What, can I ask, is wrong with the Lebanese that we so dearly love the very beans that require such painstaking attention? The chickpea is a wonder bean, but that little sucker is most often nothing until it is properly free of its skin. The fava is no different.
My position as a bottom-feeder at Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco after culinary school meant that I enjoyed the pleasure of every labor-intensive job that needed doing in the kitchen. I rubbed the pesky charred skin off of massive can after can of roasted red peppers for muhammara. I pushed what had to have been 20—no 30!—cups of chickpeas through a tamis (a fine drum sieve) to pulverize and smooth it (thank goodness they weren’t up on the skinning of the chickpeas, or I’d have been destroyed. Or, on the other hand, necessity may have prompted me to seek out and find the heaven of skinless chickpeas long before I did).
They knew I was Lebanese, so maybe I had “let me skin every bean around here” all over my face. Of course, I was handed what at first appeared to be small bowls of tender blanched green fava beans to shell. The small bowls looked like nothing compared to where I’d been. Until I dove in. Getting into a rhythm that makes shelling fava beans quick and easy isn’t so obvious.
But really, who can complain when your view as you do this is the Bay Bridge at twilight, and you’ve just spent the greatest year of your life in culinary school? So hush up, Maureen.
This week we’re cooking with fava beans, but these are not fresh spring favas—they’re dried fava beans. And all dried fava beans, I’m happy to report, are skinless. Fava beans start out fresh in a pod, are shucked from that and then are protected further by a tough skin, under which is revealed a little button of a green bean that tastes and looks like spring incarnate. The dried beans are not quite so spring-essence, but they are gently flavored and delicious. And supremely healthy, a great source of protein and iron, which a girl needs when she’s trying to go meatless.
I’d love to know if you are able to find dried fava beans in your local groceries. Up here it was no problem, and they’re from one of my favorite brands, Bob’s Red Mill.
There is no substituting canned fava beans for the dry ones for our incredibly good falafel recipe, take note. We start from dry and they pretty much stay dry, except for an overnight soak in cold water. The chickpeas we’ll use are also dry, and skin-on is right-on. For a welcome change.