The approaching “Spring seesaw” has already picked up speed. Last week we enjoyed a few nice sunny days, and this week the frigid cold and rain returned, which will, in turn, be replaced by sizzing sunrays, and then back to the cold, Heaven forbid… This is precisely the season in which the fresh fava bean comes cheerfully skipping towards us, just in time to join his sweet cousin, the pea. If you still haven’t recognized the fabulous fava, let us casually mention his pedigree – a venerable legume family member – who sports a green jacket, is chubby and long, and comes complete with a soft, cottony inner lining. In Hebrew he’s called “ful,” and because he’s an unusual, very special vegetable, we’ve set the custom to tell you a bit about him each time he drops in.
Poor Fava just stood there alone Leaning on his cane, still and forlorn, “How can I dance, how can I be glad, When my pods are all empty and barren and sad…?”
Chaim Nachman Bialik (loosely translated by A. Raz)
In Bialik’s garden bed, the poor, solitary fava broods over his empty pods. I’m guessing this party did not take place in late winter with spring around the corner, because there is no way on earth that our fava is not out boogying and partying with the garden-bed guys. As the weather warms up, his pods are filling up and generously filling our harvest buckets and your boxes. Go party!
Dry and fresh fava beans have been consumed in the Middle East and in North and South Africa for thousands of years. Fava fossils have even been found in Middle East archeological sites from as early as 6500 BC (in our very own Nazareth)! It served as an important, essential food for all classes. Fava is rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, and dietary fibers. It contains a good amount of iron, folic acid, potassium, magnesium and zinc.
And yet, “Stay away from fava!” cautioned Pythagoras.
What did the renowned sixth century BC Greek philosopher have against one of the most popular vegetables of the time? Pythagoras aficionados and interpreters have offered many suggestions for this sharp warning. One is that fava is hard to digest, said to be “full of spirit, and takes a part of your soul, and if you stay away from it your belly will be less loud and your dreams calmer.” Despite this unflattering critique, one should not forget that fava contains less sugar and other hard-to-digest fibers than its fellow legumes, such as the green bean.
Another possible reason for Pythagoras to disqualify the fava could have been the ancient belief that the spirits of the dead wander into the fava’s buds, making it a popular dish for funeral meals. Possibly the connection between the fava and the afterworld has to do with the fava allergy, also known as Favism (from the Latin Vicia faba). This allergy is extremely serious, deriving from a genetic deficiency in the G6PD enzyme, and commonly affecting populations from the Middle East and Mediterranean. (In Israel, it is most prevalent among Iraqi Jews). Among the some 20% of humans lacking this enzyme, fava consumption can result in acute anemia and even death.
On the other hand, the fava appears to possess chemical components similar to those in quinine medicines used to treat malaria, a once-common disease in Greece and southern Italy. It seems that when the fava-allergy anemia is under control, it fights malaria by reducing the quantity of oxygen within red blood cells, thus halting its spread.
Another reason why fava should be part of our natural medicine chest is to treat Parkinson’s Disease. Fava naturally contains the L-Dopa amino acid, which becomes the Dopamine neurotransmitter upon reaching the brain. This acts to improve the condition of Parkinson sufferers, a disease resulting from Dopamine deficiency. Even 250 grams of cooked fava has proven to significantly boost the level of Dopamine in the blood, improving the patient’s condition. The largest concentration of L-Dopa is in fresh fava and its pods. Dry fava contains much less. Research is still in the early stages, and those considering fava for treating Parkinson’s should consult with their physician.
In our part of the world, there are two varieties of fava – the larger Cypriot and the smaller Egyptian fava, which is almost the size of a pea pod. During Chubeza’s first years, we grew both varieties, but then we met an “in-between” type with medium-sized pods, which we now happily grow. In Egypt, fava is called “Ful Hamam” for a fascinating reason: in medieval times, preparation of the fava was carried out exclusively by those who lived in the area surrounding “the Princess Baths,” the public baths at the site of the Fountain of Mohammed Ali Pasha in Cairo. By day, the water in the great basins was heated for bathing. By night, when the burning coals were still ablaze, the great basins were filled with fava beans which cooked overnight on the coals to provide breakfast for the residents of Cairo.
