Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Seasonal Local Ingredients: California Fava Beans

Fava Beans have been found in some of the earliest-known human settlements. Most often associated with Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern cuisines, the Chinese have also enjoyed them for more than 5,000 years. Also known as Horse, Broad, Windsor, English Dwarf Bean, Tick, Pigeon, Bell, Haba, Feve and Silkworm beans. In California, fava beans are grown as seed crops along the coast from Lompoc to Salinas and in the Northern Sacramento Valley.

Not everyone loved Fava Beans. Pythagoras told his followers to avoid Fava Beans.
For some people, we now know, fresh fava beans can be poisonous. This fairly common genetically transmitted condition called favism, was recognized only at the turn of this century and has been explained fully just in the last decade.

Whether the poisonings were the basis of Pythagoras' pronouncement or not, no one can say for certain. While today's cults seem determined to tell all about their religious beliefs, the Pythagoreans were notoriously close-mouthed.

Iamblichus tells of the time a group of Pythagoreans were being pursued by their enemies when they came across a field of favas in bloom. Rather than disobey the master's dictates and flee through the field, they were slaughtered. And when two who were captured were questioned about their beliefs, they refused to answer. The husband chose death and the wife, a Spartan, bit off her tongue and spit it at her captors to avoid spilling the beans.

Fresh California fava beans are available from April through June and the early crop is coming packed in bushel and 1/9th cartons. Fava Beans have a distinct flavor and creamy texture that makes them a great addition to a wide variety of dishes. Fava beans should be shelled and peeled before eating they are great steamed and served with a little olive oil.

Favas are nutrition superheroes. They are high in fiber and iron, and low in sodium and fat. They have no cholesterol but so much protein, they are called the meat of the poor.

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