Fava beans have always been a fascinating mystery to me. They were completely unknown to me in my childhood since any fresh green beans that you pop out of pods in a Korean-Midwestern house would be edamame. Then, the first time I ever heard the words “fava beans,” not only was it in that totally terrifying context that I will not name out loud (but everyone knows), but I was also still young enough that I was basically traumatized for the rest of my life.
The rest of my life, that is, until I started paying hyper-focused attention to food as a “grown-up” in LA.
In my my grown-up life, fava beans are more common, I guess you could say, but that doesn’t make me any less wary of them. I already have an equal and irrationally opposite reaction to any food that is, well, “foodie forward,” whether they are so for oddity, controversy, price (caviar), scarcity (ramps) or some other factor other than pure taste.
I don’t care what anyone says. Morel mushrooms, like so many “fashionable” celebrities we seem to idolize, are interesting in appearance to say the least, but have absolutely no taste.
Add to that the breathless anticipation of the fava beans’ arrival, the ensuing 3-week feeding frenzy, and I start to have vivid flashbacks to college when I tried to race through the main plaza of campus without getting accosted by unnaturally giddy students with huge smiles, glazed eyes, and stacks of pamphlets for God (mine? theirs? not sure) knows what.
Cults scare the shit out of me.
I didn’t necessarily go out of my way to avoid fava beans. If they were in a dish that was placed before me, I ate them. I just didn’t set unyielding sights on them when they appeared on a menu or at the market. And I certainly didn’t feel the need to cook with something that was rumored to be “difficult” to work with in the kitchen; I’ve got “difficult to work with” covered just cooking with myself.
This is the first time I’ve ever cooked fava beans, and it is true. Fava beans are more difficult to work with than, oh, say, canned chickpeas. But accusing fava beans of fussiness because you have to shuck the small inside beans out of the fur-lined pods, then peel each bean of its thin, pale skin seems a stretch. Peeling potatoes, cleaning mushrooms, and rinsing spinach are kitchen jobs that are much worse, but they don’t have the same reputation. And I sure don’t feel a therapeutic sense of accomplishment when I look at a plastic grocery bag full of muddy potato peels.
So yes, fava beans require some work. So does this recipe, which seems unnecessarily complicated for a simple puree. But like love and so many other things in life, if it’s worth it, you gotta work it.
Whether you put your thing down, flip it and reverse it, however, is a different story.
Fave Bean Puree with French Feta and Garlic Toasts
almost completely identical to a recipe in Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook, except for the parts that aren’t.
if it’s not that three-, maybe four-week window in Spring when favas are available, make it with lima beans or even edamame.
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, 1 whole and 1 finely minced
2½ pounds fava beans in their pods
1 small spring rosemary
1 chile de árbol, crumbled (substitute: about 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper)
½ lemon for juicing
½ cup pitted oil cured olives, sliced in half (I didn’t use olives because I didn’t have any)
¼ cup sliced flat leaf parsley leaves (I left them whole)
¼ pound French feta cheese (I bought French feta cheese at Bristol Farms in LA. If you can’t source, substitute any feta, really)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Cut the baguette on the diagonal into twelve ¼-inch thick slices. (You may have leftover bread.) Brush both sides of each slice generously with olive oil. Arrange the slices on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven 10 to 12 minutes, until golden and crispy but still tender in the center. While the toasts are still warm, rub them with one of the garlic cloves.
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
Blanch the beans for about 2 minutes in the boiling water. Drain the beans in a colander. cool them in ice water, and then slip them out of their pale green skins with your fingers. (It’s actually not just “slipping” the beans out. You need to “slice” the skin open a bit with your fingernails.)
Heat a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the remaining olive oil, rosemary sprig, and the chile. Let them sizzle in the oil a minute or two, then stir in the minced garlic. Let it sizzle for a minute and stir in the fava beans, ¾ teaspoon salt, and some fresh ground black pepper. Simmer the beans 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally until they’re tender. Strain the beans, reserving the oil. Discard the rosemary and the chile.
Transfer the beans into a food processor and puree them. With the motor running, pour in half the reserved oil slowly, until the puree is velvety smooth. Once the puree is smooth, pour in more of the reserved olive oil to taste. Squeeze in some lemon juice and taste for seasoning.
In a small bowl, toss the olives and parsley with a drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon juice. Crumble in the feta, tossing gently to combine.
Spoon the warm fava bean puree onto a platter. Place the grilled toasts off to one side and scatter the feta-olive salad over the puree.
(I spooned the puree onto each of the toasts and garnished with the feta and parsley.)