By Barbara Kobsar | Illustration by Charmaine Koehler-Lodge
Favas offer it all!
Revered by growers, fava is an important cover crop for many reasons: The bushy plants help prevent erosion and suppress weeds. They fix nitrogen in the soil and also improve its texture. They can withstand cold weather and, unlike most legumes, they can deal with high soil salinity. Impressive!
Fava plants grow quickly as high as five-feet tall, producing prodigious amounts of edible green leaves, which can be harvested without damaging the plants’ ability to produce their fava bean pods. Enjoy the greens raw in a salad or pesto. Wilt them quickly like spinach to cook into quiche or use as a topping for pasta, toast, or pizza.
Most favas are grown for their beans, which come to market fresh inside their shells. The velvety bean pods range from six to ten inches long, and if you pop a pod open, you’ll find five to eight beans sitting comfortably inside. Always choose moist, firm pods that look full but not bulging.
When picked young, shelled fava beans are tender and can be enjoyed whole sautéed in a little olive oil or tossed into a pasta salad. Larger beans take a little more work: Remove and discard the outer shell and drop the beans into a saucepan of boiling water. Blanch for a couple of minutes, drain, and immerse the beans in ice water to help preserve the bright green color. Drain again and slip the skin off each bean. This is where the labor of love comes in, but if you pinch open the skin on the end opposite where the bean connected to the pod and then squeeze the bean, the skin should slip right off.
Veteran journalist Barbara Kobsar has authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. You’ll find her each Sunday at the Walnut Creek market and on Saturdays at the Orinda and San Ramon markets selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.
Artist Charmaine Koehler-Lodge grows most of her family’s food in their rural Pennsylvania garden.