buttery sesame fava beans

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While you can buy canned and dried fava beans year-round, fresh green fava beans are just in season for a few months every spring. And, if you haven't already guessed, they're finally here! I've been buying piles and piles from my neighborhood produce market all week, and I've learned a lot about the best way to prepare, cook, and enjoy these delicious beans, which (I'll admit!) have a bit of a persnickety reputation. But it doesn't have to be that way. When you know how to deal with them, fava beans are surprisingly low maintenance.

1) they don't have to be pretty on the outside

A while ago, my friend Abeer was telling me about a conversation at the Food on the Edge conference about the growing demand for picture-perfect ingredients, even though certain marks that look like signs of decay can be either neutral or good indicators of freshness. For instance, persimmons are best when they're just starting to get a couple little spots (sort of like a ripe banana). And that chalky white "bloom" that develops on the outside of neglected chocolate bars will just disappear once you melt and temper it. But with impeccably styled smoothie bowls and #fridgegoals posts flooding instagram, it doesn't surprise me that home cooks are beginning to expect their produce to look like it should be in a magazine.

But here's the thing about real life fava beans: their shells are often kind of bumped and bruised. I don't know where food photographers are getting their fava beans, but I've never seen ones in the wild that look like they do in magazines and food blogs. The fava beans in this post look like they've been through a lot. They're blemished and tattered, and they seem like they may have been sitting around for a couple weeks after harvesting. Maybe they're not from around here, or maybe (as I've always suspected... *single tear sad emoji*), they're not really flying off the shelf.

But the nice thing about fava beans is that their outer shells don't matter, because they're just going to get shucked and tossed aside, and the beans themselves are incredibly hardy. In my experience, spots and scratches don't necessarily indicate that the beans have gone bad. If you're unsure, you can always ask to pop one open to see if the beans inside look good (a few light brown spots on the inner membrane around the bean are fine). Just remember that looks can be deceiving.

buttery sesame fava beans
buttery sesame fava beans

2) shelling them is easy (if you use my method)

Since I've been experimenting with fava beans all week, I've tried to figure out the best way to shuck them (out of sheer necessity!), and I've figured out a way that works much faster than the most popular method.

In the past, I've normally done what just about everyone suggests doing: the string-removal method. You're supposed to break off the stem end, and pull the string down the side, then do the same with the other side (like a string bean), and the pod is supposed to magically pop open, revealing the beans. But this has never really worked for me—the strings never seem to cut deep enough, and the pod always stays intact, so I end up ripping them apart and awkwardly picking bits of shell away to pry out the beans. Not great.

But when I started experimenting, I realized that there's a faster, easier way that works in one swift motion. For more specific instructions, check out the recipe and images below, but here's the gist of it: You hold the hollow part of the stem flat between your thumb and the side of your index finger, and you pop it back and split the whole thing open. Once you get the hang of it, it just takes between 3 and 6 seconds per bean, and (more importantly), it's way more fun and less frustrating. You'll zoom through them in no time!

When it comes to peeling the membranes after they're blanched and out of their shells, I'm sticking with the usual tried-and-true method. You just peel a bit of the film back with a paring knife, and then pop the bean out (see the second GIF). Fava beans are humungous, so this requires way less work than the likeminded (and wildly popular) "smoothest hummus ever" chickpea peeling strategy (which, for the record, you will only convince me to do if I'm having the queen over for meze).

buttery sesame fava beans
buttery sesame fava beans
shelling the fava bean pods (shown here once at normal speed, then once slowed down)

shelling the fava bean pods (shown here once at normal speed, then once slowed down)

peeling the membranes from the beans (also shown at both speeds)

peeling the membranes from the beans (also shown at both speeds)

