I first tasted a fava bean the summer of 1997 on a farm in Gisborne, Australia.My father had passed away that September and in December, we went to have Christmas with our friends on their farm in the country outside Melbourne. I spent many hours walking through the acres of beautiful gardens, sitting on the bench by the pond, and thinking about Dad. I felt much sadness that Christmas time, but being in the Antipodean summer heat so far away from the chill of California, was refreshing and restoring.
We decorated the Christmas tree, secretly wrapped gifts that Santa would leave by the fireplace for our young children, and picked vegetables for our simple, fresh dinners. The garden must have been a full acre, the large raised beds in long rows, surrounded by fruit orchards, an enormous compost bin, and a chicken coop providing fresh eggs. There was an entire bed each of asparagus, peas, lettuces, carrots, tomatoes and more. Plants of all kinds produced vegetables in quantities well sufficient for a house full of children and adults. The most memorable to me that year were the fava beans.
I don’t believe I had ever seen a fava bean, also known as broad bean, before that summer. At least I hadn't seen one still in the pod on the plant. The Gisborne garden had an abundance of them, tall and rigid and unruly in their growth. The plants are popular in producing gardens because they are a cover crop used to nourish the soil in between plantings and restore the nitrogen. Many people don’t bother with the actual harvesting of the beans which, as I discovered, is quite a labor of love. We enlisted the children to help pick and returned to the kitchen with a large bowl filled to the rim with extra-large bean pods. It takes many hands to make light work of fava beans. You shell and boil and peel before you arrive at the soft green kernel suitable to eat. But with a little fresh mint and butter, they were worth the effort and I had discovered a new food that we all enjoyed.
Returning to California, tanned and relaxed and ready for the new year, I set out to relive the joy of the fava beans. I looked for recipes and searched the grocery for them and eventually, after time and life took over, I forgot about them and never made them after that lovely Australian Christmas day.
Years later, I saw a photo that took me back to my time on the farm when I was grieving my father, and I thought of the fava beans. However, fava beans were no more available or any less work than in the past so I decided to do as I usually do and make something inspired by the farm favas. I bought frozen lima beans, picked fresh mint and lemons from my garden, and adapted a Martha Stewart recipe for fava bean crostini. My lima bean puree has been called many things over the years, including “that green spread stuff” by one of my children, but history has proven that it is a simple, reliable and delicious appetizer that is loved by all.
"Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind." -Marcel Proust
Minted Lima Bean Puree
2 cups frozen lima beans, thawed in cold water 3 T. olive oil 2 T. fresh mint, roughly chopped 1/2 tsp. salt 1/2 tsp. pepper 1 T. lemon juice Parmesan Crisps OR crackers and Paremsan cheese for serving. Special Equipment: Food Processor
Drain lima beans. Put all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Remove to a bowl and chill until ready to serve. Spread a generous amount of the spread onto a parmesan crisp and top with a small mint leaf or piece of a leaf. Parmesan crisps are available at many gourmet shops and grocery stores. They are also quite easy to make by frying mounds of fresh grated parmesan cheese in a nonstick skillet until melted and slightly brown.
Note: Hubby is not a huge fan of parmesan crisps and he prefers the puree spread on a cracker with a shaving of fresh parmesan cheese on top.