By Liz Krieger
This week’s cooking installment began almost as a dare. On my recent visit to my parents, my mom nearly fell out of her chair when I told her I intended to cook something again (see my stellar first attempt here). But for some reason, my mind was blank. Never mind the fact that she has no less than 50 cookbooks, two refrigerators and a huge freezer full of food. I was drawing a blank.
So, feeling desperate for inspiration, I told her to name any food and I’d try to make something with it. The rules dovetailed with the goal of this entire blog: to help my family lower their cholesterol numbers. I told her I wanted the dish to be vegetarian, low-fat, low-cholesterol and high fiber. I think she also knew that had she replied “tripe” or “liver” I would have just about hit the roof.
Her answer: “Fava beans.”
Huh? Yes, yes, I know the famous Silence of the Lambs quote from creepy Hannibal Lecter about “fava beans and a nice Chianti,” and I know I’d had them before, but I’d never bought them or prepared them or even HELPED someone else prepare them.
So off to the market in town I went. According to my research, fava beans (a.k.a. broadbeans) have a very short season and we were just at the tail end of it. I knew they had to be shelled, boiled and then shelled again—a boatload of work for this open-a-can-and-call-it-dinner-gal. And yet, the challenge was on, so I couldn’t turn back. I scooped up a big handful of the long, skinny green beans and headed home.
I considered leafing through all the cookbooks, but felt paralyzed by the sheer enormity. I couldn’t bear to even type in fava beans into Google, lest the recipes flood my brain.
So I did what I am always hearing experienced cooks advise: Open the fridge and/or pantry, see what you have and go from there. The great thing, of course, is that I was just about sure there’d be some good stuff in there, since my mother is an expert on having a well-stocked pantry and fridge.
Ten minutes later (after a few consultations with my mother, since my confidence was wavering) I had a tub of feta cheese and two enormous beets in front of me. These couldn’t be all that bad together, right?
Lesson #1: People don’t prepare fava beans at home all that much because, well, they are a pain in the butt. First, I had to sit there and take the beans out of their pods. Not hard, just time-consuming. Then I boiled them for a few minutes. Then, once they were cooled, I sat back into my “shelling chair” and released each one from its tiny little seed “jacket.” The little bowl of shiny, green folate-rich fava beans was lovely when I was done, sure…but sheesh, so much work!
Lesson #2: Don’t wear white in the kitchen. Especially when working with beets. This is self-explanatory, really.
Lesson #3: Using your instincts works! Having chosen three simple ingredients and simply mixed them all together, the salad was a perfect lunch for a summer day. I chopped the boiled beets and mixed with the beans and a small amount of crumbled feta; tossed the whole thing with Smart Balance™ Extra Virgin Olive Oil and some of my mom’s über-fancy sea salt. Thanks to the fiber in fava (one serving has 85 percent of the recommended daily value), it was filling. The beets were a naturally sweet treat that somehow made dessert unnecessary and the fat in the feta (6 grams per ounce) kept us all satisfied well into the afternoon.
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