One of my most favourite springtime crops is broad beans. Unlike other veg that can be available at almost any time of the year, broad beans have a distinct season which is usually right around the time the weather starts to fine up and we move into spring. Once they are gone, they are gone until the following year and buying them frozen or dried just isn’t the same.
We’re in the peak of broad bean season here in Adelaide at the moment and racing to make the most of the harvest before it is all gone. If you’ve got more than you can use then it is quite easy to preserve them for use later in the year. Veronique has written a great guide on how to do this over on her blog Sustainable in Holdfast Bay.
Like most beans and lentils, broad beans are a very rich source of fibre which can help reduce cholesterol levels and keep you regular. Broad beans are a huge hit with vegetarians because they are high in protein and energy, keeping you fuller for longer. Broad beans are also quite a good sources of potassium, iron, folate and b vitamins.
How to grow
Broad beans, also known as fava beans, are a fantastic addition to any veggie patch as they are easy to grow and don’t require a lot of care.
Many people grow broad beans as a green manure crop because they help to improve the soil by absorbing the nitrogen from the atmosphere and storing in specialised root nodules under the soil. Generally grown after a heavy-feeding crop (such as tomatoes), if you’d like to have a go at a green manure crop simply grow until they start to flower and then cut down into small sections, digging them through the bed where they will break down and help to create a rich soil for spring planting.
To grow broad beans to eat you’ll want to plant in April/May to produce a harvest in early spring. Simply sow direct where they are to grow and water in well – try to avoid watering again until after they’ve sprouted as the seeds can rot in the ground. Broad beans prefer a sunny position and will grow well in soil that’s just had a crop of tomatoes or other heavy feeder. There is no need to add anything to the soil when planting out as they can feed on the leftovers from the previous crop. Water from time to time and harvest in early spring when the pods are about as long as your hand.
At our community garden we tend to grow a couple of beds for picking and a couple as green manure crops. The benefit of growing a manure crop is that it is a cheap and really effective way of improving your soil; the downside is that the bed is out of action for a whole season which can be annoying if you have limited space.
There are a few different varieties of broad bean; the most common is the green ‘aqua dulce’ variety, which have white flowers. There are also the crimson and chocolate coloured strain which feature stunning pink and brown coloured flowers.
What to do with it
Broad beans can be a bit of a labour of love as they often require double peeling. To prepare for cooking I slip them out of the big furry pods and then blanch in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. If the beans are bigger than a 5 cent piece then I generally remove the white skin by snipping off the end with my thumb nail and squeezing out the bright green bean – it is possible to eat them with their skins on but I find them much nicer this way.
I love the fresh, almost floury taste of broad beans paired with other spring flavours like dill, lemon, garlic, mint and asparagus. They also go tremendously with white cheeses such as chevre, goats curd or feta.
Broad Bean Crostini
This is one of my favourite ways to use broad beans as it has such a gourmet feel without being overly complicated. To make I simply prepare the beans as outlined above and then pop in a small blender (or mortar and pestle) with a bit of garlic, dill or mint (or both!), feta and lemon juice. Blend it all together and then scoop onto some garlicky toasted bread.
- 300-400g of broad beans
- 30g feta
- 1-2 tbspns of mint, roughly chopped
- 1-2 tbspns of dill, roughly chopped
- A squeeze of lemon juice
- Salt & pepper to taste.
- 1 half-sized baguette, cut into four angled slices
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1-2 tbspns Olive oil.
- Bring a pot of water to the boil.
- Remove the beans from their long pods and blanch in boiling water for 2-3 minutes.
- Drain and submerge in cold water to stop cooking and cool enough to handle.
- Remove the skins by gently tearing the tip off the end and squeezing the bean out into a bowl.
- Place most of the peeled beans in a small blender (reserving a few for serving) with feta, mint, dill, lemon juice and 1 tbspn oil. Season to taste and then pulse a couple of times to bring everything together and gently chop.
- Grab your bread and slice on an angle so that bread slices can sit on a plate (see photo).
- With a pastry brush, gently brush olive oil onto both side of the bread and then spread the minced garlic evenly across each piece using a knife.
- Pop in a grill pan and grill on each side.
- To serve simple spoon the broad bean mix onto each piece of bread and garnish with a few of the reserved beans
Have you ever grown broad beans? What is your favourite way to prepare them?