A Broad Bean Makeover

Our friend Ken proudly showed me a bean seedling in a pot.  Now Ken is a great vegie grower and would not normally be showing me one bean seedling in a pot, but this bean was special.  It has been eagerly watched over and nurtured by his nearly three year old grandson, Hunter. Each time Hunter comes to visit his “Ranads” he eagerly checks how his bean is growing.

Hunter from Christchurch – a gardener in the making beside Ken’s
crop of broad beans. Photograph: Ken Rouse

In late spring, asparagus is quickly followed by the arrival of broad beans.  If you are a home gardener the odds are you will have planted the seed in autumn.  The seedlings pop up to encounter whatever winter throws at them, and then with the warmth of spring they race to grow eventually two times the height of young Hunter.

You can plant broad bean seeds in early spring too.  According to European folklore you will have good luck if you plant your broad beans on Good Friday. This translates to early September in New Zealand for a spring sowing or Good Friday for an autumn sowing.

I began growing broad beans because they are an easy bean to grow, especially in the cooler south. Peter was not at all enthusiastic about the beans. His childhood memories of them, like so many others, were of an unappetizing,  greeny-grey bean with a bitter coat that was probably boiled for a good ten minutes. It was time to give this bean’s culinary ‘bad rap’ a makeover.

The orange or red nasturtium is more than a colourful companion
to the beans in the garden, the flower’s peppery flavour goes well
with the beans in a salad.
 

I found the solution, thanks to cook and gardener Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage fame, who introduced me to ways of preparing broad beans that look luscious and taste even better.  And the true test of my success is that Peter now loves broad beans.

Fresh broad beans are bountiful at this time of the year but if you are not growing them they can be hard to find. You probably will have the best luck at a farmer’s market.

The secret to avoiding the bitter dry beans of childhood is to pick them young. You can even start harvesting them when they have a girth the size of a pencil.  They can be used simply by cutting pods on an angle and throwing into a stir-fry.  
Once the plants reach the flowering stage, I use the growing tips to add a peppery touch to a salad (a little like rocket in that respect) or these too can be tossed into a leafy stir-fry.
At our community garden a young boy was intrigued with the pods with their fluffy white lining and asked if he could try a bean.  He came back for more and so introduced me to eating them raw – funny I hadn’t eaten them raw before.  I have since discovered that in a coastal region of Northern Italy, young broad beans are enjoyed raw as the first of the spring garden produce.

When picking broad beans start at the bottom of the plant
and work up the stem, flick up and snap off the beans. 

Be warned, it does take quite a few bean pods to get enough beans for a meal.   Peter collected a bucket full of beans from our community garden.  And from the bucket the beans minus their pods reduced to this…

As the bean grows in size they tend to grow a thick green-grey coat.  

The much maligned broad bean of our childhood is experiencing a resurgence in popularity and this could be due to the process of skinning the bean. Blogger Nancy Harmon Jenkins  thinks this trend was created in the professional kitchens of France and is not at all necessary.  I will let you decide.

To present a glossy green bean for use in a salad or for hummus I do recommend skinning.  

First of all boil the shelled beans for 3 – 5 minutes depending on size.  As the beans are young at this time of the year they really only 1-2 minutes  but as they grow larger and older they will need the longer time.  To make them cool enough to handle, tip the beans into a sieve and run the cooked beans under a cold tap.

To skin nip the skin at the top of the bean and gently squeeze from the bottom to allow the bean flesh pop out.

In Arabic they are called Foul (pronounced “fool”) – for those of you who think broad beans are foul here are three ways to use broad beans that may just change your mind.

Beans and bacon on toast

This is my favourite broad bean dish and it’s truly easy and quick. Beans and bacon are a match made in heaven.  The best way to have this dish is to pick the beans and make immediately.  If the beans are young there is no need to do the skinning.   Some broad bean varieties now have a green skin when cooked which is a lot more appetizing than the khaki grey. I usually just skin the larger grey coloured beans.
As I only had a few leftover skinned beans on this occasion I added some
asparagus spears. Beans and asparagus work well together.
First of all fry a little chopped bacon in a heavy based pan – one slice per person – once it starts to colour then add finely chopped garlic, followed by broad beans that have been pre-cooked and skinned  (if required).  Add a squeeze of lemon juice, and season with pepper. 
Both broad beans and  asparagus enjoy the company of mint. So add finely chopped mint at the end of cooking (not too much as mint is a strong flavouring – one set of top leaves in a sprig would do – about 1 tsp finely chopped). 
Toast a good bread and cover with the beans and bacon.  Before serving I drizzle some really good oil – either extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil.  

