It started with a date night. A couple of weeks ago, we ate dinner at a new restaurant in town called Stagioni and began our meal with crispy bread and a brilliant-green fava bean spread. Bright with lemon and grounded with garlic, it was the perfect spring appetizer and the best way to start a meal. I’ve had it on my mind ever since thinking how nice it would be on my front porch, on a warm night, with a perspiring glass of rosé in hand.
This time of year, fava beans tend to make surprise appearances around here. They will pop up at the grocery store, but just as soon be gone and I’ve been known to substitute edamame when they weren’t available when I needed them. This time was no exception, but before I had a chance to select an alternative I noticed a bin full of dried fava beans.
Army green and a far cry from their verdant green fresh counterparts, I am not sure why I purchased a couple of handfuls although I’m not easily deterred from a project once I have it on my mind. Once home, the challenge was to find out how to use them.
A quick internet search showed me that there was a lot I didn’t know about dried Fava beans. For one, they are one of the oldest food sources in the Mediterranean and ful medames, a dish of mashed fava beans, is the national dish in Egypt eaten for every meal including breakfast. While the purée made from fresh fava beans is attributed to Italy (the regions of Abruzzi and Latium in particular), in North Africa byssara or bessara, a thick dip made from dried fava beans and flavored with cumin, paprika, and cayenne is just as popular as hummus is in the Middle East. With fresh appreciation for the geographic range of the fava bean and a new plan to make my own version of byssara, it was now time to prepare my dried beans.
There is a “to peel or not to peel” debate with fava beans. Some argue that under no circumstances should one peel the beans, while others are just as adamant that they should be peeled. I’m of the opinion that it depends on the bean. If fresh and small, the peel can be left on unless you are planning to purée the fava beans in which case it should be removed to make sure your final purée is smooth. If using dried fava beans, then definitely remove the peel. I found the peel was easy to remove with your fingers after soaking the beans in water overnight, but if you still find the peel difficult to remove even after soaking then boil the beans for 5 minutes to loosen the skin a little more.
There’s no way about it, peeling fava beans is time intensive, but once this task is done this dip comes together easily. The peeled beans are gently simmered until soft before being drained and then added to a food processor with extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and spices. The resulting dip, sprinkled with paprika and drizzled with a final bit of olive oil, is lighter than hummus and just as tasty. And while it lacks the green vibrancy of its fresh counterpart, I have to say that my take on byssara tastes just as good when eaten on my front porch, on a warm night, with a perspiring glass of rosé in hand. Happy cooking!
Byssara: Dried Fava Bean Puree – Printer Friendly Recipe
Makes about 2 cups
You can purchase fava beans that have already been peeled. These dried beans are known as habas. I used dried, unpeeled fava beans for this recipe. Although they still require an overnight soak, if you can find habas they will save you the step of having to peel the beans.
1 ½ cups extra large dried fava beans
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground red “cayenne” pepper (optional)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garnish: Extra virgin olive oil and sweet paprika
Serve with: pita chips, homemade bread, and olives
Rinse the fava beans and combine with 3 cups of water in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Drain the fava beans and remove the peels with your fingers or a paring knife. If peels are difficult to remove, cook the beans in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain, cool, and peel as directed above. You should have about 2 ¼ cups of peeled fava beans.
Combine the peeled fava beans with 4 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 35 minutes or until fava beans are soft and beginning to crumble. Drain the fava beans and add them to a food processor fitted with the blade attachment.
Add the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, cayenne (if using), salt and pepper to the food processor. Process until smooth and adjust the seasonings as needed. The mixture will appear soupy at first, but don’t be alarmed as it will thicken as it cools.
Scoop the puree into a small bowl and garnish with a sprinkling of sweet paprika and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with pita chips, homemade breads and olives if you have them.