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Fava Bean Succotash

We're cat people. Not that we don't think dogs are awesome. But cats are where it's at.

As younger folk who are still making the rounds, we appreciate our cat's independence. When we leave for the weekend, we don't have to worry so much about his basic needs. He rations his own food and uses the litter box like a champ.

Cats also have a knack for making their own fun. Ours loves books with ribbons, and something about being in the (dry) bathtub gets him wound up. The truth is, I have no idea what pulls his chain, but he seems to enjoy himself most of the time.

But then, as with any pet, there are certain drawbacks. Little kitty tumbleweeds scoot across the floor, and the cat gravitates towards anything made of black fabric. I keep joking that if I just collected his fur I could eventually turn it into a sweater.

He also makes keeping houseplants an adventure. He wastes no time chewing on the leaves, perforating them with his little teeth. We've tried the spray bottle, which works when we're at home, but as soon as we leave I know he does all the things we prohibit, taking the opportunity to walk all over the kitchen counters and pull my aloe plants up roots and all.

But isn't this always the way of things? Any pursuit or relationship or passion is two-sided, and one side cannot be had without the other. We accept our partner's flaws--and they accept ours--because the flipside is so incredible. Women give birth to multiple children not because they enjoy the discomforts of pregnancy, the pangs of labor, or watching their children grow apart from them, but because there is so much richness and good to be experienced in the fullness of a child's life and growth.

There must be some small enlightenment in learning to appreciate--even love--the less-than-ideal bits of our human experience. In any case, it's best to approach them with gratitude and humor because there are lots of them.

Cooking is no different. There can be no walnuts without shells, no avocadoes without pits. While we can find chicken without skin or bones and watermelons without seeds, there is immense joy in embracing all the little tasks of the kitchen. We have managed, by stripping our food of nutrients, pre-cooking, processing, and packaging, to do away with much kitchen labor. You can buy peeled and sliced apples, diced winter squash, trimmed broccoli, and minced garlic. But I often wonder how much of the pleasure, in addition to the labor, we have removed from the process.

Obviously, we don't all have the time or the inclination to cook an impressive meal every night. Sometimes, it's all you can do to reach for the phone and call out for pizza. There's no need to scold yourself or feel less than for this--it happens to all of us. But the key is to find your balance in the kitchen as you do in the rest of your life.

Every once in a while, buy a head of garlic and experience peeling the cloves one by one. Try to find your own rhythm, and approach the task much as you might approach any meditative practice. Or grab a butternut squash at the store and tame the unwieldy thing into becoming dinner, exulting in the feel of the knife in your hand and the beautiful golden flesh beneath the faded skin of the squash.

All this was to say that the tasks we often think of as drudgery can become joyful if we approach them in the right spirit. Hence, fava beans.

Favas, also called broad beans, have very large dull green pods. If the pods are young enough, you may simply remove the strings and roast them whole. They may then be eaten pods and all.

But for larger, more mature pods, you have to do a bit more work. Remove the strings by pinching the stem and peeling it back. The string of the bean should come with it. Use your fingernail to coax the pod open and pop the beans out. You may be surprised at how small or few the beans are within the pod. Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the shelled beans for one minute. Drain them and rinse with cold water. Now peel off the beans' outer skin. Inside, the favas will be bright green--almost chartreuse. You can expect to get roughly 1 cup shelled favas for 1 pound of unhulled beans.

Other articles you might enjoy: Summer Corn Salad, Tomato Pie With Corn, Ratatouille with Sausage and Corn

Fava Bean Succotash
Serves 4 as a side dish

Note: Some Middle Eastern markets sell frozen shelled fava beans. If you can find those, feel free to use them here. You may also substitute the traditional lima beans for favas.

Prepare, as above:
           1 pound unshelled fava beans
Melt in a medium skillet over medium heat:
           2 tablespoons butter
Add and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes:
           2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
           1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Add the favas to the skillet, along with:
           1 1/2 cups fresh corn (from about 2 medium ears of corn)
           1 medium ripe tomato, chopped
Sauté until the majority of the liquid from the tomato has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add:
           Salt and pepper to taste
Remove from the heat and stir in at the last minute:
           1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

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