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Fresh fava beans are coming into season now. People tend to shy away from this somewhat fussy legume, and while yes, they are a bit of work, the results are so worth it.

Looking like giant, soft pea pods, fresh fava beans must be peeled and blanched before the bright green bean appears. They add a spark of flavour and lightness after a winter’s reliance on root vegetables. They are also a source of fibre, iron, protein and several vitamins.

Fava beans, known as broad beans in the U.K., also come dried, which can be cooked and puréed. You’ll find the dried beans both peeled and unpeeled; the peeled ones are much easier to cook. When served with a side of chicory or rapini, they become the classic Puglian dish Fave e Cicoria (fava beans with chicory). Add tahini and spices to make fava bean hummus. These beans are also occasionally available frozen or canned. If you need a substitute, use lima beans.

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There are two steps to preparing fava beans: peeling off the outer pod and removing the waxy covering to reveal the creamy, delicious treat inside.

Peel the large pods from the top – they peel effortlessly – and remove the beans nestled inside. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, toss in the beans and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain and immediately stir into ice water to cool. The tough, waxy outer skin will now easily be released. Slip or pinch off the skin from each bean and discard. The beans are ready for eating either raw or lightly cooked.

To highlight this legume’s flavour, try simple preparations. They can be sautéed quickly in olive oil with a little prosciutto, or eaten as a salad, served along with asparagus and a sharp cheese such as asiago. Try folding them into risotto just before serving or tossing with couscous. If they are large and tough, mash with butter or olive oil and add garlic, paprika, cayenne, ground ginger and cumin.

Fava beans freeze well. Remove the outer pod and freeze with the waxy skin still intact. Once defrosted the skin will peel off easily.

A pound of fava beans in the pod yields about one cup of shelled beans, and one cup of shelled beans will give you about ½ a cup of skinned beans.

Spring snow pea and fava bean salad

Peel outer pods from 450 grams (1 lb.) of fava beans. Bring a pot of salted water to boil and add fava beans. Cook 30 seconds and remove with slotted spoon. Add snow peas and cook 1 minute longer or until crisp tender. Drain. Run cold water over favas and peas. Peel tough skin from favas and mix with snow peas. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and 2 tablespoons chives. Shave over as much Parmesan as you like. Serve on a bed of lettuce.

You can substitute asparagus for the snow peas, just blanch an extra minute.

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Need some advice about kitchen life and entertaining? Send your questions to lwaverman@globeandmail.com.

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