Fava beans are a fantastic cool weather cover crop used to improve soils by many gardeners and farmers. But in my garden we grow them every year to eat them as a seasonal spring delicacy. We can hardly wait as we watch the pods getting bigger and bigger as the weather warms in the spring. The tender favas are wonderfully buttery — try them boiled for a few minutes, drain them and add a bit of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and perhaps some lemon juice. My favorite way to eat them is to make a simple but delicious warm bean salad, just by adding fresh chopped tarragon from the garden, diced red onion and cooked baby potatoes.

How Do Your Beans Grow?

Fava plants like cool weather and they do well grown over the winter in our temperate California climate and they tolerate frost. I plant them in October for edible beans beginning in April. In California they are also planted in early spring for a crop in the summer. The pods are large and the beans swell quickly to eating size after the pods begin to form. After harvesting the beans as they mature in waves over a few weeks (about 4-5 weeks), we cut down the stalks and add them to our compost pile for a valuable green manure. But we also let a few pods dry on the stalk before cutting them down to use for the next season’s planting.

Fava Beans as a Cover Crop

Fava beans are members of the legume family, which are known as “nitrogen fixing” plants, therefore they don’t require nitrogen fertilizer, in fact they return nitrogen to the soil if you turn the plants under when they flower (the nitrogen fixing occurs in the nodules developed at the roots). Since the plants grow tall and bushy, they also provide a lot of biomass to recycle back into your garden through composting.

Another benefit is to planting fava beans is that they attract a variety of bees and other beneficial insects. The elegant plants can reach 6 feet high and have white flowers like giant pea flowers with black spots. The flowers are edible, and taste like raw peas (try a few in your salad). You can also add some of the tender leaves at the tops of the plants to salads, or sauté them. In fact, we have noticed that fava leaves are appearing on restaurant menus and in bags for sale at farmers markets!

The UC Davis Small Farm Program is a great source of information for questions and insight on how to grow fava beans:

“Fava beans are also called Horse, Broad, Windsor, English Dwarf Bean, Tick, Pigeon, Bell, Haba, Feve and Silkworm beans. It is similar in size to the lima bean and is native to the Mediterranean region, especially Italy and Iran. It is one of the oldest cultivated plants known, with its culture extending back to prehistoric times.”

“In addition to the organic matter benefit, the leguminous nature of fava beans can provide large amounts of nitrogen to the soil benefiting existing perennial crops such as orchards or subsequent high nitrogen consuming annual crops.”

Freshly shelled fava beans

Fava Bean Recipes

Our home-garden fava bean crop inspired my foodie husband to come up with some tasty but simple ways to enjoy and celebrate our windfall harvest. Here are our “fava bean challenge” recipes that you can adapt to suit your tastes.

The amounts in our recipes are approximate and serve two people; use them as rough guidelines. To cook the fresh beans, add them to the pot when the water begins to boil (use enough water so they are just covered) and let them simmer for only a few minutes (3 to 5 minutes should fine), then drain them. You are then ready to make any or all of the following dishes:

Fava Crostini

1 cup coarsely chopped cooked favas
1 tablespoon diced red onion
A sprig of fresh tarragon, chopped, or other fresh herb that you like (basil, cilantro)
1 clove garlic, crushed into a couple of tablespoons of olive oil
Kosher salt
Olive oil
4 thin slices of good rustic bread; we used Acme’s whole wheat walnut bread

Toast the thin slices of your bread in an oven or toaster. After it’s toasted brush with the olive oil and garlic mixture. Put the chopped fava beans, diced onion, and tarragon in a small bowl and drizzle with some olive oil and mix it gently with a spoon. Spoon it onto the bread slices and enjoy! A couple of slices per person makes a great appetizer.

Fava bean crostini with a hearty and delicious nut encrusted bread

Fava Bean Leek Soup with Whole Wheat Walnut Croutons

2 cups of vegetable broth to thin the soup
1 – 2 cups each of thinly sliced leeks and cooked favas
Olive oil and a pat or two of butter
Whole wheat walnut bread or another hearty dense bread
Chives and crème fraiche optional for garnish

Saute the thinly sliced leeks on low heat in a combination of olive oil and a little butter for several minutes until they are very soft, then add the cooked fava beans and sauté for two more minutes. Add about half a cup or more of vegetable broth and use a stick blender or conventional blender to purée the soup. Add more liquid if you would like a thinner soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the croutons chop thick slices of the bread into squares about an inch across. Toasts these in the oven on a cookie sheet, or small convection oven on a piece of aluminum foil. When you take them out of the oven brush with olive oil and crushed garlic if you wish.

Ladle your soup into bowls, add a few croutons and a dollop of crème fraîche and chopped chives if you like, and serve.

Fava bean puree with seared scallops, fava leek soup and chunky croutons

Fava Puree with Seared Scallops

1 – 2 cups of cooked fava beans
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Large sea scallops, 2-3 per person

Puree cooked favas in a hand crank food-mill (this is a quick way to remove the skins on the beans). Season with olive oil and salt.

Sear the scallops in a hot pan on both sides until almost cooked through. Put a pool of your fava puree on a plate and put the scallops on top. Grilled or sautéed asparagus goes nicely with this and is also a spring vegetable in season!

A foodmill is an indispensable tool for making a smooth puree without bean skins

Fresh Fava Beans — Enjoy Them While They Last

Try planting a few fava bean seeds as a cool weather crop in the fall  and find them at your local farmer’s market now and relish this special spring delicacy.

Recipes: Thierry Sornasse
Photos: Urban Artichoke