Broad bean hummus

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s hummus is an ideal use for older beans that are getting floury.  For me it’s one of the first dishes I make with the new season’s beans because its a way of sharing the fresh harvest with a number of people.   It’s a gob smacking green dip that certainly attracts attention and the texture is velvety.

1 to 1 1/2 cups of shelled beans (depends on how many you have on hand)
1/2 to 1 garlic clove (depends on the size and strength of the garlic)
Crush the garlic with a little salt
A generous squeeze of lemon juice (again the quantity will depend on the lemon – add to taste)
About 3 Tbsp of good quality oil like rapeseed or extra virgin olive oil
Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
(optional) – a sprig of mint finely cut, or a splash of green tabasco sauce or addition of seeded green chilli.

Put the beans, garlic and oil first into a food processor and whizz to a puree. Now add the lemon juice and taste, add more lemon juice if needed, and salt and pepper to taste.

It’s important to taste along the way because there are ingredient variations.  The flavour and consistency will depend on the age of the beans and the lemon and garlic can be of varying strengths.  You could add a little green tabasco sauce or chilli if you want to add some heat.   I also like to make it quite garlicky.

A hummus you would think would have tahini included. I think Hugh has excluded it in this recipe to retain the subtle flavour of the beans.  I am keen to experiment and the next time I have only a few beans,  I might opt to make a bean flavoured hummus by simply adding some chickpeas and a small spoon of tahini.

Squished broad beans with preserved lemon and flatbreads

This is a great dish to accompany toasted flat breads and fresh salad ingredients like tomato, lettuce and cucumber yoghurt.  Together they make a simple and quick summer evening meal or lunch.

Mash the beans a little with a potato masher.  They would actually mash a little easier if they still have their skins on.  To the squished beans add a quarter of a preserved lemon , scrape away the flesh and pith of the lemon rind and finely dice.  Alternatively, use a squeeze of lemon juice + zest.  Then add seasoning of pepper (the lemon will add all the salt you will need) and a slurp of good olive oil.

Roti, flatbread or mountain bread are all delicious when cooked with a little oil.  Consider using these  to bring some leftovers to life.  We have this at least once a week and is very useful if you have to get some food on the table quickly. Three year old Beau loves loading up his flatbread triangles.

To cook the flat breads first you need a heavy based pan – caste iron is the best.

I begin by giving it a spray of oil, pop in a flat bread, drizzle oil on top and spread quickly with a brush.  It only takes about 20-30 seconds to cook on one side, flip and cook the underside.

When you flip the bread it will bubble up transforming it from what looks like a piece of cardboard into  a delicous lively looking flat bread.

I thought this bread looked like the surface of the moon.
Cook both sides well and then stack on a plate in a warm oven until ready to serve. 
You can make them into a roll or cut into pieces and create your own combination of topping.

  • Both the fresh or dried broad beans are also well known around the world as Fava Beans
  • To dry, simply leave the beans in their pods to dry and then harvest   
  • Broad beans are high in protein – almost as high as soya beans
  • In Italy some people carry a dried fava bean in their pocket believing that they will never be without the essentials in life.  This tradition came out of hardship. In Sicily when the crops failed, fava beans kept them from starvation.

What other bean can you eat every part of from the growing tips to the dried seeds?  Also called Faba bean, I am now convinced that this most useful bean is a fab vegetable that doesn’t need a makeover…they just need less time in the pot and some good companions like mint, lemon, garlic and olive oil.

If you grow the beans inside, remember to harden them off slowly before planting in the soil –
 this may mean taking them in at night and putting them outside in a place that has shade.
Photograph from “Growing Vegetables” The Guardian.com

Hunter has been given a great gift by Ken – a curiousity about the natural world.  Ken in return has been reminded of the magic of gardening through the eyes of his grandson.  Go to it and introduce a child to growing beans!

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