Broad beans (also known as fava beans in the US), especially the tiny buds of the new season, are one of my favourite signs that summer is well and truly on its way. There is nothing more enjoyable than a vibrant salad of baby broad beans and fresh leaves, drizzled with tangy olive oil and languidly enjoyed in the first rays of sunshine for lunch. Perfection.
But, apart from their deliciousness and versatility, what sets a broad bean apart in terms of nutritional quality? Well, unlike most green vegetables (apart from green beans and peas), broad beans are part of the legume family. This means that as well as being a good source of folate, thiamine, manganese, copper, phosphorus, iron and non-dairy calcium, they also manage to pack in a fantastic vegan protein punch. Just one cup of broad beans will give you 13g of protein. That’s more than 2 eggs, and is enough to give the average person around a quarter of their daily protein requirement. So far, so healthy. But it gets even better, as on top of this protein, there is also a healthy dose of dietary fibre, 9g or so, which is over a third of your daily target. Dietary fibre, combined with the low glycaemic load of broad beans, will really help to fill you up and satisfy your hunger right through until your next meal (1). I’d call that a super food if ever there was one.
They are at their best from June through to September, but the fresher and smaller the better. Once liberated from their outer jacket, itself a quietly meditative task (and also great to get the kids involved with), I have to say I only ever double pod the very largest beans. This involves gently slicing and squeezing the grey-green outer layer to reveal the bright green bean underneath, but I think that it is quite a waste of all that beneficial fibre. Why not try using the older, tougher beans pureed into dips instead? The young and tender beans can just be cooked and enjoyed as they come.
So now you know just how healthful broad beans are, I hope that the recipes below will give you some inspiration for new ways of using and enjoying these tasty little beans throughout the coming summer. Enjoy!
A quick word of warning: There are a small number of people, mainly men (although it can also affect women) of African, Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent, who suffer from a medical condition known as G6PG (Glucose-6-phosphate Dehydrogenase) deficiency. If they consume broad beans, this can cause a serious problem known as ‘favism’. This presents with sudden onset of back or abdominal pain, paleness, passing very dark urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin), due to what is known as an acute haemolytic crisis. It is therefore important that if you know you have G6PG deficiency that you avoid eating broad beans, and if it runs in your family to be extremely cautious. If, after eating broad beans you suffer from any of the symptoms listed above, then seek medical attention immediately. For more information, check out this article: http://patient.info/doctor/favism
(1) NDL/FNIC food composition database home page (2011) Available at:http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ (Accessed: 16 April 2016).
Broad Bean Dip
Teasing the delicate green bean from it’s tougher grey skin is a great job for small fingers if you have idle children to spare. If you don’t fancy skinning all 500g of beans, try adding some peas to make up the weight, they also work very well in this refreshing summery dip.
You’ll Need (serves 3)
- 500g podded broad beans (weight with grey skins on)
- 1 handful of mint
- juice of half a lemon
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for dressing
- ½ tsp maldon salt
- 1 spring onion, chopped
A selection of vegetables crudités:
Asparagus, beets, carrot, ucumber, celery, chicory leaves, little gem hearts, peppers, radish
1. Blanch the broad beans in boiling water for 5 mins, until just cooked through and refresh in ice-cold water.
2. Peel off the grey skins and put into a food processor along with the rest of the ingredients.
3. Whizz until smooth and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a selection of vegetable crudités.
Broad Bean Salsa with Salmon
I love the combination of zesty salsas on fish and springs sweet young broad beans work so well with the simple flavours of herbs and lemon here to create a perfect plate for warmer days.
You’ll Need (serves 2)
- 2 fillets of organic salmon
- coconut or avocado oil, for rubbing
- 200g of podded broad beans (weight with grey skins on)
- ¼ cucumber (90g), deseeded and finely diced
- ¼ medium red onion, finely diced
- zest and juice of half a lemon
- 2 tbsp capers, roughly chopped if large
- 1 tbsp good olive oil
- a few handfuls of herbs, chives, mint, parsley, finely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Pre heat oven to 220/200fan and line a small baking tray with foil.
2. Rub a little coconut or avocado oil on the salmon, season and place skin side up on the baking tray. Cook for 15 minutes. If you like crispy skin, finish under a hot grill for 1-2 minutes, but keep a close eye on it.
3. While the fish is cooking, blanch the broad beans in boiling water for 5 minutes then refresh in ice cold water. Remove the grey skins and put in a bowl along with the rest of the salsa ingredients, stir gently and season to taste.
4. Serve with the fish and a drizzle of olive oil on top.
Warm Spring Medley
The ingredient list here could easily read ‘any green spring vegetables that your garden or greengrocer has to offer’, so use it as a base and try other greens like globe artichokes, chicory, baby spinach, or little gem hearts.
You’ll Need (serves 4-6)
- 2 tbsp good olive oil
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2 small heads of fennel
- 300g broad beans, podded
- 250ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 200g peas
- 1 bunch of British asparagus
- a squeeze of lemon juice
- salt and pepper
1. In a large frying pan, heat 1tbsp of olive oil and gently sauté the onion for 5 minutes.
2. Trim the fennel head and cut into 6 or 8 wedges. Add these to the pan and cook for 4 minutes before adding the stock and broad beans.
3. Bring to the boil and then simmer vigorously for 4 minutes. Add the peas, and asparagus and cook for a few more minutes until all the vegetables are cooked and the liquid is all but gone.
4. Finish with a generous squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and season to taste.
5. Serve warm, great with lamb or fish and just as tasty the next day cold for lunch.
Photo credit: Emma Goodwin