Ingredient of the Week: Fava Beans

What are they?

Immortalized by Dr. Hannibal Lector in the Oscar-winning film Silence of the Lambs, these fat, light green legumes are one of the oldest cultivated plants in civilization, and they're currently in season.

Coming in a pod that's around six inches long, they require a little effort on the forefront and need to be shucked and quickly boiled to remove a waxy coating on the outside before cooking preparations begin - this time-consuming factor is probably a contributor to their lack of popularity in the U.S.

With a buttery, nutty flavor and a hint of bitterness, they are high in iron and fiber but contain more carbohydrates and calories than other beans due to their starchiness. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, but will stay fresher if wrapped lightly in plastic.

How are they used?

The preparations of favas depend on the culture. They are fried for a crunchy, salty snack in China, Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Thailand. They're fermented, along with soybeans and peppers, to make a spicy bean paste in China.

They're a popular ingredient in falafels, especially in Egypt, where they are also mashed with oil, garlic, lemon, salt and cumin and eaten as a spread on bread.

Fava beans can be boiled, used in soups and stews and prepared with pasta - it's limitless.

Where can I find them in Houston?

I've seen them fresh at Central Market, and this is only conjecture, but I'd guess places like Canino's, Whole Foods, farmers' markets and some of the larger HEBs might also carry them in season.

Recipe: Fava Bean Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette and Shaved Manchego: Courtesy of FoodNetwork.com

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