The fava’s tale began last autumn. There is something beautiful about it, something that returns us in our world of endless possibilities to the restraints of seasons and time and to slower, softer rhythms of life. We seed the fava at the end of autumn from September to December in four rounds, every month or so. We try to bury it deep in the earth before the first showers fall, when the skies above begin clouding over, informing us of an impending drizzle. On one hand, we want to avoid watering, but if we seed too early, we’ll lose our crop to the field animals stocking up at that very moment on food for the winter. The raindrops cover the fava with earth, greeting with fanfare the big, familiar seeds that they knew and loved last year.
This encounter results in quick germination of the fava, which courageously bursts forth and continues growing even as the winter grows colder and rainier and the rest of the world withdraws into itself. The growth is slow and calculated. Fava takes its time, growing over an entire winter, patiently and steadily, inching a little taller every week. Favas cover the earth and protect the soil from erosion and the ravages of strong rains. It grows densely, preventing weed growth. Favas do not require fertilizer, for like the rest of the legume family, fava beans can fix nitrogen for a do-it-yourself fertilizer, enriching the earth within which they grow.
After months of rain, wind and cold, the fava feels something moving inside. Its faultless plant instinct senses the seasons changing, the days growing longer, the changing light, the sun’s locale, and then it knows – it’s show time! The fava debuts with beautiful fabacaea butterfly-like flowers. They are gentle and strong at once, like the fava itself. In strident pastel festivity, they overtake the garden beds as if to say, we’re all clean and dressed up and something wonderful is about to happen. Even when the fava blooms, it takes its time. Why hurry when you can look around, smell the fava, and enjoy life?
The fava bed still looks like it stopped at the flowering stage, while on the surface nothing else has changed. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, a small green boat appears in the flower. This boat will thicken and fatten up until it becomes a seed-carrying pod. We pick them before they fully ripen and dry, when they’re still green, fresh, sweet and juicy. And that’s when we know spring is nearly here. Right here, in our field, in your plate.
There are many ways to prepare fresh favas, and despite the suggestion to peel the fava bean (double peel), you can certainly cook and eat fava beans within their pods!
Some simple uses:
– Cook in unsalted water (like blanching peas–the salt hardens the skin).
– Steam in water and olive oil, or sauté onion and garlic, then add fava, boiling water, and lemon juice. Cook for 15 minutes till liquid is absorbed.
– Fava may also be baked slowly in the oven on low heat, together with garlic and such fresh herbs as rosemary, thyme or za’atar on a lightly olive-oiled baking sheet. When the fava is very soft, crush together with the garlic and herbs and spread on bread.
But I must admit, though the recipes sound great, I usually don’t get around to preparing them. In our house, the fava is eaten fresh, like peas, popped out of the pods and joyfully devoured, fresh and raw.
This week is turning out to be quite cold. We’re blanketing both our leafy vegetables and our young vegetables in a cloth cover to protect them from the cold. Keep yourselves warm as well!
Wishing everyone a good week!
Alon, Bat-Ami, Dror, Orin and the entire Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Parsley root/cabbage, beets/sweet potatoes, parsley/coriander, potatoes, snow peas or garden peas, leeks/fresh garlic/onions, carrots/kohlrabi, fresh fava beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, Arabic or curly lettuce.
Large box, in addition: Swiss chard/kale/spinach, zucchini, cauliflower/broccoli/slice of pumpkin.
FRUIT BOXES: Bananas/lemons, avocados, oranges/pomelit, red apples, strawberries.
Wednesday: Parsley root/celeriac, carrots/beets, cauliflower/sweet potatoes/kohlrabi, parsley/coriander, potatoes, snow peas or garden peas, fresh garlic/onions, fresh fava beans, tomatoes, cucumbers/pepper, Romaine or Iceberg lettuce.
Large box, in addition: Swiss chard/kale, cabbage, zucchini/slice of pumpkin.
FRUIT BOXES: Bananas/lemons, avocados, oranges/pomelit, red apples, strawberries.