Vicia faba, better known as the broad bean, or fava bean, faba bean, horse bean, field bean, tic bean, and open mouth nut, is probably most well known as being the bean that film character Hannibal Lector enjoyed with the liver of one of his victims. The bean is native to north Africa and southwest Asia.
The broad bean has a long history, probably due to them being easy to grow and along with lentils, peas and chick peas, were part of the Mediterranean diet as early as 6,000BC.
History and Myth
The broad bean has been a major protein source for thousands of years, finding their way to China in 3,000BC. They weren't always considered good eating, often associated with death for various reasons in ancient times. In Ancient Egypt they were considered unclean by the upper classes.
As one of the oldest beans there are plenty of beliefs associated with the broad bean. For example broad beans, when offered in marriage was said to ensure the birth of a son. They were considered so important at one time that the penalty for stealing beans from fields was death.
Broad beans are carried for luck, believers say that carrying a broad bean means you will never be without the essentials of life.
In Portugal a bean is placed inside a Christmas cake and whoever gets the slice with the bean is supposed to supply the next year's cake.
Some folk legends, such as Jack and the Beanstalk, talk about magical beans, and the Grimm Brothers wrote a tale about a bean that splits its sides laughing at the misfortune of others.
In European folklore planting the beans on Good Friday or during the night was thought to bring good luck.
Broad beans contain notable levels of vitamin A and C as well as phosphorous and
iron. They are also rich in protein and high in fibre. They contain no cholesterol and are low in fat. Broad beans contain L-dopa, which is used as a treatment for Parkinson's disease.
Broad beans are also rich in tyramine and therefore should be avoided by people taking MAO inhibitors.
Perhaps most interestingly Pythagoras warned against the consumption of the bean in the 6th century, which he called the beans of the dead. Why? Many reasons have been suggested over the years, but the most likely is that for some the bean can be poisonous, even resulting in death. Favism, a genetically transmitted condition, was only recognised at the turn of this century and only explained fully in the last 10 years. Sufferers, mostly Europeans and those from the Mediterranean, have an enzyme deficiency, which can lead to anemia when exposed to broad beans.
Buying and Eating
The pods should be pale green and feel soft and tender. The beans can vary in colour from bright green through to brown and white. They should be eaten within a couple of days of purchase and stored in the refrigerator, otherwise the flavour will change due to the carbohydrates turning to sugar. Like peas it is one vegetable which freezes well. Dried broad beans will keep for up to one year if stored in an non-plastic airtight container.
The beans have a robust, earthy flavour and are in season in late spring through summer, but luckily in Hong Kong with vegetables imported from both hemispheres they are available twice a year.
They are a common fast food in Egypt. A popular dish is prepared with a mix of cooked beans, olive oil, garlic, salt and cumin, which is served with bread. The beans are also a favourite ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes, while in Greece they are eaten raw served with the anise drink ouzo, and in Italy are also enjoyed raw but with a slice of pecorino cheese. They are also a feature of Mediterranean cuisine. The beans can also be fried and salted and eaten as a snack, which is popular in Peru, Mexico, Thailand and China.
In Europe and Britain a classic accompaniment is parsley sauce, and the beans are often served with pork or ham dishes. Broad beans pair well with the herb savory. They can be used in a wide variety of dishes including frittata, risotto, salad, pasta and rice dishes, soup and pate.
Rustic Broad Bean Salad
300g new potatoes
400g broad beans (podded)
100g bacon, prosciutto or similar
Cook potatoes until just tender, cool and then dice. Blanch broads beans for 2-3 mins and plunge into cold water and drain. Grill meat until crisp, cool and break into pieces. Roughly chop cheese. Toss potato and broad beans in pesto (if making your own try substituting other nuts, such as walnuts or cashew for the pinenuts), add remaining ingredients, combine gently and serve with some crusty bread and a glass of "grassy" Sauvignon Blanc. This salad could also be served warm by combining before the vegetables are cool.