3) fava beans are best kept simple

Even though I've shared my really easy method for shelling fava beans, they still require a little more prep time than the average veggie. But lucky for us, fava beans don't take a lot of work or additional ingredients to taste delicious. However... here's my hot take on cooking fava beans: contrary to what die-hard fava fans say, I don't think they are at their best right after blanching in hot water. While they certainly don't need to be fussed with, I do think they need just a couple more minutes of extra effort to really shine. In the recipe below, you simply sizzle them in a generous amount of butter for a few minutes, and then add a little garlic, sesame, and lemon juice. It's the next simplest thing to eating them straight from the stockpot, but it makes all the difference, and makes all that shelling and peeling worth it.

buttery sesame fava beans
buttery sesame fava beans

Allergy warning: Most people will absolutely love fava beans and can eat them safely, but some people have a genetic enzyme deficiency, which can make it dangerous to eat favas. Read a little about favism to make an informed decision about whether to try them, and be sure to inform your guests too. If you're looking for a good substitute for this recipe, try cooking about 2 cups of lima beans or soy beans this way (just make sure to use fresh or frozen green ones, not packaged dried ones).

buttery sesame fava beans

yield: 4 servings
active time: 20 minutes
total time: 30 minutes
download a PDF to print

  • 1 3/4 to 2 pounds fresh fava beans (in their shells)

  • 4 tablespoons butter (see note below)

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed with a garlic press

  • 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon lemon juice (to taste)

  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

  1. Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil over high heat.

  2. While you wait on the water, peel the outer shells from the fava beans. Here's the easiest way to do this: using your thumb and the side of your index finger, pinch one end flat and feel for the hollow part right above one of the beans, then snap it back so half of the tip is severed, and then roll half of the bean back over your index finger, while peeling the other half away with your other hand (see the above GIF and photo). Pop out the pods and discard the shell.

  3. Once the water is boiling, add the shelled fava beans and boil for 45 seconds. While they're boiling, fill a bowl with ice water.

  4. Strain the fava beans in the sink, and then immediately shock them in the ice water for about 3 minutes. To finish prepping the beans, peel the membranes. The easiest way is to carefully use a paring knife and your thumb to peel away a patch of film, and then pop the bean out (see the above GIF). Some of them might come out split in half, which is totally fine. this takes about 5 seconds/bean–a little longer than the shells, but also not too bad. Make sure they're nice and dry before proceeding.

  5. Melt the butter over medium-high heat. Let it bubble for about a minute after it melts (careful not to let it brown or smoke), and then add the prepped favas and salt. Cook stirring every 30 seconds for about 5 to 6 minutes, until the beans are a little creamy on the inside, and no longer mealy. Lower the heat if the butter begins to brown. In the last minute of cooking, add the garlic. *

  6. Add the sesame seeds and lemon juice, toss together, and serve.

* If you don't want all that butter to end up in the final dish: after letting the garlic sizzle for a few minutes, you can carefully pour off the remaining butter, or use a paper towel to sop some of it up. You must do this while the beans are still sizzling in the butter, and before you add the sesame seeds and lemon juice. Doing it this way, you can get rid of 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter. (If you're wondering, I like to leave all 4 tablespoons.)

buttery sesame fava beans

kbeibat

kbeibat

Kibbeh is a Middle Eastern sensation. Just about every city has its own preparation, and you can find countless varieties if you do just a quick search. Kibbeh is diverse, prolific, and completely beloved. Thus, kibbeh is a food that resists definition and categorization. It's most often translated in English as "Middle Eastern dumplings," which is closest to the word's etymology. And true, most are dumplings (sometimes boiled, sometimes fried), but some preparations, like kibbeh bil saniyeh, are baked in a casserole or sheet pan, and some are eaten raw, like steak tartare. So whenever the dumpling comparison doesn't fit, kibbeh is defined as having some sort of dough made out of bulgur wheat. But this isn't always the case, because some are totally gluten free, made with potatoes or rice. So while I guess you could say that the platonic form of kibbeh is a bulgur dumpling, that only begins to scratch the surface of what's possible. This particular dish, kbeibat, fits both definitions, and is a great place to start.

