Broad beans have to be one of my favourite spring time gifts from the garden, they are full of protein and iron - so excellent for those who prefer a more vegetarian diet.
They are also a good source of B vitamins, including thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (vitamin B3) and vitamin C. Most importantly of all, the are absolutely delicious, I love their fresh raw-grassy flavour.
While in Australia we refer to "broad beans" in the US they are referred to as "fava beans". This causes some confusion - as in Greece, "fava" is the term used to describe a beautifully creamy dish made from yellow split peas. So in Greek, if you are talking about broad beans they are called "koukia" (κουκιά).
In Greece, fresh broad beans are a real culinary highlight and springtime favourite, especially during Lent. Sometimes they are boiled and added to horta to make a warm salad or they can be eaten raw in in a fresh salad, sprinkled with a little olive oil and some nice big chunks of salty Kefalograviera cheese. Out of the Lenten season the flavour of broad beans goes very well with meat, particularly spring lamb.
If you don't have broad beans growing at home - now is the time to buy them at the market, as they are varying between about $4-$6 a kilo. As a guide, 1 kg of broad beans provides about 1 cup of shelled beans. When selecting your broad beans, it always best to look for firm, bright green, smaller younger pods, as they have the more tender beans - they should look full but not over-bulging pods. If you happen to be on the side of the world where the autumn leaves are starting to turn, but you feel like a big grassy-green hit - frozen broad beans can be substituted in some of the dishes below. Before sharing with you my top five favourite broad bean recipes, here is a really quick and easy fresh salad for young tender broad beans.
Broad bean salad (κουκιά σαλάτα)
500g fresh young tender small broad beans
3/4 cup of fresh mint
50g toasted flaked almonds
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 lemon, juiced
1. Wash the beans well and make sure you remove the long stringy fibre. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add the beans to boil for 5 minutes, drain and chill.
2. To make the dressing, in a jar whisk all of the ingredients together until they are well emulsified.
3. Add beans to a platter and toss through the mint leaves, drizzle with the dressing and top with toasted almonds.
Serve as a light spring meal with sour dough bread and a bowl of olives and feta. If you don't wish to eat the pods of the beans - or if you only have larger tougher pods on hand you can discard the pod and just use the shelled beans in the salad. If you use the shelled beans, this combination is great as a topping for a bruschetta style snack. Spread some goats cheese on crusty bread and top with the bean salad.
Top 5 Broad Bean Recipes
1. Broad Bean Skordalia
Skordalia is a dip usually made from potato and flavoured with loads of garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. This broad bean version from Diane Kochilas is fast and delicious. It is a springtime week-night favourite in our house, slathered on crunchy pieces of toasted sour-dough bread.
2. Fassolakia Ladera
Peter Minakis' delicious recipe for traditional the Greek dish "Fassolakia Ladera" normally uses delicious flat beans. The beans are slow cooked until melting with plenty of olive oil, onions, garlic, fresh tomato and spring time herbs such as dill. I love using Peter's recipe but substituting flat beans with very younger tender broad beans still in the pod.
3. Lamb with zucchini, artichokes and broad beans
For the meat eaters, this slowly cooked spring lamb melts in the mouth and the spring vegetables, especially the broad beans, bring a lovely lightness.
4. Burrata, broad bean and mint salad
Paola's burrata, broad bean and mint salad is to die for. Since experiencing the delights of freshly made burrata in Puglia last year, this cheese is a real treat. It takes centre stage in this gorgeously colourful salad, amongst marinated olives, broad beans and mint.
5. Koukia tiganita (fried broad beans)
Koukia tiganita is one of my father in law's favourite recipes, which he fondly remembers eating often during his childhood growing up near Olympia in the Peloponnese. He shared the recipe with me a few years ago, when we were picking broad beans together from his garden. It is a very simple recipe and works best with very younger tender broad beans - as you use the whole pod. Forget making this with any big full broad bean pods - they will be too tough.
500g very young broad beans
plain flour, for coating
olive oil, for pan-frying
lemon wedges, to serve
1. Wash the broad beans well. Remove the tops and tails, pulling off the strings as they are removed. Leave whole.
2. Drop the beans into boiling salted water and boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Remove and drain well. Leave until dry.
3. Roll the beans in flour to coat. Heat enough oil in a frying pan to coat the base. Fry the beans over medium-high heat until golden brown, turning to brown them evenly.
4. Serve hot, with lemon wedges for squeezing over.
If you feel like a more exotic twist on "Koukia tiganita" there is a wonderful recipe on the Kafeneio blog for fried broad beans in ouzo batter. As the blog is in Greek, I have translated the recipe in English below:
Fried broad beans in ouzo batter
30-40 fresh tender beans in the pod, rinsed and drained well
1 cup and 2 tablespoons of cornflour
1 1/2 cups flour, all-purpose
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 good pinch of chilli or black pepper to taste
1 cup ouzo
1/2 cup or more soda water
Olive oil for frying
1. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of cornflour on the beans, little by little and mix well.
2. In a pan, heat the olive oil.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl stir together the remaining cornflour, flour and baking powder. Add the ouzo and soda water and mix well with a whisk. The batter should be runny. If necessary, add some more soda.
4. Dip the beans little by little into the batter and fry in hot oil 2-3 minutes, turning them from side to side until well browned. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Serve while hot, accompanied by garlic dip or potato skordalia.