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!
Watching the plants grow, smelling the beautiful scented blossoms as they develop never ceases to bring a smile.
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?
Incase I have never told you this Dee – I love your Blog. I find myself waiting for the right moment to sit and read and learn from every blogpost you write. I am never bored with what you have to say and ALWAYS learn something handy – like the nitrogen ‘fix’ for the bean plants. yes – we have beans and a few recipes. Ours will be picked and podded next week and I will include in the Sunday Times column or on the blog. Keep at it – you are fab!
Mona thank you so much! Am completely touched by your comment and glad you find the blog useful. Know what you mean about the time though! We’re now on the fifth batch of your cookies btw. Our girls made them Thursday and they’re making delicious gifts. Am a bit of a blogaholic so no plans to stop just yet! :))
I love broad beans. They’re good in risottos, broad bean and bacon or pea and bean risotto.
It’s surprisingly how many people I come across haven’t tried them Margaret. Guess it’s because they’re not readily available in supermarkets.
You can make whit honey and milk “frejol colado”
I’ve never tried them! will rectify this though after your post! I love their flowers- just beautiful!
You’re not alone Sharon… as they’re not readily available in supermarkets many people have yet to try them. Best of luck sourcing them & let me know what you think and if you can’t find them you could always plant a few seeds in October 😉
I like making hummus and falafels with the dried ones.
Mmm that sounds good Mads. Do you have recipes? I’m growing lots this year for the pigs. Am sure I could spare a few & try them.
I grew fava beans for the first time last year out of curiosity after finding a single six pack of plants at the local nursery. I had a small crop and decided not to bother again. When I pulled down the plants at the end of the season, I found several pods I had missed that had dried on the plants. I planted a couple dozen of the dried seeds in the same spot where the row was the previous year. It looked like almost every bean sprouted and the yield is great this year. Unfortunately the weather jumped from the seventies of the past several weeks to the mid nineties for the past three days and hit the plants hard. will be cooking fava beans in the next couple days and leaving several pods to dry on the plants again.
That’s a lovely story Ken and something I often mention when I’m with a group – the best way to learn is from experience and/or our mistakes! I wasn’t sure about Fava beans to begin with either but they’re such a great vegetable I’ve learnt to enjoy them. Good luck with your seedsaving!
I am a fava fanatic, and grow my own since they are so hard to find. I pick mine when the pods are about an inch wide and the pods feel heavy and firm, which happens about the 2nd-3rd week in June. That way, you get a good sized bean but still bright green and at its peak of flavor. Here in CT, I started the beans in my sunroom in early March, I even went to the trouble of inoculating them. I planted out as soon as I could get a trowel into the ground outside; this meant the seedlings encountered 25 degree cold overnight but were unfazed. A sudden hot spell in May caused a lot of blossoms to fail to set pods, but it got cool again, so I still had a decent harvest. I find these beans endlessly fascinating. Next year I will start them even sooner indoors, but in bigger peat pots so the roots have room to stretch before they go outside. I love these beans so much, I take the extra trouble to air the seedlings outside on any March day that isn’t blustery, bringing them indoors on frosty nights, so they are well acclimated to cool temperatures when they go in the ground. I recommend that everyone try the double podding method because otherwise you miss the lovely delicate flavor of the inner beans. It isn’t that much fuss: I shell them from their outer pods by running a sharp paring knife down the edge, which usually makes a small slit in the inner pod at the same time. Plunge the inner pods in boiling water for just a minute, then into an ice bath. Peeling the inner pod is super quick, you squeeze them and the little green beans pop right out thru the slit you made earlier while shelling. I wrap them tight in saran wrap in serving size portions for freezing, and enjoy them for months to come; they really do keep their flavor that way. Try combining them with thinly sliced smoked salmon, on a bed of greens, with a lemon-vinaigrette dressing and a sprinkling of capers.
Thanks for the tip about what to do after harvest. I had been wondering about that. One last fun fact: check out what happens to the blanching water after it cools: it turns almost red. I think this may be due to tannins in the bean skins. Any other theories??
Alice, thanks so much for your response and glad to read I’m not the only one who loves the tiny little inner beans and thanks for the tip about getting them out of their bigger bean and your recipe sounds delicious! My beans are just about ready in the polytunnel now so I’ll watch out for the blanching water, I haven’t noticed it before but as I’m growing scarlet beans this year, the chances are good!I haven’t heard any other theories about them changing colour so you could be right – I’ll keep my ears peeled 🙂
Just took a quick google about tannins in favas, and, indeed, they are apparently high in tannins — if I’m reading correctly, especially the inner pods!
[…] information can be found on harvesting and cooking broad beans in this archive article and Nigel Slater shares a Broad Bean humus recipe here that’s top of my ‘to […]
Good Blog on Fava or Broad beans, but left out another method, ie Soup. Pod mature beans by scoring along the side putting a score or slice through skin on side of seed. Boil seed until cooked tender (seed centre) then start using the mouli with coarse seive until you have a good pudding bowl size of bean paste, feed the skins to the chooks. With chicken stock and a Smoked Ham Hock, coarsly chopped carrot, potato, celery, parsley, shallots or onion (I used both), Mushroom and few crushed cloves of garlic black pepper and a little salt if required (Smoked Ham Hock provides enough salt for my taste). And Yummo. The mind boggles at what future Fava bean soups I am going to make, I podded, blanched and froze 15 Kilo of beans.
Cheers Pete, East Gippsland Au
Fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing that Pete