Ful of Fava Beans

Who talks about fava beans after the thrill of spring has long since faded from memory? The initial excitement over anything green and vital pushing through barren, frosted earth can’t hold a candle to the thrill of lush summer tomatoes growing heavy on their vines, tumbling past one another in superabundance. Preserved, fava beans remain widely available year round, unsung and largely unseen, yet essential to the Mediterranean diet for centuries. Bean-eaters of Tuscany (Mangiafagioli) were way ahead of their time, and I’m not just talking seasonally.

Food trends and superfood darlings be damned, legume love served the ancient Romans well, long before hashtags and selfies, to say the least. Spreading their influence far and wide across the western European states and beyond, some of the same dishes pop up across multiple cultures. Changed by the journey in varying degrees but always recognizable, many cultures ended up with “accidentally” vegan leanings, long before it was cool.

That’s where Vegan Mediterranean Cookbook, written by my good friend and culinary luminary Tess Challis, picks up the thread, and continues weaving it into a greater tapestry encompassing an entire plant-based lifestyle. Even for someone relatively indifferent to the dietary components of the approach like myself, the recipes are pure gold. Seasoned by all countries touched by the eponymous sea, the flavors of Italy, Greece, and Crete are strongly represented here, bearing scores of fool-proof classics that have stood the test of time. Where would any of us be, as a global society, without hummus, dolmas, and couscous, after all? It was the simple, understated recipe for Ful Medames (page 33) that caught my eye at first glance, and simply would not let go.

Typically made with long-simmered dried or canned fava beans and served hot, it’s especially prevalent in the middle east, but pops up all across the spice route, buoyed by fragrant cumin and the brightness of fresh herbs. Tess’s version skips the long smoldering boil, and in fact, cooking process altogether, opting for an effortless combination resulting in something more like a bean salad than a stew. Reading over the brilliance of that simplification, it suddenly occurred to me that I had just the thing to continue this modern evolution, this recipe renovation: Fresh fava beans.

Painstakingly shelled, peeled, and frozen in the height of spring salutations, the compact little container remained at the back of the freezer, waiting for an opportunity to shine. Transforming this hearty, hot dish into one suitable for light appetites, picnics, and lazy summer days, it proves the versatility, and timelessness, of the concept. Firm yet supple, buttery and verdant, fresh fava beans lend a punchier, more vegetative flair to the classic combination.

Vegan Mediterranean Cookbook doesn’t officially hit stores until September 24th, but I’m not one to tease, especially about something as serious as food. Lucky enough to get an early pre-release preview myself, I want to share that same gift with you, too! Enter for your chance to win a copy of your very own by entering your details in the form below. What I want to know is: What is your favorite Mediterranean (or Mediterranean-inspired) dish? Leave me a comment to secure your submission, and find many more ways to win bonus entries after that!

Everyone really is a winner though. Keep scrolling for the recipe for my adapted Fresh Fava Bean Ful. You’ll want to make this one right away, with or without the book in hand.

Continue reading “Ful of Fava Beans”

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3.14, and So On and So Forth

Math has never been and will never be my strong suit; The fact that I got passing grades and can still perform basic addition and multiplication is nothing short of a miracle, although that would still put me about on par with the skills of a 10 year old. Luckily, computers and calculators have taken all the agita out of complex equations, keeping recipes on track and making sure that all the numbers in my bank account add up correctly. The limitations of my grasp on such simple mathematics had never been quite so plainly evident, however, when I finally had to step up and learn the inner workings of the cash register at work.

Always happy to hide in back, hovering over the stove or fussing with messy knife cuts, five happy years had passed since first coming aboard at the restaurant, and customer interaction has always been kept to a minimum. Sure, I’ll chime in occasionally as I’m eaves dropping on conversations about veganism, cooking, or what-have-you, but ever the introvert, my place has been as far from the front of the house as possible. In the case of our tiny kitchen, that’s really only a few feet, but when immersed in gallons of cake batter, it feels like miles.

Called upon to take up the slack at dire times, however, I couldn’t think of a good reason to continue this illogical avoidance, and thus began to learn the strange way of our out-dated cash register. Some buttons are mislabeled, a few ring up the wrong prices, and some are completely without labels, but that confusion was nothing compared to the ordeal of making change for patrons. Not able to automatically spit out change or even the correct number for change, I was left with a dinky solar-powered calculator and impatient people anxious to get their due coins and run. We aren’t called Health in a Hurry for nothing! Those first few days, I feel as though I must have mischarged everyone for more money than actually came in.

