Broad Beans

Broad Beans

One of the delights of having a garden is discovering how truly delicious some vegetables are when garden fresh. This seems particularly true of broad beans, which have a superb sweet flavor that sadly can never be reproduced in the frozen product. If you are lucky enough to grow or be given fresh broad beans, don't worry about recipes. Just cook them until tender and serve with butter. It will be a revelation! However, if you're not one of those lucky few, don't dismiss broad beans, as they are still a wonderfully versatile vegetable. They can be used in soups or casseroles, and, since they have a mealy texture, they also puree well.

History : People have been eating broad beans almost since time began. A variety of wild broad bean grew all over southern Europe, North Africa and Asia, and they would have been a useful food for early man. There is archaeological evidence that by Neolithic times broad beans were being farmed, making them one of the first foods to be cultivated. Broad beans will grow in most climates and most soils. They were a staple food for people throughout the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, grown for feeding people and livestock until being replaced by the potato in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Broad beans were an important source of protein for the poor, and because they dry well, they would have provided nourishing meals for families until the next growing season.

Nutrition : Beans are high in protein and carbohydrates and are also a good source of vitamins A, B1 and B2. They also provide potassium and iron as well as several other minerals.

Buying and Storing : Buy beans as fresh as possible. The pods should preferably be small and tender. Use as soon as possible.

Preparing : Very young beans in tender pods, no more than 7.5 cm in length, can be eaten pod and all; top and tail, and then slice roughly. Usually, however, you will need to shell the beans. Elderly beans are often better skinned after they are cooked to rid them of the strong, bitter flavor that puts many people off this vegetable.

Cooking : Plunge shelled beans (or in their pods if very young) into rapidly boiling water and cook until just tender. They can also be par-boiled and then finished off braised in butter. For a simple broad bean puree, blend the cooked beans with garlic cooked in butter, cream and a pinch of fresh herbs, such as savory or thyme.

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