Thursday, April 29, 2010


I am inundated with fava beans! I’ve just picked enough to fill a laundry basket and will spend a good hour shelling them.

It’s been a bumper crop of favas this year. Weeks ago, the first tender beans were such a delight—they can be cooked pods and all. After that, it was a pleasure to pick and shell a double handful of them to add to a soup or stew or to scramble with eggs. But now, I’ve got to blanch and freeze what I can’t eat. The Spanish saying is Las habas de abril, para mi; las de mayo, para el caballo. April’s favas for me, those in May, for the horse. So, time is running out for me and my favas—and I haven’t got a horse.

Although they somewhat resemble lima beans, fava beans (also called broad beans, habas in Spanish) are not related to limas or to green beans, haricots, pinto or canellini beans, all which come from the New World. Favas, related to peas, were known to the ancients of the Old World. Like peas, they are wonderfully sweet if you can get them just minutes after picking, before the natural sugars convert to starch.

Fava beans grow in many regions of Spain, raised for animal forage as well as human food. When they are very small and very fresh, favas can be cooked unpodded, con calzónes, “in their breeches.” Larger ones must be shelled. The best are called “baby”—really small and tender ones, a springtime treat when stewed in olive oil with garlic.

You will see recipes that direct you to remove the beans’ outer skins. But, in Spanish home cooking, this procedure is rarely followed. Unless the favas are really big and mature, the skins are perfectly edible. But, if you prefer a more “refined” bean dish, just parboil the favas about 3 minutes and drain. Use the tip of a knife to cut a little slit in the outer skin, then squeeze the bean gently to pop out the inner bean (which is very green and in two halves).

Another way to deal with the skins is to cook the favas in boiling water until tender, then puree them in a blender. Press the puree through a sieve.  Season with olive oil, salt and pepper and chopped herbs. The bean purée is delicious as a side dish with roast meats, sausages, poultry.  Chopped mint or sprigs of green fennel are a good garnish for fava dishes. The Catalans add a dash of anisette liqueur to the cooking beans.

Two pounds of favas in their shells will produce about 10 ounces shelled beans, or 1 ¾ to 2 cups of beans. Wear an old shirt or apron when shelling them, as moisture splattering from the pods leaves dark stains. Cook favas in stainless, earthenware or glass, never aluminum, which turns them dark.

Fava Bean Salad
Ensalada de Habas

I first tasted this salad at a restaurant in Valencia and included a recipe for it in my book, MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN (the cookbook has the same title as this blog). Much later, in reading Colman Andrews’ CATALAN CUISINE, I learned that the salad was original to a famous Catalan chef, Josep Mercader.

Crisp iceberg lettuce gives the salad a welcome crunch.

Serves 6.

4 sprigs fresh mint
3 cups small shelled fava beans (1    pound shelled beans)
¼  cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
¼  cup julienne-cut serrano ham
finely chopped scallion (optional)

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Put in the sprigs of mint, cover, and let the mint infuse for 30 minutes. Discard the mint.

Add salt to the water and bring to a boil. Add the fava beans and cook them for 2 minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water.

In a bowl combine the oil, vinegar and mustard. Add the beans. Cover and let them marinate at least 1 hour.

Immediately before serving spread the lettuce on a serving platter. Stir the chopped mint into the beans. Spread the beans on top of the lettuce. Scatter the ham strips and scallion on top. 

Chocos con Habas
Cuttlefish with Broad Beans

This is a popular dish in Huelva, Cádiz and Sevilla—cuttlefish or squid stewed in a savory sauce with fava beans.  If baby cuttlefish, chopitos, are used, they are cooked whole, releasing their ink into the sauce for real depth of flavor. Large cuttlefish is thick and meaty and needs slow simmering. Squid will cook in half the time.

Use chopped fresh mint, fennel, oregano or cilantro to finish the dish.

Makes 8 tapas or 2 main course servings.

1 ½ pounds cleaned cuttlefish or squid
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 ounce pancetta or serrano ham, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
½ cup white wine
Salt and pepper
10 ounces shelled fava beans
Chopped fresh herbs to serve

Cut the cuttlefish into 1-inch chunks or the squid into rings.

Heat the oil in a cazuela (what’s a cazuela? find out here ) or skillet and add the onion, ham and garlic. Sauté on medium heat until the onions begin to brown, 10 minutes. Add the tomato and stir in the pimentón. Add the wine, salt and pepper and the pieces of cuttlefish. Cook, covered, until cuttlefish is very tender, about 45 minutes (Squid needs about 30 minutes).

While cuttlefish is cooking, blanch the fava beans in boiling water for 3 minutes and drain. Add the beans to the cuttlefish and cook, uncovered, 10 minutes more. Serve hot, sprinkled with herbs.

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