My Favorite Favas

I was introduced to fava beans — a.k.a. "broad beans" — the summer I turned 15. My friend's Italian grandfather grew them in his backyard garden on Long Island. My friend would bring bagfuls to our house. I already had a huge crush on said friend, and this seductive veggie offering got him in good with my mom, too. She'd get all happy about the favas (it's the little things, right?) and make them up for dinner. I didn't share her enthusiasm at the time, but somehow when I grew up, my tastes changed, and I grilled my mom on the best preparation techniques for the fresh beans.

Here in NYC, I buy them at the market during those precious couple of months when they are in season.

Preparing favas is a labor of love, but sweetly satisfying. Once you've got them cooked and peeled, you can do anything with them, really. I like them to shine as the stars of a given dish. They're beautiful with olive oil, garlic, and a bit of raw watercress and baby tomatoes, served over gemelli or fusilli. I also love them on their own, with generously shaved Pecorino and a sprinkle of black pepper… that was my dinner last night, with a dessert of cold watermelon and dark chocolate!

What's more, favas are nutritional dynamos. A fantastic source of protein and fiber, they also contain abundant micronutrients such as iron, folate and magnesium.

Here's my suggested method for cooking up a batch, a la mom. Keep in mind that you need about a pound of fresh uncooked whole fava pods to yield about one-half of a cup of ready-to-eat beans.

Step 1
Pour yourself a glass of Pinot Grigio to keep you company.

Step 2
Remove beans from their pods. While you don't want terribly spotted or shriveled pods, don't expect them to be unmarred. The beauty is on the inside when it comes to favas. Discard or compost the pods.

Step 3
Steam the beans with their outer protective outer shells still on. You can do this with a steamer basket in a saucepan filled with an inch of water, just as you'd steam any vegetable. Or you can do it the "lazy girl way": Place the beans in a big microwave-safe bowl, fill with 1/2-inch water, and cover with a dinner plate. Microwave for about three to five minutes, or until the outside of the beans look sweaty and a little wrinkled, but not mushy.

Step 4
Rinse the beans under cold water so you don't burn your fingers in the next step. Then drain.

Step 5
Using your thumbnail or a paring knife, make a tiny slit into the outer sheath of the bean, and give it a gentle squeeze or wiggle until the inner bean slides out from the shell. Now, my mom is a wizard at removing each bean completely whole and intact. I tend to break them in half a lot. Be patient. You'll get the hang of it.

Step 6
Use the favas immediately, or store in the refrigerator or freezer in plastic bag.
Finally, a sad but true safety note: Fava beans are a source of the amino acid tyramine (like aged cheese, fermented soy, and some other wonderful foods), and so should be avoided by persons who take certain drugs, including MAOIs, due to potential serious interactions.

Cara Anselmo on Twitter
Cara Anselmo
Cara Anselmo, MS, RDN, is a nutritionist and certified yoga instructor in New York City. Follow Cara on Twitter.