Saturday, February 28, 2009

Apple #371: Beans -- fava

This is the eighth entry in a series about Beans.


Here they are, by request. I'm sorry, fava bean lovers, but there is no way I can talk about fava beans without including this, from Silence of the Lambs:

Fava beans in and out of their pods.
(Photo from Dinner with Julie)

Fava beans with olive oil, Parmesan, salt & pepper
(Photo and recipe from Frumpy Foodie)

Categorized as:
  • Fruit.
  • Pulse (sold commercially in large quantities in dry form)
  • Species name: Vicia faba minor. Part of the Fabaceae family, same as all the other beans we've discussed so far, but it's a type of vetch. Lots of beans are vetches, actually, which actually means that it's a climbing plant. But so are other plants that are used more as forage or ground cover. Alfalfa is a kind of vetch.

General facts:
  • May also be called broad beans, pigeon beans, horse beans, English beans, or Windsor beans. To answer one Daily Apple reader's question, they are not the same as Lima beans. Though they sure do look like Lima beans.
  • I've never had the fava beans myself, but it sounds like their taste is similar to the Lima beans: buttery, nutty, and slightly bitter.
  • Before Europeans discovered the New World and all its Phaeolus vulgaris beans, fava beans were the only beans they ate. Because those were the only ones they knew. Poor old Europeans. No black beans for them!
  • Some people think that the beans in Jack and the Beanstalk were probably fava beans. Which also had magic capabilities besides their usual fava-ness.
  • A very few people can have a severe allergic reaction to fava beans, called favism. I have no idea how you'd know whether you have this before eating fava beans, except that the people who tend to have this allergy are of Mediterranean, African, or Southeast Asian descent. Well, that rules out only about half the world.
  • The fact that some Mediterranean folks can have this allergy is kind of a kicker because during a period of famine, many Sicilians survived on the fava bean.
  • Italians -- and the Greeks -- have been eating fava beans for centuries. The name "fava" was originally "Faba," after a noble Roman family, Fabii.
  • Pythagoras, who had lots of ideas about lots of things besides just geometry, told his followers never to eat fava beans. He thought they contained the souls of the dead.
  • Europeans aren't the only ones who ate fava beans. They've been a part of Chinese meals for thousands of years.
  • In fact, fava beans have been cultivated for so long, there's no longer any wild variant of the plant left.

Fava beans, deep-fried, served in Guatemala.
(Photo from Andy's Hobo Traveler blog)

  • The pod is pretty tough and there is also some greenish white "matter" in there with the beans. Once you've got the beans out,you have to parboil them to get rid of their waxy coating. So if you buy them in the pod, you're in for some work.
  • Chefs say that fava beans are best cooked in butter, oil, or cream. Lots of people seem to like them boiled gently with olive oil and salt, and served with coarse salt and Parmesan on top.
  • They go well with lightly smoked meats, seafood, or veal. Makes sense, eh, Dr. Lecter?

Next bean for your consideration: coffee beans.

Bonny Wolf, Fava Beans: A Little Spring on Your Plate, NPR Kitchen Window, March 28, 2007
Specialty Produce, Fava Beans, Fava Beans
Moira Hodgson, Fava Beans Take Time, but Are Worth It, The New York Times, May 5, 1996
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, legumes
USDA Plants Database, Classification Down to Family Fabaceae
FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 4. Pulses and Derived Products
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Pulses
Wikipedia, Fabaceae and pulses
Edhat Santa Barbara, Veggie of the Week - Shell Beans

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