Fava beans, also known as broad beans, have never really been popular where I’m from. In fact, many Americans only know them by Hannibal Lecter’s infamously creepy description of one of his favorite meals in Silence of the Lambs. Not exactly the most appealing reputation to make people want to run out and buy them! Here in Portugal however, favas are one of the most beloved beans used in traditional Portuguese cuisine, and during my time here I have come to see why.
First off, Favas are quite healthy, rich in protein and dietary fiber, they are full of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin A, copper and magnesium. They also contain a high concentration of L-dopa (dopamine), an amino acid that regulates brain function and can help boost your mood. Health benefits aside, it’s the flavor that matters most. Fava beans have a similiar appearance to lima beans, but they are much bigger and so much tastier than the latter. Their texture is smooth and in my opinion they are definitely the richest tasting of all green beans and trumping many other types of beans in flavor. And because of this richness, they can be prepared both simply or mixed in with heartier dishes, probably why Hannibal enjoyed them with his liver then 😉
You can find favas in the supermarkets here frozen year-round but the actual season for fresh favas is between April and July. This is when there are plenty of fresh favas at the mercados and mercearias. In fact, my little mercearia across the street not only sells them whole in the shell but also freshly shucked and ready to use in small sacs, saving me the hassle of removing them myself. It was back in April when they first started appearing that I bought one of these little sacs to try out a simple Portuguese fava bean salad that I love at home. The salad can be done with raw favas if you like, but most people here, including myself, prefer to boil them up in sea-salted water with some extra virgin olive oil. And though they are quite large, they take hardly any time at all to cook, about 10 minutes and they’re tender. And there’s no need to pre-soak them either. So after I boiled and drained the favas, I let them cool then tossed them in more EVOO with a splash of vinegar (you can use cider vinegar or white wine vinegar), minced garlic and chopped fresh cilantro. The quantities aren’t exact, just be careful on the amount of vinegar and do it to taste. And if the raw garlic is too strong for you, sauté it up first in a little EVOO, then cool and reserve it in the oil to use in the salad, I might do this the next time I make it and maybe even sauté a little bacon or presunto with it, mmm This salad is the perfect petisco, a small appetizer dish to munch on before dinner, and you can sub fresh parsley if you don’t like cilantro or even add some chopped hard-boiled egg and tuna, another Iberian variation. The best part is this salad is that it’s quick, easy and tasty!
My favorite Portuguese fava dish though has to be favas guisadas com entrecosto e chouriço – stewed favas with pork ribs and sausage, it is a succulent, rich dish that I first tried at my favorite restaurant, A Tasca do João and I continue enjoy it there often. The beans are stewed together with some fatty pieces of marinated pork ribs and two types of sausage, normally chouriço de carne (a regular cured meat sausage) and chouriço de sangue (a cured blood sausage). The dish is served with a handful of fresh coentros (cilantro) on top. Of course this fava preparation certainly isn’t as healthy as the salad but it is oh so mouth-watering tasty! Pair it with a nice Portuguese red wine and some crusty fresh bread to mop up all the meat juice and it’s heaven If you’re tempted to try making this at home and can find some good-quality chouriço in your area (try a gourmet market) then I’ve provided a translated recipe below.
Whichever way you choose to have your favas, the Portuguese way will always be the tastiest!
Favas Guisadas á Portuguesa- Stewed Favas with Pork Ribs and Sausage
Original Recipe in Portuguese from Petiscos.com
600 g pork ribs, get an inexpensive cut with some nice fat on them
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 dl or about a 1/2 cup white wine
1 Bay leaf
1 bunch of fresh cilantro
Salt to taste and piri-piri (optional if you don’t like spicy)
1 onion, chopped
1 dl or about a 1/2 cup of olive oil
½ – 1 chouriço de sangue (cured blood sausage), sliced into small rounds
½ – 1 chouriço de carne (regular cured sausage), sliced into small rounds
1 small leek, chopped (optional)
1 kg (2.2 lbs.) of fresh (or frozen) fava beans
1- Arrange and cut the ribs into small pieces, season them with salt, piri-piri and mix with the garlic, paprika, white wine, Bay leaf and cilantro (save a bit of the cilantro for garnish at the end). Let it marinate for at least 30 minutes.
2- Heat up the olive oil in a saucepan or small pot, add the ribs (reserve the marinade) and brown them well on both sides. Add the onion and let it cook another 5 minutes. Add the sausages, chopped leeks, meat marinade and about 2 1/2 cups of water, cover and let it simmer for about 40 minutes or until the meat is soft and tender.
3- Add the fava beans and water just until covered, put the lid back on and let it cook until the favas are nice and soft (about 10-15 mins.)
4- Taste and adjust the seasoning, remove from heat and serve garnished with fresh cilantro.