I will let you in on something: I am typing this while eating pink peppercorn dark chocolate. Yes, little miss eat-your-greens is merrily chowing down on some delectable chocolate noir au poivre rose, to give it its proper name. I discovered it in the impulse buy section by the tills at good old TK Maxx. Normally I am immune to the lure of the well-thumbed packets of oddly flavoured liquorice and jelly beans that are the usual checkout fodder at said retail emporium, but my trash-o-meter must have been out of whack. It does have pretty pink packaging, so I can just about blame the buy on grounds of physical attraction rather than greed. But we know better. If you are interested, it is from quality Belgian brand Dolfin, who have a beautiful website that helpfully offers convincing health information to lessen the guilt. For more about benefits of chocolate and why not to feel guilty about it, see my earlier post. I subsequently saw ‘my’ chocolate in the posh chocolate section of Tesco (no, I didn’t know they had a posh section either, let alone a chocolate one) but have resisted buying a job lot. Just to leave some for you. I’m not normally that nice. It’s well-balanced, not too bitter and comes in a petite 70g size – enough for two to share, or not…
Although I don’t eat chocolate very often – well not daily, I eat broad beans even less often. But that’s all about to change. After many years of eyeing them with keen distrust I have finally warmed to these cozily-podded legumes. To be fair to them, the only times I have previously eaten them was when they were a bit past it, all dusty tasting and bitter. Or, still in their little sticky indigestible skins – eurgh. All the olive oil or Normandy butter in the world isn’t going to sort that out.
In a past life I had a custodial relationship with broad beans. Mr A and I used to grow them on an allotment we shared with friends, where its main use was a nitrogen-fixer for the over-worked soil. None of us were too keen on them so would allow them to grow to triffid-like proportions before harvesting and attempting to eat them. Not to be recommended. Happily, over this past winter, I discovered the delights of frozen young broad beans and have been using them in soups and pasta dishes ever since.
Rather than rootling around in the deep-freeze I am now starting to come across fresh young broad beans in farm shops. Perhaps where you live they may even be available now as PYO. In any case, if you buy fresh beans, you can look forward to settling down to the meditative task of shelling and podding. It is oddly calming to set about unzipping the rather prim-looking grey-green beans from their velvety jackets, boiling them up, and slipping them out of their tacky inner coats to reveal chartreuse seeds. They will reward your efforts handsomely and deliver a host of valuable nutrients to boot.
Nutrition Notes: Known as fava beans in the US, and pigeon beans, Windsor beans and horse beans elsewhere, broad beans are in the same botanical family as peas and alfalfa. Used extensively, and creatively, in Egyptian and Chinese cooking, these temperate-climate beans are good sources of protein, fibre, vitamins A and C, and decent sources of phosphorus, copper, potassium and iron. They are a particularly good source of folate. Some of these nutrients are lessened with cooking, but you will still take in useful amounts. As a bonus they even contain levodopa (L-dopa), a chemical the body uses to make dopamine (a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s reward and motivation system). So, if you cook them correctly (never eat raw) they can help make you happy and satisfied. Much like chocolate. Hmm, maybe I could try chocolate-covered broad beans…
Oh yes, important to know: very,very rarely, mainly in people of Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean heritage, the enzyme that breaks down broad beans is missing (G6PD). Known as favism, this is a form of haemolytic anaemia and produces a rapid drop in iron when broad beans are consumed. This disorder is extremely rare but if you know that you or someone in your family lacks this enzyme, make this recipe up with another bean instead – chickpeas would of course be ideal. Otherwise, do give this recipe a try if you like broad beans or, if like me, you want to give them another chance.
This recipe is very much inspired by one in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s inspirational cookbook, “River Cottage Everyday“. I have tarted it up with lovely za’atar, of which I wrote two posts ago, but you could leave out this seasoning mix and use more garlic, maybe adding a bit of anchovy for a tapenade effect. If you want to use the za’atar (please do – it’s sublime) but are unable to or don’t want to make it up, Bart’s and Steenbergs versions are fairly readily available in the UK (and certainly online). US sources are more limited – and the shipping charges on some sites are eye-watering – but thespiceshop seems reasonable. I’ve only tried Steenbergs and although really good, homemade is far, far tastier. And it’s a cinch to make.
Put the shelled beans into a medium pan and cover with water; bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes until tender (older, larger ones may take a little longer). Drain the beans and set aside to cool enough to pinch out of their skins. If you’ve got other things to do, pay a responsible child to do this.