Lots of people go gaga over the first sighting of ramps (aka wild leeks), and I’ll admit, I’m right up there with the best of them (call me a ramp fanatic). But there’s so much more to get excited about this time of year than the revered ramp. One vegetable in particular that I highly anticipate — fresh spring fava beans.
When fava are young and fresh, they have a buttery, tender, melt-in-your-mouth quality to them. Later in the season, they can be dry and chalky (not so appealing). There’s a short window in which to enjoy these guys (and perhaps this fleeting window is one aspect that makes them so special). Seek them out from late-April/early-March to May/June (possibly later, depending on the weather and where you live).
To reach the edible part of the fava, you must peel them not once, but twice. Yes, they are a bit labor intensive, which may deter some cooks out there. Do not be dissuaded; prepping fava requires a few easy steps: 1) first you peel the fava from their pod, 2) drop the shelled beans into a pot of boiling water for a couple minutes; transfer to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process, and 3) peel the thick light green skin around each bean (the fava should slide right out with a little pinch).
A tender, buttery, bright green bean awaits.
From there, fava are versatile. They are a welcome addition to salads, pasta, rice, or risotto. Mash or smash them into a dip or spread. Incorporate them into soups, stews (scafata), dumplings, this dish, or this one. No shortage of ways that fava can be enjoyed.
I stumbled upon this recipe from Yotam Ottelenghi (the aficionado of interesting salads, among other things) while looking for a new recipe that featured fava beans. This salad, a combination of wild and basmati rice, with plenty of herbs (dill, parsley, and mint), a nice amount of citrus (lemon and lime), and pistachios for crunch, would be a sublime addition to any spring meal or picnic. The mint and roasted (versus raw) pistachios were a couple of minor tweaks on my part.
Served this salad alongside sauteed garlic shrimp (with a sprinkling of smoked Spanish paprika) and a big bunch of (garlicky) sauteed lacinato kale to lunch guests last weekend. Simple and satisfying.
Fava beans can be cooked and peeled two days ahead; cover and chill. Wild and basmati rice can be cooked two days ahead; cover and chill. Once these ingredients are prepared and ready to go, the rest of the salad is a snap.
Rice Salad with Fava Beans and Pistachios
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi
1/2 cup wild rice
1 cup basmati rice
1 cup fresh shelled fava beans (from about 1 pound pods)
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup roasted pistachios
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
Cook the wild rice in a medium pot of boiling salted water until tender and grains start to split, 35 to 40 minutes. Drain. Let cool.
Combine the basmati rice and 1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan, season with salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Cover and let sit, about 5 minutes. Let cool.
Drop the shelled fava beans in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain. Transfer to a bowl of ice water. Drain and peel.