kbeibat
kbeibat
kbeibat

My aunt Masy taught us all how to make kbeibat a few weeks ago. We had just about everyone over to my parents' house and she demonstrated how to expertly form the dough into little hollow cones, how to prepare the finely minced filling, and how to make a farina and bulgur dough. She wasn't totally happy with how the dough turned out, but we spoke on the phone a couple times afterwards, and she gave me some more crucial advice. I put her suggestions to practice when I made my own kbeibat, and this resulted in a dough that's perfectly soft, pliable, and not so sticky that it's hard to work with, but sticky enough that it holds together when you want it to.

Kbeibat dough is usually made with some combination of bulgur and farina/semolina. Masy soaks, strains, and purées bulgur in a food processor, and then kneads in some farina and water. The filling is made with ground beef, spices (in my family's case, just some black pepper), onion, and parsley. Some cooks fill their kbeibat with raw meat and some fill theirs with sautéed meat—there are pros and cons of each method, and each result is totally different. The sautéed filling has that seared-meat flavor, which nicely contrasts with the subtle flavor of the boiled dough. On the other hand, the raw filling gently cooks along with the dough, and result in a more satisfying texture. To see an example of semolina kbeibat, made with the raw filling method, check out my friend Tony Tahhan's kbeibat. Either way, you can't go wrong.

kbeibat
kbeibat
kbeibat
kbeibat
kbeibat

kbeibat

active time: 1 hour 15 minutes
total time: 2 hours 15 minutes
yield: 3 to 4 dozen

for a menu idea, see my kbeibat hot pot
download a PDF to print

dough

  • 1 cup bulgur # 1 (extra fine)

  • 1 quart of water (for soaking)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • 3 1/3 cups farina

  • 1 1/3 cups water (for the dough)

  1. Soak the bulgur in 1 quart of water for 1 hour. After 1 hour, drain it in a fine mesh strainer, and purée it in a food processor until it's somewhat smooth.

  2. Add the salt, farina, and about half of the water to the food processor, and blend to combine. Gradually add the rest of the water with the food processor running, until it forms a smooth, slightly sticky, pliable dough. You might not use all the water—I usually hold back about 1 or 2 tablespoons.

filling

  • Olive oil

  • 1 medium onion, finely minced (about 1 1/2 cups finely minced)

  • Salt to taste (I use 1 teaspoon total)

  • 1 pound ground chuck

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons water

  • 1/2 cup finely minced parsley, plus more for garnish (or your favorite herb for garnish)

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat for 2 minutes, and add the minced onions and salt to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, just until they soften and shrink down a little.

  2. Remove the onions to a medium bowl to cool, increase the heat to high, and wait 1 minute. Add 1/2 teaspoon oil, swirl to coat, and add the ground chuck and salt to taste. Cook, stirring every few minutes and breaking everything up into very small pieces. The meat is done once any liquid has evaporated and it's browned nicely (about 5 to 8 minutes).

  3. Once the meat is done, turn off the heat, stir in the pepper, and count to 10. Then add the 2 tablespoons of water, and immediately start scraping up the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir until the water evaporates, and add the meat to the bowl with the onions, Let everything cool for a little while, and then add the parsley.

  4. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. While you're waiting on the water, begin shaping the kibbeh.

  5. Lightly wet your hands while handling the dough to keep it from sticking. Take a ping-pong-sized ball of dough, wet your dominant index finger, and mold the ball around your finger. Wiggle your finger around to widen the opening. Once it's open enough and the dough is thin enough (about 1/8 inch), fill it with a heaping tablespoon of filling, and then crimp the opening shut (watch the video to see an example of how to shape them, but feel free to use whatever method is easy for you).

  6. Drop about 5 to 10 kibbeh into boiling water and let them cook for about 5 to 8 minutes, until they start floating to the top of the pot.

kbeibat