Delicious Vegetarian Broad Bean Dishes
BY: Habeeb Salloum/Contributing Writer
Since the dawn of recorded history, broad beans, also known as fava, vicia, Windsor, English dwarf or horse beans have been grown in western Asia and North Africa. From there, through the centuries, they have spread to every corner of the globe. However, in the 1920s, during our homesteading days, in our part of North America at least, it was a different story. Not one of our neighbours was familiar with this tasty bean – loved by the inhabitants of the Middle East for millennia.
Historically, broad beans were known in the classical Hellenic world, but they were not much appreciated. The Greeks believed that broad beans made them dull and caused them to have horrible dreams. On the other hand, in the Egypt of the Pharaohs it was a different story. Both rich and poor loved their taste and from that era this vegetable has graced the tables of the inhabitants of the Nile Valley.
The peoples of the Indian sub-continent have enjoyed the culinary delights of broad beans for thousands of years. Today, rare is the garden in India or Pakistan that does not have at least one patch of this historic vegetable.
The cool climate of Europe is ideal for the growth of this bean, and from Roman times to the discovery of the Americas, broad beans were the only edible beans known to the inhabitants of that continent. In pre-Columbus Europe, this legume, which some have labelled the ‘bean of history’, nourished all strata of society. It was only after the discovery of the New World that newly introduced beans from the Americas replaced the Old World bean.
Why broad beans, which are more delicious than others, lost favour is still a mystery. Perhaps, the long period required for growth had something to do with their replacement. Other type of beans need a much shorter time period from seeding to harvest. To produce a good crop, broad beans must be planted in very early spring. Perhaps, another reason for their demise is the susceptibility of the plant to a type of garden worm. The plant be saved only by spraying or hand picking the worms.
Even though in Europe other beans replaced this legume its cultivation did not fade away. Farmers continued to plant it as a food for animals. As feed for livestock the plant is prepared in a number of ways. The seeds are sometimes ground and mixed with grain to produce a rich type of animal food. At other times, the plant, when almost full grown, is harvested then made into silage. Also, at the same stage of growth, the plant can be utilized as forage. Many cattle are prepared for market by having them graze in rich broad bean fields.
In the western hemisphere, after the seeds had been introduced from Europe, broad beans thrived. Mexico and Brazil became the largest producers. The high protein and carbohydrate content of this vegetable made it an ideal food for the peasants and labourers in these countries. In the U.S.A., California, and in Canada the Maritime Provinces are the largest growers. But, alas! In both these countries broad beans are not grown for human consumption, rather as feed for animals.
There are number of types of broad beans. The most common grow from two to four feet high and produce large thick pods with flat angular seeds. The size of the seeds varies from that of a pea to over an inch long and half an inch wide.
Nevertheless, no matter what size or type, the pods are delicious when picked green and still tender. Harvested at this stage, the whole pods, including the shells and seeds, are tasty and pleasant to eat. These tender pods are excellent when served as snacks or hors d’oeuvres. In the Arab east, where broad beans are known as fool, rare is an evening banquet or a gourmet meal when delectable tender fool is not served as an appetizer.
More common than harvesting the broad beans when they are green and tender, is to harvest them when they are mature but still green. The seeds are then removed from the shells and served as snacks or utilized as a vegetable in preparing the daily meal. Also, at this stage, the shelled beans can be frozen or canned and are offered for sale in this form in Mediterranean stores and many large supermarkets.
Although frozen or canned green broad beans are employed, to some extent, in cooking, in most cases the beans are allowed to dry on the plant before harvesting. The dry broad bean is at this stage brown in colour. In the same fashion as chickpeas and lentils or peas, they are either sold in bulk or packaged in plastic bags.
