Peas and Fava Beans

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It is not often that I come across a food that just doesn’t do it for me. I always feel a bit guilty because there isn’t any real reason why I’m not a fan; I’m just not. I feel this way about peas.

I’ve heard lore of people who hated peas and then tasted them just off the plant at the peak of ripeness and swore they would never eat anything but a pea again. I have eaten a pea, snapped from the tendril at the peak of ripeness, basking in the summer sun, and yet, meh.

And it is a shame because peas are a stalwart plant. Their seeds go into the ground early, even with a threat of snow. They will keep producing as long as you keep picking (and it doesn’t get too hot). They are lovely to behold and like all legumes, full of protein, fiber and vitamins. And they offer options in their diversity. There are three categories of fresh peas: shelling peas, snap peas and snow peas.

Shelling peas are the little green pearls classically served with baby carrots and onions. They too grow in a pod, but that pod, unlike the others, is too fibrous to eat with any sort of civility.

Snow peas are the broad, flat-podded pea often seen in a stir-fry or with peanut sauce. Their little seeds are never developed enough to be of note.

Snap peas are the middle ground between the two. A plump, but edible pod, with round satisfying seeds on the inside.

But like the perfect-on-paper boyfriend, they don’t make my heart skip a beat.

You know what does? Fava beans.

Favas are the opposite of peas in this regard. They are capricious in Northern Michigan. If the soil is too wet or cold, they will rot. If it gets hot as they bloom, they won’t set fruit. They attract aphids and often are susceptible to the naturally occurring diseases in our soil. And if you do get any fruit they are labor intensive to cook and low yielding.

But I love them, no matter the headaches. And unlike the bad-boy boyfriend, favas are tame-able.

Traditionally, fava beans are shucked from their spongy pods, blanched in boiling water and then slipped from their external skins, exposing the bright green, buttery bean inside. I’ve stopped with all that and generally eat the external skin, savoring the way the mild bitterness plays against that rich interior.

Jess found the most efficient method to handle favas. Grill the pods whole allowing the internal moisture of that pod steam the beans and then popping them straight into your mouth. Summertime perfect.

But being a practical woman, I try to never get attached to favas, as they are prone to vanish as suddenly as they arrived. And in their wake, peas are a pretty good option. And with some gussying up, their stability is satisfying—especially when a bag of peas is pulled from the freezer, having been processed at the peak of freshness ready to improve my dinner, and they don’t rub it in that they were waiting for me all along.

Pea Spread with Mint and Chili Flakes on Sourdough

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I love this spread because it is quick to make and has a lovely balance of sweetness from the peas, richness from the cream, spice from the chili flakes and lightness from the mint and lemon. Plus, it can be made and kept in the fridge either for a party or general household snacking. It also makes a good dip for raw veggies.

  • ½ lb shelling peas
  • ¼ tsp chili flakes
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • ¼ C cream
  • 2 T mint, chopped
  • 1 T chives, minced
  1. Bring a large pot of boiling, heavily salted water to a boil
  2. Blanch the peas for 3-5 minutes and then drain
  3. In a food processor blend everything except the herbs to a rough paste
  4. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed
  5. Add the herbs and pulse to combine
  6. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with pepper. Serve with a loaf of good, crusty sourdough bread

Grilled Fava Bean Toasts

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  • 1 lb fava beans
  • 8oz ricotta
  • 1 lemon zest and juice
  • ½ tsp chili flake
  • 5 sprigs mint
  • 1 shallot, shaved thinly
  • ½ loaf sourdough bread
  • honey for drizzling
  1. Light the grill and get it hot
  2. In a bowl mix the ricotta with the lemon zest, juice and chili flake.
  3. Cut the mint into fine ribbons
  4. Toss the fava beans (pod and all) on the grill and allow to really char
  5. Remove them from the grill and shuck the beans
  6. Combine the beans with the mint and shallot and a glug of olive oil and pinch of salt
  7. Lightly grill the sourdough until crisp but not bone dry
  8. Shmear the bread with the ricotta mixture
  9. Skitter the favas mixture over the toast
  10. Drizzle with honey and serve

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