Can I just talk about fava beans for a moment? They are really just the coolest beans. As tender green bébés, or as sturdy dried brown beans, they are delicious, nutritious, and versatile enough to use in a variety of recipes. In this fava bean purée, the delicate green beans meet mint and fennel for a dip or spread that is bursting with fresh, summery flavor.
About this recipe
Fava bean purée is a staple dish in several cuisines around the world. For example, you’ll find it in Southern Italy as fave e cicoria (fava bean purée with chicory), or in Morocco as bessara. But while these dishes may have had an influence on this particular recipe, it isn’t a direct reference to either of them.
The real story is that I combined these ingredients because I was trying to figure out what to do with a few items I had on hand. An unusually small bulb of fennel was languishing in my refrigerator, the mint in my garden was growing like wild, and I had some fava beans in the freezer that I wanted to use.
I wasn’t sure that this combination was going to turn out well, and I expected to tinker with the recipe a few times before settling on something that I would be happy to share. To my surprise, though, I found that had a winner on the first try. The ingredients are simple, and the process is easy: just sauté, purée, and chill!
What kind of fava beans does this recipe require?
There are two main things that you need to remember for this recipe. First, you’ll need green fava beans, not brown. Second, the beans need to be peeled, and if you can’t find them with the skins already removed, you’ll need to do it yourself.
I used frozen favas for this recipe, but if you aren’t familiar with this ingredient, shopping can be a bit confusing. That’s because there are a several different kinds of fava beans that you can find at supermarkets, farmer’s markets, and specialty stores. Some will work for this recipe and others won’t. I’ll break it down below.
Frozen favas: best choice, so easy!
If you can find frozen, peeled favas, all you have to do is thaw and strain them before using. Not only is this is the fastest option, it’s also the best option for folks with dexterity issues because it eliminates the fiddly chore of peeling the beans by hand.
I never see frozen fava beans at my local supermarkets, but the Middle Eastern and Asian markets in my area both carry them.
The ones that I can find in the Middle Eastern market are labeled as “fava beans,” and are sold with their skins on.
At the nearest Asian market, I’ve found them in the frozen section labeled as “broad beans.” There, they were available already peeled. This is, by far, the easiest option, and it’s what I would choose all the time if the store weren’t an hour’s drive from my home.
Fresh favas (a.k.a. broad beans): second choice, good flavor, more effort
Fresh favas are typically sold in their large, green pods, and are sometimes also labeled as “broad beans.” You can use fresh beans in this recipe; you’ll just need to shell them, blanch the beans, and peel their skins before using them. This is probably the best option in terms of flavor, but it’s a thumbs down in terms of effort.
Canned favas: meh
I have found both green and brown canned favas in local markets. The main thing that you need to know is that you definitely don’t want the brown ones for this fava bean purée.
Because of their mushy texture, the canned green fava beans would be my last choice. And if they still have their skins, you will need to peel them before using.
Dried favas: don’t use ’em
I believe the only fava beans that are available dried are the mature, brown fava beans, and that’s not what we’re looking for.
Dried favas are wonderful in lots of other dishes, but they are not right for this one.
Is fava bean purée healthy?
Compared to some of the other tasty dips and spreads that I like to make (*cough* Homemade Hummus *cough*), this recipe is a bit lower in oil and salt, which makes it appropriate for folks who are watching their fat or sodium intake.
(Personally, I say bring on the fat — but since high blood pressure runs in my family, I’m always looking for ways to limit salt without sacrificing flavor.)
Restrictions aren’t what determines whether a particular food is healthy, though. It’s as much — if not more — about what is present as it is about what’s missing.
And when we look at this recipe’s main ingredient, fava beans, we can see that they have a lot going on.
These little green beans are high in fiber, iron, protein, and antioxidants. And in addition, favas contain significant amounts of:
Are fava beans safe for everyone?
While fava beans are a healthy choice for most folks, there are some cases in which people should avoid them.
It is possible to be allergic to fava beans, just like it’s possible to be allergic to any food. If you have an allergy to another legume, like peanuts or soy, it’s possible that you could also have an allergic reaction to fava beans, through a process called cross-reactivity.
In addition to being a concern for people with legume allergies, fava beans may not be safe for people who have a rare genetic disorder called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. This condition can cause a reaction to fava beans that is known as favism. For people who have favism, exposure to fava beans or pollen can trigger the body to destroy its own red blood cells. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, jaundice, fatigue, and rapid heart rate after exposure.
While favism is extremely rare, it can be life threatening for those who are affected most severely. If you have glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, you should talk to your healthcare provider about whether it is safe for you to eat fava beans. And if you notice symptoms like jaundice or shortness of breath after eating favas, stop eating those beans and contact your doctor.
To make this fava bean purée recipe, you will need:
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