Prior to Columbus' discovery of the new world, broad beans -- also known as fava or faba beans -- were the only type of bean consumed by Europeans, with a history dating back to 6500 BC. Broad beans were once regarded with superstition in some cultures but are now a staple in some regions of Italy. With their rich, hearty flavor, they make a tasty addition to your family's table The tough, stringy shells of these beans are typically discarded, but there are ways they can be cooked.
Broad beans have a short growing season, usually from late August to early October. As broad beans mature, the beans become larger; however, the outer shell of the bean pod becomes tougher, turning from a vibrant green color to a pale white. At this stage, the taste of the shells turns bitter, and they are not typically eaten. When broad beans are young, the entire pod can be eaten in much the same way as snow peas.
Raw or Stir-Fry
The best way to enjoy the flavor of broad beans and their shells is to eat them raw, but only when they're very young. After removing the ends of the pod, the entire pod with beans still inside the shell can be tossed into a salad with some creamy dressing. Baby broad bean shells can also be used in stir-fries but should only be lightly fried to retain their crunchiness.
Steam, Boil or Puree
Another method of cooking young broad beans in their shells is to boil them whole in water. This will soften the bean but will also draw out the nutrients and some of the flavor. Rather than boiling, steaming the beans in a bamboo steamer will lock in flavors. Steamed or boiled beans can be plated as a side dish, tossed with a bit of olive oil or butter or pureed for use in a soup stock or stew.
If the bean shells are slightly older -- but not old enough to have turned white -- they may be too tough to eat whole, and the beans should be removed. Instead of discarding the shells, they can be steamed and pureed. A more creative use of broad bean shells, however, is to dip them in flour, milk then again in flour and deep-fry them. Deep-fried bean shells can be served as a unique appetizer or side dish.
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