Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New: Wholesome Wednesdays

 Things have been a little slow on the cooking/recipe writing front around here, so i thought i would implement a new feature. Every Wednesday I will highlight some ingredient that i either grow or cook with frequently. I will try and focus on wholesome things ranging for basics, such as wheat to more 'exotic' things like turmeric.

For my first WW post i thought i would do some research on Fava beans.

I first planted fava beans this fall to act as a cover crop for our gourd patch. My husband unfortunately (fortunately for me as i've reclaimed them in the front yard) decided not to use the planters he used last year in lieu of planting in the ground, so the cover crop aspect of these beans has been lost- for the gourds at least. I still have one beautiful plant growing in my front bed, which will be followed by winter squash happy to ingest the nitrogen the beans leave behind.

Fava beans (Vicia faba), like many other legumes, are nitrogen fixers: they take in the nitrogen from the atmosphere and place it into nodules at their roots. Most of this nitrogen goes directly back into the plants - not into the soil (feeding neighboring plants) as many people assume. However, this nitrogen will make its way into the soil, and your successive plantings when the vegetation (roots, leaves, fruits) of the plant are worked into the soil. This is best done by planting the nitrogen fixing legumes as a cover crop between plantings, cutting them and tilling them in a few weeks before your next planting to work the plant matter into the soil. You can also cut, till in the roots, and reserve the greens as a 'green mulch' around the base of your next planting. This is a pretty fascinating document that explains it all.

Anyhoo, back to the fava bean as an edible veggie. Some basic nutritional data can be seen here or here, on one of my favorite obsessive-compulsive-dieter-friendly websites. The raw beans contain about 75% carbohydrate and 25% protein with a whopping 35 grams of fiber per cup (that's 150% of your daily recommended amount).  Pretty good! Now, what if i wanted to eat them cooked?
Well, this is interesting: cooking the beans reduces the calories for a serving of one cup to 187 from 512, the carbs to 33 from 87 grams, fiber to 9 from 37 grams, and protein to 13 from 39. Cooked fava (also known as broad) beans have fewer calories and carbs, but also  much less fiber and protein. Which would you prefer?

Fava beans are gorgeous plants, tall and lush with striking black and white flowers. I will be planting them as a cover crop again, and look forward to eating this year's crop. But what to do with them?
I may end up lightly sauteing or steaming them and tossing them in a light bean and grain salad. But i'll probably keep some to add raw on top of green salads for a fiber boost.

Do you have a favorite recipe featuring fava beans?

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Thank you so much for your feedback, especially if you've cooked one of my recipes or tried one of my tips: let me know how it turned out!