In my mind, beans and peas exist in two categories. You’ve got your eat-em-fresh-ers: snow peas, snap peas, shelling peas, and all the wonderful varieties of summer beans, from green string to cool purple varieties. Then you’ve got your soakers: the dry legumes you pick up from the bulk section of the foodstore: kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils of all sorts, shapes, and hues.
I should know better. Of course every soaker starts as an eat-em-fresh-er. Take pigeon peas. The most used legume in the Bahamas, they’re often accessed now through a handy, ready-to-go tin. But before the days of BPA-lined metal tins, people obviously grew the pigeon pea the old fashioned way.
Growing up, a pair of old family friends who farmed when farming wasn’t even remotely cool would gift us with amazing fresh food. Along with the best corn in the world, and beet tops that made me exited about greens when I was really just emotionally neutral, we sometimes got a great big bag of pigeon peas. They had to be shelled, and, fresh, were a gentle green instead of the dainty grey-brown I was used to in dried peas.
Despite the grossness of encountering the odd caterpillar or grub during the process, those fresh pigeon peas always tasted better. I kind of hated legumes as a child (and, actually, a teenager. The irony has not escaped me), but those home-grown, friend-given, hand-shelled peas were always so good.
This year is one of learning, when it comes to legumes. We’ve got a dozen Black Chickpea heirloom seeds in the
community garden bed, fostering a series of beautifully fringed plants that remind me of tiny poincianas or tamarind trees, strange reminders of home thriving in foreign soil. A row of miscellaneous beans is planted beside them, gifts from fella’s mum, who bought and grew last year, then seed saved for this season. I’m looking forward to sharing the pleasures of fresh chickpeas, and reporting to you on how Black Hummus turns out (bonus if I can score some black garlic). In the meantime, I had a chance to explore fresh fava beans.
Favas are not a commonly used bean in my household. Not that I’ve been avoiding them: I’ve just really only seen them canned up in the Mediterranean section of an old specialty store I don’t live near anymore. The canned ones I tried were massive, brown, and flavourful, but I’ve gotten away from using canned food as much as possible, and I’ve never bothered to try to hunt them down otherwise. So when I got word of fresh favas at one of my go-to farms, I was curious.
Let me warn you now: if you try favas fresh, either buy a lot, or plan to cook several other dishes. Despite the promising proportions of their massive pods, favas are masters of wasteful packaging. Within those giant (and inedible) pods is a beautiful pillowy lining. Within that lining, you may find as many as five, and as few as, well, one or two, actual fava beans.
But wait, you’re not done. You’ll need to blanch those favas to remove the (also inedible) tough skin that covers them. If you’re thinking this is why fava beans are not grotesquely popular, you’re probably right.
It was at this stage that I put some quick-cooking red lentils on to augment what would otherwise have been a pretty damn scanty dinner.
Once the skins have been removed, do something fun (or simple) with the remaining tablespoon of beans. I sauteed them with a dab of Earth Balance, mostly because my will to eat had overcome my will to cook fancy stuff, and my gratification for the fava had already been delayed too long for me to feel like peeling a garlic clove or getting all spice-fancy. Also, it’s nice sometimes to taste the pure flavour of a new ingredient.
In the end, fresh favas were…well, they were fine. Word on the street is they’re nutty, creamy little mouthfuls of green heaven. They were a nice little texture and splash of colour alongside mouthfuls of garlic-dill lentils and purple sage yam home fries. And while I can’t see myself dining on them every day (mostly because there’s no room in my composter for all the waste they generate), they made for a fun experiment and triggered a lot of good home memories.