions and Sherry Vinegar
Fava beans (also known as broad beans) are especially high in tyramine; those taking MAOI’s should avoid eating fava beans, which can cause a dangerous increase in blood pressure.
Serves 4 as a side dish, 8 as an appetizer
2 lbs fresh fava bean pods
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large Walla Walla onion, cut into julienne
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
½ cup white wine (or chicken stock or water)
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
Fresh bread, to serve
Prep the beans. Trim the top and bottom of each pod, stripping the stringy fibers from the sides.
Sweat the aromatics. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until beginning to turn translucent. Add the trimmed beans, salt, and sugar and cook another 5 minutes, until the beans are bright green.
Braise the beans. Add the white wine and vinegar and cover the skillet with a lid. Reduce the heat to low and allow the beans to gently simmer for 45 minutes. The beans will turn a darker green, become limp and very tender and silky. Serve warm or room temperature with fresh bread for sopping up the juices.