Uncork that nice Chianti and get ready to scream the praises of silky, subtly flavored fava beans.
Memorably name-checked by one of cinema’s all-time great villains (see: “ate his liver with…” Lecter, 1991), fava beans are starting to enjoy above-the-title billing in Valley kitchens. First cultivated in northern Israel’s Galilee region 10,000 years ago, these nutrient-packed staples of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Latin cuisine have a creamy texture and pleasant, nutty flavor with just a hint of bitterness. Because of their flat shape and light green color, they’re sometimes mistaken for lima beans, but don’t be fooled – favas are much more menu-friendly.
You’ll be moved to applause by the warm fava beans ($12, pictured) at Renata’s Hearth at the Arizona Biltmore (2400 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix, 602-954-2507, renatashearth.com), where executive sous chef Gregory Joseph casts them as a sidekick to the restaurant’s smoke-kissed Latin entrées. It’s a simple dish, made to order, that packs a wallop of flavor. Sautéing the beans with garlic, Joseph finishes them with lemon juice, salt and butter perfumed with serrano chiles and oregano. Just before serving, he adds roasted hen-of-the-woods mushrooms to lend a nutty, subtle earthiness that lingers on the palate. The result: a brothy, lemon-scented mélange that Joseph suggests pairing with smoked Wagyu brisket, grilled branzino, smoked Jidori chicken or any main. “But the beans have a nice flavor profile all their own.”
In the Middle East, fava bean-based ful mudammas is widely touted as Egypt’s national dish, and you can find it locally at Princess Mediterranean Deli & Market (2620 W. Broadway Rd., Mesa, 480-894-1499, princessmarket.com). Owner Noor Alsadi serves his version ($4.99) as a bean stew scented with cumin and garlic, mingled with chopped onions, chunks of tomato and bits of parsley, and brightened with a splash of lemon juice. A thin layer of olive oil clings to the top of the bowl (stir for a lusher outcome), which is served warm and resembles a choppy bean dip. The Princess Market doles out a hearty portion of the creamy, but richly textured, spread, and it’s perfect for smearing on the accompanying triangles of warm pita.
You’ll also find fava beans in baghali polo, a classic Persian dish of fragrant, saffron-scented basmati rice. At Persian Room (17040 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-614-1414, persianroom.com), the dish is flecked with finely chopped fresh dill and jeweled with the lumpy legumes, creating a textural jackpot that excels both as a standalone vegetarian dish served in a mammoth, table-pleasing portion ($11.95) and as an accompaniment to Persian Room’s stewed lamb shank entrée ($32.95). Baghali polo is a colorful and flavor-filled option to complement any Persian dinner. And if you’re not convinced yet that fava beans are the bomb, here’s an additional plug for the green legumes: They’re loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals and are an excellent source of plant protein – no liver necessary.