As winter reaches its end, the approaching spring season warms up the fava pods to yield bountifully and fill our harvest buckets and your boxes. It’s time to celebrate! Not all of you will be receiving fava this week, but this member of the venerable legume family whose chubby green pods are covered with a soft, cottony lining, will surely be gracing you all with his presence over the next few weeks. We proudly dedicate this Newsletter to the delectable, distinguished fava bean.
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 archeological sites in the Middle East 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.” And yet, 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 affects populations from the Middle East and Mediterranean (in Israel, it is most prevalent among Iraqi Jews). Fava consumption among some 20% of humans lacking this enzyme 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 fava fights malaria by reducing the amount of oxygen within red blood cells, thus halting its spread. Perfect timing too – the season for picking fresh fava, springtime, is also the breeding season of the malaria-transmitting Anopheles mosquito.
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 doctor.
In this area, 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 several years ago 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, with our world of endless possibilities, to the restraints of seasons and time, and to slower and 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 the nearing 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 (similar to 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 cooked 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.
In our field, “fava in the pod” is Majdi’s specialty: he chops up some garlic, stir-fries it in olive oil, adds favas in the pod (cut each one to 2-3 pieces), seasons with salt, pepper, cumin, adds raw tahini, water and lemon, and the dish is devoured!
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 gobbled up, fresh and raw.
And finally – we send happy greetings to Alon for his 40th birthday. Mazal Tov!
May we all enjoy a wonderful week!
Alon, Bat Ami, Yochai, Dror and the Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Parsley/dill/coriander, lettuce, celeriac/ leeks/fresh onions, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, peas/fava beans, cauliflower/potatoes, fennel/kohlrabi, carrots/beets.
Large box, in addition: Cherry tomatoes, spinach/kale/Swiss chard/ broccoli leaves, Jerusalem artichoke
Wednesday: cauliflower/potatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets/carrots, fresh onions/leek/celeriac, parsley/cilantro/dill, broccoli, cabbage, peas, spinach/broccoli greens/kale/Swiss chard.
Large box, in addition: mizuna/arugula, kohlrabi/fennel, Jerusalem artichoke/fava beans.
And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: flour, fruits, sprouts, honey, dates, almonds, garbanzo beans, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers, olive oil, bakery products, apple juice, cider and jams, dates silan and healthy snacks and goat dairy too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. On our order system there’s a detailed listing of the products and their cost, you can make an order online now!