We lived in Fort Dix, New Jersey, in the 1960s, and Dolores, one of our neighbors who lived across the street, and who was of Portuguese descent (we can’t remember Dolores’ last name), often made Portuguese fava beans in a spicy tomato sauce and shared them with us. Eventually, Dolores taught my mom how to make the fava beans (and she made them often). Mom, however, did not adequately prepare me for the arduous task of peeling fava beans.
Fava beans are also known as broad beans. Fava beans are high in nutrients and in fiber and low in fat. They grow in large pods and are a staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern diets. Fava beans are encased in a shell that’s usually removed before cooking or eating—here in the U.S. and in France—but not in other areas where fava beans are widely consumed. It’s difficult to find dried fava beans in Central Florida, but I did find them plus dried lupini beans at the Portuguese Corner Store and Bakery in Palm Bay. I bought several bags of each.
It is no simple task to remove the shells from the beans. Shelling fava beans is both time-consuming and messy. There are several methods that can be used to shell fava beans. One method is to soak the dried beans in cold water overnight, then drain and rinse beans. Pinch top of bean and peel shell. Blanching works well, but there is a risk that the beans might cook just long enough to become too soft. Blanch the beans in boiling water for one minute. Remove beans from boiling water and immediately dip in an ice bath. Drain, and shell beans.
The sauce is what really makes this dish. It’s extra spicy, and it’s filled with bits of onion and garlic, and red pepper flakes. It’s called a spicy tomato sauce, but it uses only 1/4 cup of tomato sauce. The paprika, red pepper flakes, onion, and garlic help develop the full flavor of this sauce. The beans simmer in the sauce for a few minutes and absorb all those spices.
After about a half an hour of shelling fava beans and digging small bits and pieces out from under my nails, I gave up. I bit through a bean—shell and all—and had no problem. I added the partially shelled beans and the remainder of the fully encased beans to the pot of simmering sauce. I only wished I had thought of it sooner.
Portuguese fava beans are usually served hot as a side dish, but we snacked on them cold and sucked the tender bean from its spicy shell.
Portuguese Fava Beans in Sauce Recipe
- 1 pound dry fava beans
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large onions chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup tomato sauce
- 2 cups hot water
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- Pick over beans and remove small stones and foreign substances. Rinse beans in cold water. Add beans to large pot and cover completely with cold water. Soak beans overnight over for several hours. Drain beans and shell, or blanch first. To blanch, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add beans and cook for 1 minute. Remove from boiling water and dip immediately in large bowl of ice water. Drain, and shell.
- Cook shelled beans in a pot of salted boiling water until tender, about 10 minutes. Do not overcook or beans will become soft and mushy.
- To make the sauce, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute onions and garlic until golden brown. Stir in red pepper flakes, tomato sauce, hot water, parsley, salt, pepper and paprika. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Adjust salt as needed.
- Gently stir in fava beans. Remove from heat and let stand for several minutes to allow flavors to meld.