So I can’t tell you a damn thing about math, but I can tell you that today, March 14th (3/14) is semi-officially pi day! Any reason to bust out a pastry-laden creation is good enough for me, even if it involves that confounding arithmetic. Going down the savory route for once, spring flavors danced in my head, inspiring a fresh new take on the traditional pot pie.

Yet again, I’m perhaps a bit early on this one, but you’ll thank me in a few weeks when you already have these recipes in your arsenal. Cradled in a flaky, golden crust, asparagus and fava beans commingle with the standard mirepoix, mushrooms, and savory spices. Just creamy enough without being overly rich or heavy, this is one hearty meal that still won’t weigh you down. Topped off with tender potatoes, crisped around the edges and finished with coarse sea salt, it’s one stunning entree to present to a loved one. And let me tell you, you had better REALLY love that special someone, because this is admittedly a good deal of work for two servings. If you don’t have a huge appetite, it could be stretched to perhaps 3 or 4… But based on the delectable taste, I can make no guarantees. Save this one for a special occasion- You’re sure to win some serious brownie points!

Fresh Fava Pot Pie

Bottom Crust:

1 1/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
Pinch Salt
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
2 – 4 Tablespoons Cold Water

Filling:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Carrot, Peeled and Finely Diced
1 Stalks Celery, Diced
1/2 Small Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Skinny Leek, Quartered Lengthwise and Chopped (1 Cup)
1 Cup Roughly Chopped Crimini or Button Mushrooms
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Cornstarch
1/2 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Mirin, or Dry White Wine + 1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Red Wine Vinegar
1 Bay Leaf
2 Teaspoons Nutritional Yeast
1/4 Teaspoon Poultry Seasoning
1/4 Teaspoon Hot Paprika
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 1/2 Cup Shelled and Skinned Fresh Fava Beans, or Frozen and Defrosted
1 Cup Chopped Asparagus (1/2-Inch Pieces)
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley, Chopped

Potato Top Crust:

1 Medium Russet Potato
1/2 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Pinch Coarse Sea Salt

Fresh Chopped Chives or Scallion for Garnish, Optional

First things first, prepare the pastry dough. The easiest way is to toss the flour, salt, and margarine into a food processor, and pulse until you get a coarse consistency with lumps of margarine the size of peas. Add in the water slowly, one tablespoon a time, while continuing to pulse, until it all comes together into a cohesive dough. Otherwise, you can also place the flour and salt in a large bowl, and cut in the margarine by hand with a pastry cutter or two forks. Then add in the water until it comes together. Wrap up your pastry in plastic wrap, flatten it out to a rough disk, and stash it in the fridge for at least one hour, or overnight.

Once chilled, turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and roll it out gently, as thinly as possible without creating holes. Approximately 2 – 4 cm is ideal. Lightly oil two medium sized glass or ceramic dishes that can hold about 4 cups each, and cut out rounds of pastry slightly larger than the bowls. Ease the pastry into each prepared dish, and use your fingers to smooth out the corners and sides. Press the pastry hard against the rim of the dishes to trim it, and leave a tiny bit of overhang to help keep it standing tall while baking. Place the pastry-lined bowls in the fridge for the time being.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and set to work on the filling next.

Place a large pot or sautee pan over medium heat, and add in the oil. Once hot, toss in the prepared carrots, celery, onions, leeks, and mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Once softened and lightly browned, add in the salt and cornstarch, stirring well to thoroughly coat the vegetables in the starch. Pour in the “milk,” mirin, and vinegar, and mix vigorously to prevent lumps from forming. Next, incorporate the bay leaf, nutritional yeast, poultry seasoning, paprika, and black pepper, to taste. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, pull out your mandoline if you’ve got one, and slice the potato into coins of about 1 mm in thickness. You can also do this by hand with a sharp knife; Just be sure to have patience in good supply. Toss the slices with oil, and set aside.

Turn off the heat on the filling, and toss in the fava beans, asparagus, and parsley at the last possible moment- You don’t want them to get over-cooked in the oven. Mix well to distribute the veggies. Divide the filling evenly between your two pastry-lined dishes, and place both on a baking sheet for easier removal from the oven, and to catch any accidental drips. Layer your potatoes in a circular pattern on top of each pie, and finish each with a light sprinkle of coarse salt. You will likely have extra potato, but hang on to them; They make for fantastic chips. Move the assembled pies into the preheated oven, and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until the crust is lightly golden brown and the potatoes are browned around the edges. In case the potatoes threaten to burn, tent the pies with aluminum foil about 35 minutes into the baking process.

Let cool for at least 10 – 15 minutes before serving, and finish with a sprinkle of chopped chives or scallion, if desired.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

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