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David Lissner
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Eat this! Fava beans, bright green harbingers of spring

Atwood Cafe's halibut-cheek meringue and fava puree

Spring on a plate: Atwood Cafe's halibut-cheek meringue and fava puree.

What it is: Buttery, nutty spring legumes, fava beans are also known as English beans and broad beans (Vicia faba). They grow in fat, thick pods, wider and flatter than string beans, and brighter in color.

Where it comes from: One of the oldest cultivated plants, the fava bean likely originated in the Mediterranean, and today features in cuisines throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Canada is the largest North American producer, but the beans are also grown commercially in Minnesota and California.

Derek Simcik

Derek Simcik

What to do with it: Fresh favas have a short season — April and May — but the beans are also used dried, as in the Egyptian dish ful medames. Most recipes for the fresh beans treat them simply to let the vegetables’ flavor shine through.

Preparing favas is a bit time-consuming. First you have to pop the beans from their pods. Then you must parboil them to loosen their waxy, fibrous coating, and remove that before taking further steps in the recipe. Hence, the beans are often pureed in a food mill or by pressing through a sieve, which makes it easier to get rid of the thick skin.

“Be careful not to blanch them in the simmering water too long — just a moment or two,” advices Chef Derek Simcik of Atwood Cafe in the Loop, who uses bright green fava-bean puree as a base for a gorgeous, seasonal dish of halibut cheeks in beet-tinted meringue — a vision of spring on a plate.

Atwood Cafe’s halibut-cheek meringue and fava puree
Chef Derek Simcik

Fava puree:
5 pounds fava beans, pods removed
Chicken broth as neeed
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt to taste

3 egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
About 5 tablespoons cooked, pureed red beets

18 halibut cheeks
Salt and pepper to taste
Radishes, sliced paper thin

Make the puree: Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling; blanch the beans for just a few moments and then remove and shock them in a ice bath to stop the cooking. Once cooled, remove the tough rubbery skin and place the meat of the beans in a blender with the minced garlic. Start pureeing, slowly adding the chicken stock as needed to get a thick liquid consistency. Season with salt and place to the side.

Make the meringue: Whip the egg whites in a table top mixer; once they begin to stiffen, sprinkle with cream of tartar and then the sugar while continuing to mixing until the whites have reached double in size and are at a stiff peak (when a small amount is lifted up and dropped back down the egg whites stay standing). Then gently fold in enough beet puree to give the desired color.

Finish: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the halibut cheeks on a silicone mat on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and pipe the meringue around, encasing the cheeks in the meringue. Bake 8 to 9 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Make a circle of fava puree on a plate, place three cheek meringues gently on top and place radish slices sporadically around the plate. Repeat with the remainder. 6 servings.

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