broad bean, fresh pea, spinach and mint salad
Ful (fava beans/ broad beans) are consumed around the world, but for me this product will always stay purely Mediterranean. Italy, Spain, Greece, Morocco, Portugal, and, of course, Malta – you will find a number of recipes containing broad beans in traditional cookbooks from all of these countries.
It’s not easy for me to split Maltese winter and spring into two separate seasons. Today it’s sunny and smells of springtime, but tomorrow it could be raining and dark outside. However, I can always distinguish between them better according to the vegetable trucks and farmers’ stands in the local market. When you start seeing mountains of broad beans here and there, you start to realize that spring is somewhere just around the corner.
Try to visit your friend when their mother or nanna is cooking ful bet-tewn, ful tan-nanna or ful- imgiddem, and you won’t regret it.
You might assume cooking broad beans as quite a challenging task, since they first need to be removed from their pods, then blanched, then shelled. However, in reality it’s actually a very simple process and not too time consuming, either! If you have kids, you can get them involved in the cooking process. My eldest son likes fishing out the beans from the pods, and slowly but surely, he does most of the job himself!
I absolutely love this process, and I find it very interesting and quite pleasant work. There is something relaxing about the measured, slow work of your hands as they open and release the beans from their silky shelter. Afterwards you’ll have to blanch the beans for a couple of minutes, peel them and voilà! You can mix them with fresh peas, sprinkle with olive oil and lemon juice, and add some fresh mint. Divine! There are endless variations possible for salads containing broad beans: adding fresh gbeijna, ricotta, poached eggs, a bit of Parma ham are just a few standouts. My favourite recipes are frittata with broad beans, salad with classic mix of broad beans, and fresh peas and mint. This has got to be the closest thing to having spring served up on your plate!
Apart from salads, broad beans are perfect for spring soups, they compliment pasta and cereals, and you can also make dips and spreads. They can be a beautiful side dish for fish, meat and game birds – just mix them with a bit of olive oil or butter, add some herbs, salt and pepper, and serve them warm.
How to choose broad beans:
Choose solid pods with slightly sparkling skin. They have to be moist-looking and crisp. If you press them, you should feel the beans tightly packed inside the pod. Don’t choose soft pods.
Keep in mind that pods represent the most of the weight, which you will throw away in the end. Therefore, be prepared to leave the vegetable shop/market with a big bag of broad beans; you will need approximately a kilo of fresh produce in order to get 250 – 300 grams of shelled beans.
Do not store the broad beans for more than 2-3 days in the fridge, as they will start to lose their freshness. It is possible to freeze the beans after you shell them.
How to shell them:
Take the broad bean and pull the “tail” at the bottom of the pod, slightly press it with your fingers from both sides until the pod opens lengthwise. Gently ease out the beans.
Put the beans into unsalted boiling water and blanch for 1-3 minutes (depending on the size of the beans), then drain the beans and place them into cold water immediately. The water should be really cold in order to stop the cooking process. I don’t use flowing water, since in Malta it’s not very cold due to the climate, so instead I prepare a big bowl with water and a lot of ice.
After the beans are cool, drain and pull them from hard outer skin. Pull from where the skin is sealed, that will make it much easier to flip out the bright green bean.
After that the beans are ready for consumption. I prefer to heat them up (not more than a minute) in a pan, as they are more flavourful when served at room temperature.
You may eat very young beans raw, since they are fresh and sweet in taste. The bigger the beans, the more earthy and mealy they will taste.
What else could you do with shelled beans?
Sauté, steam or stir fry.
Best combined with:
- a fresh delicate cheese (ġbejna, ricotta), as well as sharp-tasting cheese like pecorino
- olive oil, butter and very light vinaigrette (I prefer to use lemon juice rather than vinegar)
- sautéed or roasted garlic, sautéed onion or leek
- mint (it seems like they were made for each other), tarragon, parsley
- spring vegetables like peas and artichokes
- something salty like anchovy or speck
Broad beans, pea and fresh gbejna salad with poached eggs
- 1 medium onion
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 250 g podded broad beans
- 250 g podded peas
- A big bunch of ruccola
- ½ small lemon, unwaxed
- A small bunch of fresh mint, leaves only
- 1 piece of fresh gbejna, drained
- Olive oil
- A handful of almonds, peeled
- 4 eggs, at a room temperature
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Halve, peel and finely chop the onion. Heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a small saucepan over a low heat, add the onion, cover and let it sweat until soft, then remove the lid and cook a little further, until golden.
- Bring a large pan of unsalted water to a boil. Meanwhile fill a big bowl with ice cubes and cold water. Blanch the broad beans for 3-5 minutes (depending on their size), drain and refresh in the ice water, then drain again. Blanch peas for 1-3 minutes, drain and refresh in the ice water.
- Peel the broad beans. The skin will slip off very easily.
- Wash rucola thoroughly, drain and dry it very well. If you are using local rucola, tear the leaves. If you use imported rucola, you can leave the leaves whole.
- Finely zest the lemon and squeeze the juice.
- Divide the rucola between 4 serving plates. In a big bowl combine the onion, broad beans, peas, lemon zest, juice and mint. Crumble in the gbejna and drizzle with some olive oil- not too much! Add salt and pepper to taste and mix everything well (but carefully) with your hands. Divide salad between the plates.
- Heat a small frying pan (do not add any oil). Put in the almonds and toast them until beautifully brown. Set aside.
- Poach the eggs. Break the egg into a small shallow bowl or a small plate. Fill a deep saucepan with water (two-thirds approximately) and add a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil over a high heat. Lower the heat so that small bubbles will rise onto the surface. With a spoon, create a whirlpool in the middle of the pan. Wait a bit and pour the egg into the water. Poach for 2-3 minutes. Carefully lift the egg and put it in the bowl of cold water. Do the same with each of the remaining eggs. When all eggs are ready to be served, reheat them for 30 seconds in gently simmering water. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Place slotted spoon with egg on a paper towel, let it drain briefly and put on top of the salad.
- Sprinkle some almonds on top and serve.
Broad beans, pea and fresh gbejna salad with poached eggs
Broad bean, fresh pea, spinach and mint salad
- 250 gr of podded broad beans (see tips in the LINK)
- 300 gr of podded peas
- 4 handfuls of baby spinach leaves
- 4 handfuls of mint leaves
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp runny honey
- zest of ½ small unwaxed lemon
- salt 100 gr of ricotta
- freshly ground black pepper
- First you’ll need to cook the broad beans and peas. See the tips how to do it following the (link)
- In a big bowl mix the broad beans and peas. Add spinach and mint leaves.
- For dressing: mix olive oil, lemon juice, honey, zest, salt and pepper.
- Add dressing to the bowl and mix everything well but accurately with your hands
- Distribute the salad evenly between the plates and crumble the ricotta over the top.