Broad Beans, a little out of fashion except in Italian, Greek, Chinese, South American and Middle Eastern communities, are a speciality of Spring time. Once upon a time, before the green bean varieties came to Europe, Broad Beans were the beans. They are ancient and no one knows exactly where they came from. They are also often called Fava Beans.
Look for them in green grocers who cater for the Italian, Greek or Middle Eastern food requirements, as soon as Spring arrives. An acceptable alternative is frozen Broad Beans, and they can be found in the Supermarket, or in the freezer sections of Middle Eastern groceries. The benefit of the Middle Eastern ones over the supermarket ones is that the ones stocked by Middle Eastern stores have been double peeled. We will explain that later.
Broad Beans are encased in a green pod which is slightly downy. Crisp when young, the pods rapidly become limp when stored, and the picked edges (and any broken areas) oxidise quickly and blacken. Pods vary in length from a few centimetres, which is the benefit of growing your own, to 18 – 25 cms when sold fresh in the green grocers. The pods are a little dimpled or curvy, and contain 8 – 10 fleshy seeds which are the Broad Beans. The first broad beans of Spring are small and incredibly tender, and as the season progresses, they become larger, less tender, and less sweet. Both are wonderful additions to the table. Later on, once fresh broad beans have disappeared from the gardens and stores, dried fava beans are available – both small, young, peeled and split dried beans, and larger, tougher, unpeeled dried beans. With different flavours, both dried beans are worth searching for, and will most commonly be found in Greek, Italian and Middle Eastern shops.
The first Broad Beans, achingly tender, do not need to be podded. The whole bean, pod and all, can be topped and tailed and cut into lengths before being added to salads or pilafs. Indeed, the whole pods can be blended into a puree that is excellent on toast or as a sauce. These young pods need no cooking, but if you insist they can be blanched for 15 seconds or steamed very briefly. The joy of their nutty sweetness is unsurpassed.
Selection of Broad Bean Pods
Once they are passed that baby stage, select pods that are a good pale green without blackening along the pod of the bean. Avoid ones that have large, white coloured beans, as these will be tougher and lend themselves more to soups and longer cooking than salads and brief cooking. Store them for a short time in a ventilated bag or glass container. Or pod them, blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute, peel each bean of its outer covering, and freeze them for later.
A kg of broad beans in pods will yield about 350g of podded beans.
Preparation of Broad Beans
Yes, Broad Beans take two steps in their preparation. First they are removed from their pod, then the seeds are briefly blanched in boiling water, and then the tougher outer skin is removed from each bean. A bright green, very tender inner bean is revealed and it is this that holds the magic of the Broad Bean taste. The beans are blanched to make this second step easier, and you will find that they will pop out of that tough covering. The younger beans will need no further cooking, but if they are older, simmer them for up to 10 minutes – even longer for older tougher beans.
How to Use Broad Beans
The first broad beans of the season can be treated very simply. They are tender and sweet, so they can be served raw, blanched, steamed briefly or tossed on a hot griddle. Serve simply with sea salt, black pepper and a little olive oil. Toss them through some fresh pasta, and use them as a garnish over other dishes in the kitchen. Young whole pods, only around 5 or 6 cm long, can be served as they are or snipped into short lengths.
Once the first weeks of Spring pass, the beans will need a light cooking after the second peeling before using, but can be used as before. Pods are no longer young enough to puree as they are.
Older beans are wonderful in purees, soups and other dishes where they can cook for longer and the flavour – more mealy and less sweet – enhances the dish.
The season lasts 3 months in your garden if they are sufficiently cared for, and for less time in the shops – perhaps for 2 months.
Broad Bean Recipes
- Broad Bean and Tomato Salad
- Broad Bean Salad with Parmesan, Broad Beans and Garlic Chips
- Broad Bean Mezze
- Broad Beans with Crispy Garlic
- Broad Beans with Feta and Preserved Lemon
- Broad Beans with Fresh Pecorino Cheese
- Glorious Five Bean Salad
- Pan Fried Broad Bean Salad with Tomatoes and Thyme
- Tawa Broad Beans
Pasta and Pilafs
- Saffron Israeli Couscous with Broad Beans
- Orecchiette with Broad Beans
- Penne with Ricotta and Broad Beans
- Young Broad Bean Puree
- Broad Bean and Butter Bean Spread and Dip
- Broad Bean and Mint Mash
- Broad Bean Puree with Chilli Oil
- Umbrian Broad Bean Puree and Sauce
Dried Broad Beans (Fava Beans)
- Dried Fava Bean Soup
- Dried Fava Bean Soup with Turmeric and Herbs
- Dried Fava Bean Puree with Dill and Olive Oil
- Dried Fava Bean Puree with Fresh Herbs