Are you a fan of broad beans (or fava beans as they’re known in the majority of countries around the world)? Have you even tried them?
I wrote a blog post a while ago about how easy it is to grow these hardy beans, but basically just pop a seed in the soil and watch it grow!
Have you ever observed how a bean appears? I was enthralled the first time I saw it, checking my plants daily to see if there’d been a development overnight. Firstly the flowers open, then as they wither you’ll notice tiny little beanlets replacing them. The pods develop on the bottom of the plant first, so that’s where you’ll find them first. When they’re ripe for picking just twist them off the stems rather than pulling which will prevent an accidental stem snapping. As the plant continues to grow, more beans will appear, working their way upwards.
Outside my bean plants never usually make it past waist height but this year in the polytunnel they were over six-foot tall – that’s a whole lotta beans!
So once your beans are developing what then? How do you know when to harvest them?
Would it surprise you that you can prepare a simple broad bean in at least five different ways?
- Starting with a bean pod about a little finger in length, you can leave these whole, top and tail then add to stir fries, steam or add to stews.
- As they grow larger, about middle finger length, slice them into 1cm pieces and cook – we usually steam and serve them as an accompanying veg.
- Larger still, when you can see the bulges of the beans growing inside, split the pods open, remove the beans and add to salads, steam or become more adventurous with different bean recipes.
- If you find the waxy outer shell of the beans too tough, you can split these open to reveal tiny little pea sized tender beans. The easiest way to do this is to put them into boiling water for a minute, then plunge into cold water and pull off the skins. I’ve watched a friend sit and double pod her broad beans in this way but I have to admit to taking the lazy option – serving them hot onto plates and the diner can choose whether they would like to take this fiddly option.
- Finally you can dry them – lovely for winter stews. The simplest way is to leave the pods on the plants until they go brown and dry up.
As if that’s not enough variations of a meal from one plant, the tender tops can also be removed and lightly steamed just like spring beans. Pick them when the plant is still flowering but before the pods form. This will help the pods to swell and prevent blackfly too as they’re very attracted to the tasty tops. Wash the tops a couple of times and steam them for a few minutes.
Wikipedia lists many other ways of cooking broad or fava beans in countries around the world – I like the idea of frying them (which splits their shells) then salt or spices are added making them a tasty snack – might give this a go!
It’s important to keep picking beans as this will encourage more – stop picking and the plant will stop producing.
You can either harvest the beans as you require them, or pick them all, blanch and freeze. Blanching involves placing the washed and prepared beans into boiling water for two minutes then plunging into cold water. I find it easier to bag them into portion sizes bags (I usually serve up four portions with family meals so that’s how many spoonfuls end up in my bags) then freeze them. Blanching prevents enzymes building up when defrosting and helps to retain the texture and flavour.
Once you’ve removed all the beans from the plants, cut the stems off at ground level digging the roots into the soil. You might notice nitrogen nodules growing on the roots which following plants will benefit from (the nodules ‘fix’ nitrogen into the soil.) Disease free stems can be added to the compost heap.
Have you any favourite recipes for using these versatile beans?