Fava beans, also called broad beans and Windsor beans, ripen in late spring. These plump, waxy beans closely resemble lima beans, but are usually larger in size. They also have a rich, meaty flavor that makes them a delicious addition to soups, stews, salads, and vegetable dips. When choosing fava beans, there are several factors to consider. Young fava beans feature different flavors than more mature varieties. Consumers should also note the plumpness, color, and feel of the pods before purchasing or harvesting.
In the U.S., young fava beans usually begin to make an appearance in stores and farmer’s markets at the beginning of May. These small beans, usually measuring about 3 inches (about 6 cm) long have a sweet, light flavor similar to that of sweet peas. Consumers should typically look for young pods that feel firm, but not hard, and show light indentations between the beans inside the pods. The pods themselves should also be free of brown, mushy spots and bore holes. These things could indicate that the beans inside the pod are rotten.
Consumers that enjoy more savory beans may want to wait until mid- or late-spring for more mature beans. These pods usually measure between 6 to 12 inches (12 to 24 cm). Larger beans are usually harder and may have a bitter taste. Cooks looking for mature fava beans usually plan to mix them with very savory flavors, like garlic, onions, bacon, and hearty greens. Late-harvest fava beans should definitely bulge inside the pods, but should be free of blemishes, just like the younger beans.
Sweet, young beans may be eaten cooked or raw, and often work well in light salads. They can be combined with delicate butter lettuce, peas, early tomatoes, and salty cheeses to make a healthy lunch or a side dish for dinner. Younger beans also combine well with okra in seasonal soups and stews. To prepare these early harvest fava beans, a cook must simply pop off the stem end of each pod and pull to help the pod pop open. The beans may then be eaten as-is.
Older, late-harvest beans are almost always cooked because they’re tougher and can be bitter when eaten raw. Many cooks sauté older fava beans with butter and onions until they’re tender. Some also simmer them together with root vegetables to create pureed soups or flavorful mashed veggies to eat on a chilly spring evening. These beans also work well with spicy flavors and are sometimes cooked, cooled, and added to salsas.
Mature beans should be popped out of the pod and slipped right into boiling water. They have a waxy coating on them that is very difficult to chew and digest. When the beans have boiled for about 5 minutes, they may be drained and slipped into an ice bath. After that, the cook must peel each bean. Some cooks always choose young beans just to avoid this step.