Broad beans are a healthy food. They are low in calories – cooked, about 80 calories per cup. They are high in protein, iron, and fibre and contain some potassium, as well as being a good source of vitamins C and A and contain small amounts of vitamin B. Above all, broad beans have high concentrations of L-dopa (dopamine), an amino acid that is a neurotransmitter in the brain. Dopamine facilitates all functions of brain activity. As we age, we begin to have declining levels of dopamine in the brain cells, hence, broad beans, are very important food. Some broad bean lovers even claim that fava beans are the true ‘fountain of youth.’
In this short article only a few of the many dishes made from this ‘bean of history’ are cited. Some culinary experts assert that there are more dishes made from broad beans than any other type of bean. They could have a point for this vegetable has been with humankind since the dawn of history.
Like empires, it flowered, faded away and was reborn. Before the discovery of the Americas it flourished in most of the known world, then died away in Europe. However, today, it is on the rise again. Its history leaves no doubt that one day it will grace many more tables all around the world.
The culinary world of this vegetable is endless. With these few recipes, most of which our family enjoyed in our farm days in southern Saskatchewan, the uninitiated can sample delicious broad bean dishes from the Middle East and North Africa.
Broad Bean Salad – Salatat Fool
Serves about 4
This and the following salad, which can be served as appetizers or side dishes, are simple to prepare, yet tasty.
1-pound fresh or frozen shelled green broad beans, cooked and drained
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
4 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Thoroughly combine all ingredients, then place on a platter and serve.
Makes from 40 to 50 patties
Falafel, an Arabic dish, is spreading like wildfire throughout the world. In Egypt, it is known as ta’miya, and is one of that country’s national dishes. It is equally enjoyed by rich and poor, and may appear on the breakfast, lunch or dinner table.
This tasty vegetarian delight is the hamburger of the Middle East and is fast replacing the meat hamburger in North America. The simplest way to make this dish is to purchase the falafel or ta’miya powder, ready-made, in markets selling Arabic or Middle Eastern foods.
Directions are on the packages on how to prepare this dish, known as ‘the hamburger of the poor’. However, even though ready-made falafel is simple to prepare, it is not as tasty as made from scratch. This recipe, common in Egypt, is how true falafel or ta’miya is made.
4 cups dried broad beans, soaked overnight and drained
3 large onions, chopped into large pieces
1 head of garlic, peeled
1 large bunch parsley, washed and stems removed
2 hot green hot peppers, seeds removed
4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
oil for frying
Place broad beans, onions, garlic, parsley and hot peppers in a food processor, then process until broad beans are very finely ground – to the consistency of smooth dough. Add salt, cumin, coriander, pepper, baking soda and baking powder then process for a further minute. Remove from the processor and form into patties.
Heat the oil in a deep fryer or saucepan, then fry the patties, turning them over once or twice, until they turn golden brown and crisp on the outside. (If patties break up while frying add a little flour to the bean mixture and thoroughly mix.) Drain on paper towels.
Serve patties in sandwiches in half rounds of Arabic (pita) bread in a bed of tossed salad, or as an entrée with tossed salad.
Broad Bean Pottage – Fool Mudammas
In Egypt fool mudammas is the common breakfast food for 90 percent of the Egyptians. In the early morning hours, streets of the cities in the Nile Valley are lined with vendors selling from earthenware pots, tempting fool mudammas. Although in North America there are no vendors with pots of steaming broad beans, anyone with hardly any effort can produce delicious fool mudammas by following this recipe.
1 cup broad beans, soaked overnight and drained
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
3/4 teaspoon cumin
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 hard boiled eggs, with shells removed
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)
Place broad beans in a pot and cover with water to one inch above beans, then cover the pot and cook over medium heat until beans are very tender, adding more water if necessary.
Drain broad beans and place in a mixing bowl, then add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt, pepper, coriander, cumin, lemon juice and garlic. Mix well until some of the broad beans break.
Transfer to 4 soup plates then place an egg in the centre of each plate. Sprinkle each plate with the remaining oil, then garnish with the coriander leaves and serve.