Followers of Pythagoras were forbidden to eat it, writer Herodotus claimed that Greek priests wouldn't even look at it and many ancient Greeks believed that "wind" was its byproduct.
According to Alan Davidson's The Penguin Companion to Food, there are few types of produce with a history as clouded in superstition as the broad bean, most commonly known as the fava bean. Despite its colorful history, the fava bean, originating in pockets of Europe, West Asia and Northern Africa, has been a major food source for thousands of years.
Today, this enigmatic little legume is seen in a much less eerie light.
There are two types of fava beans: The larger Windsor beans grow in a rather short pod that contains four beans. Longpod beans are generally smaller and grow in a long, narrow pod containing eight beans.
Cathy Thomas writes in Melissa's Great Book of Produce that fava bean seeds usually are planted in the early spring to take advantage of a favorable cool climate. Fresh favas are available from late March to late August in the United States, while the rest of the world enjoys them from October to March.
CREAMED FAVA BEANS WITH TARRAGON SERVES
6 / / TOTAL TIME: 1 HOUR AND 50 MINUTES
6 pounds fresh fava beans in their pods
4 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon minced shallots
4 teaspoons flour
1 cup milk
small sprig of thyme
1 / 2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 / 8 teaspoon minced tarragon
1 / 4 teaspoon salt, plus more, if desired
1 / 8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more, if desired
Remove the beans from the pods. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add the beans and simmer about 2 to 3 minutes, until the beans are tender and the outer skins are loose. Drain and rinse under cold water.
Pop each bean out of its shell. You will have about 2 cups of fava beans. Set the beans aside while making the bechamel sauce.
Heat the butter in a small saucepan until melted. Add the minced shallots and saute over medium-low heat until tender, about 1 minute. Add the flour and warm for a minute, stirring.
Gradually add the milk and whisk until smooth. Add a sprig of thyme and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer.
Stir in the lemon juice, tarragon, 1 / 4 teaspoon salt and 1 / 8 teaspoon pepper.
Stir the peeled fava beans into the cream sauce. Heat 1 to 2 minutes -- just until the fava beans are hot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Per serving: 441 calories, 37 grams protein, 81 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 7 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 11 milligrams cholesterol, 224 milligrams sodium
Recipe and analysis from the Los Angeles Times.
TIPS FOR FAVA BEANS
The Web site oceanmist.com advises choosing favas that are still sealed inside the pod. The pods should be plump, green, slightly fuzzy and speckled with a slight bronze color on the outside.
Cathy Thomas, author of Melissa's Great Book of Produce, recommends that favas be shelled before storing. Remove the outer pod and then the outer shell of each bean. The beans are delicate, so store them in a single layer in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will keep for three days.
"I like fava beans because of their versatility, and they are strikingly unique and original," says Joshua Young, executive chef of the International Harbor Court Hotel. He recommends using fresh, peeled and cooked favas in a watercress salad or substituting favas beans for lima beans when making succotash. "Fava beans are lighter and less starchy than a lima bean," he says.