Ful medames; ta’miyya; bissara — fava beans have given rise to iconic dishes across the Middle East. Egyptian cuisine is unimaginable without them. They’ve been a staple in the region for about eight thousand years, and were one of the first plants cultivated for food.
Most often, they are used in their dried form: rehydrated and simmered until tender, and then prepared in a host of ways. But fresh favas are wonderful – toothsome, nutty, tasting like something halfway between a pea and bean.
Fava beans come in giant, oversized pods about 20cm long. If you split one open, you’ll see that the inside is white and fuzzy. Though this may seem alarming, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. The beans themselves are nestled in little indentations in the fuzz, each encased in a skin.
When the pods are young and small you can eat the beans as they are, but in mature favas the skin is too thick to eat comfortably and must be peeled off. A bit labour-intensive, but entirely worth the trouble when they come into season.
Fava beans make a fantastic addition to almost any salad you can think of, but they certainly deserve centre stage every so often. This dish is extremely simple – it barely qualifies as a recipe at all – and is made with ingredients you’re likely to have on hand. Serve as a side-dish, part of a buffet, or with bread as a light supper.
Fava Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad Recipe
- 1.5 kg fresh fava bean pods
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- a couple of glugs of olive oil
- juice of half a lemon
- some fresh chives, a couple of green onions, or a shallot, finely chopped
- a small wedge of your favourite hard/grating cheese (sheep’s milk cheeses, like Pecorino or Manchego, work especially well), shaved into thin strips
- salt and pepper, to taste
1. To prepare the fava beans, set a pot of water on the stove to boil, and fill a bowl with ice-cold water. While the water is heating up, shell the beans.* Once the water starts bubbling, add the favas and blanch for 2-3 minutes, until just tender. Immediately drain, and pour them into the ice water (this halts the cooking process and keeps the beans from getting mushy); drain again.
2. When the fava beans have cooled down a bit, remove them from their tough outer skins: slit each one with your fingernail or a paring knife, and let the beans slip out into a bowl.
3. Add all of the remaining salad ingredients to the bowl with the beans and toss gently. Taste, and adjust lemon juice, salt and pepper as needed.
Serves 4 as part of a meal, or 2 (generously) as a main course.