…with some fava beans and a nice chianti

Very few times have I completely failed at cooking. There were the the corn tamales that oozed out into the double boiler water, causing an immediate explosion of steaming mush that coating all the burners in a watery, gritty corn paste. (You can imagine the clean-up fun.) Then there were the from-scratch hashbrowns that were too something and that ended up turning into a sickly, unappetizing, grey blob. More often than not, though, I’m able to intervene, say, while the pasta is only a little burnt, etc.

Perhaps that’s why I’m willing to try new recipes even when having guests over, and that’s what I sort of did this weekend. My wife invited friends to play the new Ticket to Ride game I bought at PAX East, making for a somewhat impromptu dinner party (well, impromptu meaning only a day to plan). We decided to serve quinoa-stuffed portobella mushrooms and our favorite stir fry. The real cooking twist for me, though, would be the fava beans.

Our favorite stir fry comes from a cute little cookbook with great pictures (link w/ picture). I haven’t made many of the recipes yet, but the results have been reliably tasty. However, the recipe calls for fava beans, which I’ve never found anywhere, whether fresh, dried, or frozen. Perhaps this is a downside of living in Virginia. But now I live in New England—the land of culinary excess! So, while I haven’t yet run across fresh fava beans, last fall I found some dried favas and have been waiting to use them since.

They were not what I expected.

The disclaimer here is that I did not soak the beans over night, a stupendous flaw, but to my credit, I did start them soaking as soon as I woke up, which made for roughly four to eight hours of good solid water-sucking. Not enough, you say? Don’t I know it.

Fava beans in water, mostly shucked (l); fava bean shells (r)

Fava beans, for those in the same experience-boat as myself, apparently have multiple skins/shells. On the vine, they look like very large peas in an extra large pea pod (the first skin). The dried favas already had the pod removed. The second skin, which is not unlike a husky lima bean shell, was still on, and the real reason to soak them so long is to loosen up that shell so you can peal it off. This, at least, is the theory, and this is why I may never cook fava beans again.

When the shells have softened in the water, they slip right off, reminiscent of Hulk Hogan ripping off a leather doublet.

A water-soaked fava bean, ready to be shuckedFava bean with the outer skin torn open but still on  Fava bean taken out of shell

When the shells are not soft, they are brittle and sharp, like a thin egg shell made of, oh, formica. And like formica, the shell is practically glued onto the bean and snaps back when you lose your “grip.” I ended up using my nails to pry up the less softened shells, and often as not, the piece of the shell would break off and I’d have to pick at the remaining edge to try to finish the job, or the shell would slide under my nail and needle into my nail bed.

I should have counted how many beans I shucked, because then I’d know how many beans—or at least how many still-brittle bean shells—it takes to form a bruise under both your thumbnails. :-/ And while I couldn’t get a good shot of the bruising, here are the temporary “raisin” scars from keeping my hands in water for a few hours.

Fingers soaked in water until they're raisin-like