Broad beans are synonymous with Spring, with their presence so fleeting. Here in Australia, that is from September through mid November. It is a great example of true seasonal vegetables.
Catch them when harvested young and sweet, as towards the end of their season they can become very mealy. They have a flat, fur-lined pod enclosing seeds that are used in soups, purees, stews, salads, stir-fries and combined with rice and pasta.
Broad beans have been grown since ancient times, indigenous to Europe and a key source of sustenance in the Levant, Middle East and Mediterranean.
Allergies to Broad Beans
Unfortunately some people have a condition called favism,an allergy to raw broad beans that leads to anaemia and can render them toxic. Cooked broad beans do not have this reaction.
Varieties of Broad Beans
There are a number of broad bean varieties, including a black broad bean. If growing them at home (very easy to do) look for some of the more unusual ones.
Buying and Storing Broad Beans
Choose crisp, moist and smaller (younger) beans whose pods are not bulging and do not have any spots and are not limp. They can be stored in the fridge for 2 or 3 days.
Cooking and Eating – Double Peel the Beans
Broad beans are one of those vegetables that are always being overcooked. It is best to first shell the beans, removing them from the pod, then to peel each bean as it has a thick outer skin. To do this, first, blanch the podded beans in boiling water for between 30 – 60 seconds only. Drain, and peel the outer skin away to reveal the tender green bean. It is fiddly but meditative and rewarding work.
Not only does the skin have a sharp taste, peeling the beans stops the habit of boiling them until that outer skin is tender. The result of overcooking is unappetising and destroys the the beautiful, essential springtime flavour of the broad bean.
As a rule, 1kg of whole broad beans
yields about 350gm shelled beans.
Remove the beans from the pod and cook in boiling water for 30-60 seconds. Peel the pale skins to reveal the green bean.
You can add the pods of the broad beans to the water while cooking them to intensify the broad bean flavour.
Suggestions for Eating
- Broad and Butter Bean Spread
- Pan Fried Broad Beans with Chilli, Lime and Salt
- Fava Bean Puree with Dill and Olive Oil
There are many more recipes planned – check here for the latest ones.
Other suggestions include:
- Cook quickly on a grill and eat with chilli and salt.
Eat simply drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, or in spring-inspired salads.
Sprinkle with sea salt and eat as a snack with a beer.
For a pilaf, cook moghrabieh (large grain couscous) with saffron and vegetable stock. Then toss through blanched and peeled broad beans until heated through. Drain the moghrabieh and beans, stir through green coriander (cilantro), lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
Toss blanched, peeled broad beans with orrechiette, chilli, flat leafed parsley and extra virgin olive oil with shaved pecorino.
Braise, french style, in dry white wine with cos lettuce hearts, peas and spring onions.
Chop mint leaves and small spring onions finely, mash with some cooked and peeled broad beans. Add sea salt and black pepper, and the lemon juice.
Spread toast with ricotta cheese and top with a broad bean spread.
- Did you know that you can make a puree of young, vibrant green pods? Choose unblemished pods after the beans have been removed. Top and tail and remove the strings that run along the seam. Puree with some salt and pepper. Add a little olive oil and thin with a little water to help puree. Use as a base for a soup, as a dip, or as a bed for grilled vegetables, salads or other items. You can include beans with the pods if you wish.
Dried Broad Beans
Once the season for fresh broad beans has passed, there are plenty of dried broad beans to keep your Broad Bean obsession satisfied. You will find quite a number of different types:
- Large dried broad beans, whole, unpeeled and brown in colour – soak and peel before cooking
- Large dried broad beans, whole, unpeeled and green in colour – soak and peel before cooking
- Large dried broad beans, whole, unpeeled and black in colour – soak and peel before cooking
- Small dried broad beans, whole, unpeeled and light brown in colour – soak, and they probably need peeling before cooking
- Small, split and peeled broad beans – soak before cooking
The large and small ones differ in flavour and texture quite considerably. I love the large ones for soups and purees. The smaller ones are wonderful for purees, fritters and falafel. The larger ones tend to disintegrate while cooking while the smaller ones have more textural integrity.
Towards the end of Winter and into Early Spring, dried Fava Bean soups (Maccu or Macco) are common in Italy as they use up the previous year’s beans before the new beans are harvested. The soup will often contain wild fennel and/or tomatoes, with other pulses and pasta sometimes added. The soup is dressed with a lot of olive oil, black pepper ad pecorino cheese. It was most likely eaten at the beginning of the day, to bolster strength for the day’s work in the fields. While not strictly traditional, here is my version of Dried Fava Bean Soup with Fennel, Turmeric and Herbs.
Leftover maccu soup can be poured into a shallow bowl, left until firm, then cut into strips, dredged in flour, and fried in olive oil till golden brown and crisp; a frugal way to transform any leftovers into another tasty dish.
Frozen Broad Beans
Luckily, frozen dried beans are also commonly available. Where I live, supermarkets have podded but unpeeled frozen broad beans, and the Middle Eastern shops keep peeled frozen broad beans. I prefer these as it lessens the preparation work.
Our Broad Bean Recipes