When my husband was growing up in Israel, his mom often made a simple stew with meat and fresh fava beans. It only had a few ingredients– onions, garlic, beef, fava beans, chicken powder (consomme), salt and pepper. I learned the recipe from his sister and started making it each year when fava beans came into season. Over time I put my own twist on the dish. I replaced the beef with tender lamb stew meat, used chicken broth instead of chicken powder, and threw in some of my favorite spices. The lamb added tons of flavor to the stew, and it quickly became a family favorite. We call my version of the dish Lamb and Fava Beans.
Fava beans are one of the oldest domesticated food legumes. References to fava beans occur in both the Talmud and the Mishna, indicating they have been part of the Middle Eastern diet since at least the 4th century. Fava beans were likely one of the main protein sources for the ancient Israelites, who ate a largely vegetarian diet that relied heavily on grains as well as vegetables, fruits, and legumes. One of most popular legumes in ancient Israel was the “broad bean,” or what we refer to today as the fava bean. In fact, a method for cooking fava beans is actually discussed in the Talmud. The beans were immersed in a pot of water, sealed, then buried beneath hot coals so they could slowly cook.
Today, due to their short season, fava beans are most often dried or canned for use throughout the year. Fava beans are only available fresh during spring, when they can be found at some grocery stores, farmer’s markets and Middle Eastern markets. So far I have managed to find them at an upscale grocery store near my home and our local kosher market– the ones at the kosher market weren’t very fresh, though. It’s important to look for a few things when choosing fresh fava beans. You want beans that are medium-sized– not too big or too small, averaging around 6-8 inches in length. The shells should feel slightly firm to the touch, not soft or rubbery. They should be bright to light green in color. A little discoloration on the shell is okay, but avoid beans that are heavily blemished or that have large patches of grey/black on them. If the beans are too large, old or unfresh, they will take longer to cook and they won’t taste as good in the finished product.
If you’re having trouble locating a nice batch of fava beans, there are two subs you can use here. Frozen lima beans work well with the lamb; though smaller, the shelled bean’s flavor is somewhat comparable to the fava. Young and tender green beans, while they do not have the same flavor as favas, will also cook up nicely in this dish. Both of these subs take less time to cook than fava beans, so I recommend adding them about 20 minutes before the end of cooking. You should cook till the beans are very tender but not overly mushy.
In this dish, we usually keep the bean shells intact and throw them into the stew. They add fiber and cook up very tender, soaking up the spices and lamb flavor. Keep in mind that fava shells can be somewhat stringy on the edges, even if you string them prior to cooking. To avoid this, you can simply discard the shells prior to cooking and throw the shelled fava beans into the stew. Either way, it’s a very special dish and something we look forward to every spring.
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Lamb and Fava Beans
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, minced
- 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
- 2 pounds boneless lamb stew meat
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 quart chicken broth (4 cups)
- 1 pound fava beans
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups cooked couscous, rice or quinoa for serving (optional)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
- Heat olive oil in a 6 quart stock pot over medium till hot. Add minced onion and saute for a few minutes till it softens and begins to brown. Add the garlic and continue to saute for 2 minutes longer till fragrant.
- Add the lamb stew meat and saute for a few minutes, stirring and turning the meat periodically, till the meat is browned on all sides. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan as you cook. If you've chosen a fattier cut of lamb, you might find yourself with a lot of excess fat at the bottom of the pan. If you'd like, you can drain the fat from the meat through a mesh strainer at this point, then return any meat, onions and brown bits back to the pan before proceeding.
- Pour 1 quart chicken broth and 2 cups water into the pot and bring it to a simmer. Skim any foam that rises to the top and discard.
- Stir in the turmeric, smoked paprika, and cayenne. Add 1/4 tsp salt (if you're salt sensitive, you can omit this and simply salt to taste at the end of cooking).Reduce the stew to a low simmer. Cover the pot with a lid, vent it, and let it cook for 1 hour, stirring once or twice during cooking.
- Meanwhile, prepare your fava beans. You want beans that are medium-sized-- not too big or too small, averaging around 6-8 inches in length. The shells should feel slightly firm to the touch, not soft or rubbery. They should be bright to light green in color. A little discoloration on the shell is okay, but avoid beans that are heavily blemished or that have large patches of grey/black on them. Slice the bottom tip off of each bean.
- Then, hold the stem end, snap it off, and pull it downward to "unzip" the bean, removing the string(s). During this process, some beans may start to fall apart-- that's ok, they will fall apart in the stew anyway.
- Slice the beans into 2-3 inch pieces. Reserve.
- Alternatively, you can shell the beans completely and discard the shells.
- When the meat has cooked for 1 hour, open the pot. Stir in the fava beans and bring back to a simmer.Cover the pot again, vented, and cook for 15 more minutes. Uncover the pot and continue to simmer till the beans are tender. This could take anywhere from 15-30 more minutes depending on the age and freshness of the beans. As you cook, season the stew with salt and pepper to taste.
- When the beans are tender, mix together 1 tbsp cornstarch and 2 tbsp of cold water in a small bowl till smooth. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the stew and let it simmer for 2-3 more minutes till it thickens.Remove the stew from heat. Serve hot over freshly cooked couscous, rice or quinoa (for gluten free use rice or quinoa). You can also serve it on its own for a low-carb meal.
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