These are generally the recipes that are a combination of memory-entwined, delicious, and very simple, so that a single change would transform the nature of the dish significantly.
This view is a departure from what I wrote in my last post, about finding the freedom to experiment with som tam beyond the original formula I’d learned in a Chiang Mai market. But som tam’s essence is from the unalterable parts, the lime and garlic and fish sauce and touch of sugar, and the fruits and vegetables are a vehicle for those flavors, a canvas with their own subtle characters.
The dish for today’s post has only five ingredients, and together they taste just so.
This recipe is from my friend Tom, who came to visit Seattle for a few weeks. Similarly passionate about food, we cooked a number of outstanding meals together, collaborating and teaching each other a few of our favorite things to cook. He was in love with these fava beans, insistent about each step of the cooking process being just so to produce a simple, harmonized, memory-enriched taste. It worked. And they were marvelous.
The dish comes originally from the Sephardic Jewish community of Aleppo, Syria.
The recipe is very simple. The ingredients: favas, olive oil, garlic, coriander and salt. And a bit of water for the cooking. There is no such thing as too much garlic in this recipe (Tom said he couldn’t conceive of such a thing, and I suggested a pile large enough to crush you might be pushing it, unless carefully maintained). The coriander, a dried spice, is best if fresh-ground and good quality, like the stuff available at World Spice.
It has taken me until this year to become comfortable with fava beans. For all their charm, they come with a bit of baggage. First, their most notable entrance into American pop culture remains when Anthony Hopkins’s cannibalistic character in The Silence of the Lambs mentions eating a human being with fava beans and a nice chianti. Then, there’s that rumor about the peel. Don’t they come with some very difficult peel? Doesn’t it take power tools to remove it? Are they even worth it?
No on the power tools and difficulty, but about whether it’s worth doing: Yes, yes, yes, and oh ever definitely yes. They’re buttery, subtle-yet-complex in flavor, just the right kind of soft and chewy, tender. They’re very agreeable; this dish of favas works just as well next to some lamb or mutton as it does paired with a light summer salad and soup. They’re favas you’ll fall a little in love with, and want to make repeatedly.
First, a note about peeling. Tom points out that the peeling must happen –– for reasons not just social but about the taste and integrity of the beans! –– while sitting around having Grandma gossip or neighbor gossip or some kind of slightly-scandalous discussion, chit-chat, banter, or revelation of family secrets. Preferably on a porch. Rocking chairs wouldn’t hurt either, if you want to be on the safe side.
The peeling is actually kind of fun. Yes, there are recipes that involve blanching the beans to make the peeling easier, but let’s forget that for the moment. First, let’s entice you by show how pretty the beans look while they’re being peeled:
Interested? Good. Now, let’s make you wait a bit more to hear about the peeling and talk about the selection of favas.
The most exciting time to cook favas is early in the summer, or when the crop is fairly young. I’ve been lucky enough to find some young-ish favas even through August here (Nash’s Organic has had really nice ones). You can use any favas for this dish, but in a moment we’ll learn why young ones are the best. These pods are thinner, brighter green, firmer, and have fewer brown markings. There is less of a string to pull, or no string if it’s very young.
When you open the young-ish pod, it looks like this inside:
Very soft, white, almost furry. Tender and… delicious. Yes, that’s right, you can eat bits of the pod when it’s this young, and you should rip off the nicest pieces and throw them in the bowl. As the season goes on, you are less likely to be able to do this.
Now, what about that extra layer to the bean? Here’s a secret: the youngest ones don’t need the extra layer removed. Sacrilege! But true. For my taste, anyway. Older, grown-up beans have a thin, pale-green or white-ish waxy layer that can be removed very carefully with the thumb nail to reveal a brightly colored bean inside. But there are some beans so young that when removed from the pod, they barely have this layer at all, and are pretty bright green on the outside already. Leave them.
Okay. We’ve talked about grandma gossip, we’ve talked about selecting favas, we’ve talked about peeling… You’re ready to cook.
Fava Beans with Coriander and Garlic
- Fava beans — about 1.5 pounds for a side dish, but you can make this dish on an enormous scale and it works well.
- Garlic — there is no limit. I used two heads for my 1.5 pounds of favas, but then again I was running out of time.
- Coriander, dry, fresh-ground — To taste.
- Olive oil
- Salt (added at the end only!)
- A bit of water
Tom’s grandmother uses seven cloves.
1. Peel favas. See notes above about pod age, whether the bean needs the waxy layer removed, and the necessity of grandma gossip. Save bits of any very soft, tender, green pods, and tear them into your bowl.
2. Chop garlic. Roughly, finely, however. Just have plenty of garlic.
3. In a large pan (like a cast iron skillet) heat olive oil. Add favas, peel bits and garlic. Stir for a minute to begin cooking.
4. Add the coriander, so that it merges with the oil and its flavor is brought out. Be generous; it should make the dish brownish. But since you are NOT actually frying these favas…
5. Add a bit of water. Note that you are also not boiling the favas. You want just enough water to pool around the beans and let the top halves poke up through the liquid. I started with a cup of water, and also added a little extra olive oil for flavor.
6. Let it cook, stirring and resisting any temptation to add salt yet. If the water runs out, add more.
7. When the favas are cooked, they are soft, wrinkly, a little grey-ish, and not at all mealy. The water is nearly all cooked off. At this point, add salt to taste.
Serve on their own, with summer foods, or with grilled/broiled meats like mutton or lamb… which is, uh, now that I think of it, silent. Hold the chianti.