Although we didn’t literally fight over fava beans growing up, we came pretty darn close! We all LOVE fava beans. Back in the day, it was rare to see fava beans outside of ethnic or specialty markets. And since they are only in season for just a few short weeks a year, they turned into a prized vegetable that my family bought by the crate full.
The fava bean has two shells. The outermost shell is a fibrous pod which essentially looks like a regular old green bean, just a few times larger. The inside of the pods are lined with a white spongy material which cushions the beans in their second shell. The second shell is waxy and in most cases inedible except when very young and tender. Often, the beans are sliced in half and parboiled to allow for easier second skin removal. As you can imagine, shucking and shelling the fava beans can be very time consuming and eventually yields a relatively small amount for the work involved. I remember when we would get a harvest, the whole kitchen would be filed with baskets of shelled, shucked or boiling beans.
A more rustic way to eat fava beans are to cook them whole in their pods. I’ve found steaming or boiling with a little water provide the best results. I can usually tell when they’re done when I can spell the cooked fava bean, usually less than 10 minutes. By cooking the entire pod, the outermost shell turns soft and edible, and the inner beans are cooked to a tender perfection. The second skin still remains pretty rubbery although you can eat the smaller ones if you are so inclined. Personally, I’ve mastered the technique of biting off the top of the second skin to expose the bean inside, dipping it into a pile of salt on my plate, and then squeezing the bean straight into my mouth. Precisely how my childhood fava bean obsession started.
The more common way Persians use fava beans is to cook them will dill and rice in the dish called Bagheleh Polo, meaning Fava Bean Rice. Recently, I asked my mother to experiment with tossing in a few dozen peeled garlic gloves while cooking the rice, and the results have been lovely. Bagheleh polo is best served with braised game meat, such as lamb or rabbit, and is a dish served to guests or on special occasions.
For my recipe, I integrated a few non-traditional techniques to make the dish uniquely mine.
I started by browning the shanks on all sides in my dutch oven pot. Once all sides had a good brown crust, I removed the shanks and added my mirepoix of onion, celery, and carrots into the pot. I first pureed the vegetables in the food processor before adding them so the pieces wouldn’t be visible in the final product. I often do leave vegetables in bigger pieces but for this recipe I just wanted their flavor and to let the lamb be the star of the show.
Once the vegetables were browned, I added a few tablespoons of tomato paste with some oil and fried it for a few minutes. Frying the tomato paste for a few minutes intensifies the color and flavor it brings to the dish. I deglazed the pot and nestled the lamb back in, covered with a few cups of water, and added my bouquet garni of thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns. I put a cover on and braised the lamb for a few hours until it was fully cooked and falling off the bone.
I successfully made the best tadeeq I’ve made by myself with this recipe. Tadeeq is the crust that forms at the bottom of the pan when cooking the rice. It is crunchy and often made with saffron for a golden color and floral aroma. In the Persian community, it is a respected art to produce a perfectly cooked tadeeq.
I paired the Lamb Shank and Fava Bean, Dill Rice with a deconstructed Mosto-khiar, which is a traditional Persian cucumber, mint, and yogurt dip usually served as an appetizer or side dish.
Fava beans are now found fresh in large grocery stores around the country. They can also be found frozen or canned. In a pinch, lima beans can be substituted for this dish.