The Great Shrinking Bean
Beans grow. We’ve got examples of it in our folklore, like Jack and the Beanstalk. Plus if you’ve ever cooked with dried beans, you are keenly aware of how much their volume increases after sitting overnight in water.
But just last week, as I was begrudging the lack of fresh spring produce, I found something special at ShopRite: fava beans.
Fresh fava beans, still in their large soft pods look like string beans on steroids. Maybe they’ve been around every spring. Perhaps they are in Price Chopper and Hannaford, and I’ve just never seen them. But I was excited to get my hands on these. I’ve prepared fresh fava beans before, so I knew what I was up against, but I had plenty of time to kill.
This time, I thought I’d conduct a little experiment, and see just how much they shrunk in preparation.
So I started out with exactly one pound of fava bean pods. Since I don’t see these around a lot, I have no idea of $2.99 was a good price or a total rip-off. But it didn’t matter. I had a hunger for spring, and fresh favas say spring to me like nothing else.
The first step is sitting down and a table and removing the beans from the pods. And much like string beans, you snap an end, split the bean along a seam. Inside it looks like a jewelry box. It has a plush and soft interior that cushions any number of thick, large light-green beans.
These are the treasure you seek, and one pound yielded about 3.7 ounces.
There is only one problem. Those aren’t actually the beans. The beans are lurking inside those light green sheaths. And to get at them, you’ll have to blanch the beans in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Then comes the fun part: squeezing out the bean from its thick leathery skin.
I gently pinch a little hole in the membrane and squeeze the dark green bean within into a bowl. The trick is that the bean itself has two hemispheres. If you are too rough with it, the bean will split. And that’s fine. But whole beans are a better prize. It’s the difference between a nibble of chocolate and a mouthful of the stuff.
If you are careful, it can be slow going. And when I was done, I didn’t quite have two ounce of beans. To be fair, I did enjoy a couple as I was peeling them. But literally it was just one or two.
If you are curious, that scales up from $3 a pound to $24 a pound. More importantly, that means if you wanted to have a pound of prepared favas, you would need to start out with eight pounds of pods. I shudder to think how long that would take to prepare.
Which is just one reason why these beans are special.
I offered one nibble to Young Master Fussy and Little Miss Fussy, just in case they wanted to push their culinary boundaries. But when they declined, I let the matter rest, happy not to share my precious beans with undeserving children.
The beans were dressed simply in our best olive oil and a little kosher salt. And decadently we ate them on their own as an accompaniment to the last pouch of last year’s pesto. It was a feast of green. Something old, something new, something to slurp, and something to chew.
But the work involved with favas is just one of the reasons why they are such a joy to see on restaurant menus. Because then you can get that great earthy and green flavor from this springtime treat without having to put in any of the work. It’s like getting a shelled lobster or soft-serve ice cream.
Only about four more weeks until the CSA starts. And then I won’t be able to complain about missing the farmers markets. Then I’ll be able to complain about being completely overwhelmed with salad greens. But maybe we’ll have another flood or some hail that decimates the tender leafy greens. Man, I hate salad. Although maybe this year will be the year I turn it around. We’ll see.