There are so many fantastic fall garden staples that shine just as brightly on the plate as in the garden. Broccoli, snap peas, kale and all the leafy greens. I love them all, but I always encourage gardeners to try growing at least one new crop each season. Experimenting and trial and error are how we become better gardeners.
If you want to try a new crop that is as good for the soil as it is to eat, let fava beans be your new fall crop.
Fava beans, also called broad beans, are edible plants in the pea and bean family Fabaceae. They have a similar flower structure to peas, and all parts of the plant are edible, but they do not produce tendrils. Their tall, bushy structure and silver-green foliage are striking in the vegetable garden, and quite the conversation starter among gardeners. The flowers are beautiful — white with black markings, reminiscent of orchids — and they are also edible.
They are widely grown as a winter cover crop in agricultural applications because of their nitrogen-fixing and erosion control abilities.
Their pods and beans are favored by chefs and have acquired a rock star reputation in the culinary world. This is because once you get to the inner, tender "meat" of the nickel-size bean, you will find a nutty, sweet morsel with a vibrant chartreuse color that rocks on a plate.
To grow fava beans in Central Texas, plant them in the fall in well-tilled, loamy soil. They will grow in poor soil and are a great option for a winter cover crop if you are trying to cultivate healthier soil. They are a long-season crop, taking more than 200 days to mature when grown in the winter. Good culinary varieties are Windsor and Aguadulce.
To plant, place one (rather large) seed 1 inch deep and 8 inches apart in rows 1 foot apart. The mature plants are large, almost 3 foot tall by 3 foot wide. When temperatures reach above 75 degrees in the spring, the plants will begin to set seed pods.
They can be harvested young and eaten like a green bean or left to mature until the beans inside begin to plump. At this point, the beans are usually shelled before eating.
After harvesting, cut the plants down to ground level and compost the foliage. Leave the roots in the ground as they have formed nitrogen-fixing nodules, which will continue to feed the soil.
If you are new to eating favas, be cautious the first time you eat them, as a few people have a genetically related adverse reaction to them called "favism." This condition is a hemolytic reaction to consumption of fava, or broad beans, because of an enzyme deficiency. Though quite rare, it’s always best to be careful.
There are so many ways to eat favas, and they should all be explored. The young leaves are beautiful and delicious, like a mild fava bean. They can be added to salads. The entire pod is edible and tender when young. Or wait until the pods are large, open them and remove the beans.
Compost the pods — they are high in nitrogen. Then, to remove the outer membrane from the beans, blanch the beans for 30 seconds and quickly rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Gently squeeze out the two halves of the bright green fava. Yes, this is a time-consuming process, but it’s worthwhile.
Now that they have been blanched and peeled, they are ready to eat. Add them to grain bowls, fry them in pork fat, or mash them into a paste with garlic and herbs for a ravioli filling or simply as a dip. In Rome, favas are served with pecorino cheese as a snack.
The recipe below is a good introduction to processing and cooking favas, but once you have mastered this, try other ways to eat them. Bring the experimenting from the garden to the kitchen.
Fresh fava bean hummus
1 pound fresh fava beans (removed from pods)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic chopped
2 tablespoons lemon Juice
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley chopped
1 teaspoon tahini paste
Blanch fava beans in boiling water for approximately 30 seconds. Quickly place in an ice bath to stop cooking.
Remove outer membrane from each bean.
In a food processor, add favas, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, parsley and tahini.
Blend to consistency. (You might need to add some water to help emulsify mixture.)