At first glance, you might mistake the sizable pod of a fava bean for some sort of vegetable mutation--a farmer's experiment to create the "King of the Limas."
Not to worry--it's safe, go ahead and indulge. The pod of this Italian import--grown on a small scale in Ventura County--commonly reaches a bulging eight inches or more.
Inside the large, pale green pod--housed in a sponge-like protective layer--are five or six broad beans, which have a taste reminiscent of a lima, the fava's cousin.
Fava beans are available at your local grocer, but most of them were brought in from other counties.
For locally grown fava beans, simply visit any one of Ventura County's three farmers markets. There, you'll find freshly picked favas at the Trevino Farms outlet.
"They're not that common to the area," grower Paz Trevino said. Trevino Farms has allotted three half-acre plots to growing this variety of bean.
He said the fava, which grows on a thick vine, thrives in heat and is more commonly grown in arid climates, such as the San Joaquin Valley.
"We tried growing them last year without any luck," Trevino said.
This season, however, they have them in abundant supply.
"We have a lot of salt in the land we farm," Trevino said, "and with all the rain we received this year, it washed the salt below root level."
Although Trevino Farms is now offering a prime batch of fava beans at its produce outlets, "they're not really in demand," he said. "They are fairly new to the area and people just aren't acquainted with them."
Try them out if you haven't already; they can be used in the same recipes that call for other fresh-shelled beans. Stews, soups, stir-fry, salads, steamed--whatever your pleasure.
Unlike other green bean varieties, though, the fava bean itself has a thick outer skin that you may choose to remove before preparing. The pod is generally removed and is not included in cooking or fresh preparations.
When choosing fava beans, watch for broad, tightly sealed pods bulging with large beans. A pod's firmness also reflects freshness. If you need to store them, the beans can be kept in the refrigerator, wrapped in a plastic bag up to four days.
Expect a pound of unshelled fava beans to yield about one cup of shelled beans.
Trevino Farms is offering fava beans for about $1.25 a pound. Also watch for their fresh sugar peas and snow peas.
"Next month we'll be harvesting our strike beans, which are about three inches long," Trevino said. "Those are real tender and stringless."
Besides the Ventura, Camarillo and Thousand Oaks farmers markets, Trevino Farms will also sell at the Oxnard market, which opens in early June.
"It looks like we're going to open a roadside stand possibly in June or July," Trevino said.
The exact location has not been determined; we'll keep you notified.
Any questions regarding Trevino Farms' produce, call 983-2654.
SERVING SUGGESTIONFAVA BEAN SAUTE
2 cups shelled fava beans (about 2 pounds unshelled)
1/4 cup olive oil or salad oil
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound jicama (also called Jerusalem artichoke), scrubbed and finely diced
Salt and pepper
Boil beans for 20 to 25 minutes in five-quart pan. Drain and let cool. Remove bean skins with your fingers; discard. Set beans aside.
Heat oil in a wide frying pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion and cook, stirring, until onion is soft. Add jicama and cook, turning occasionally with a wide spatula, until browned (10 to 15 minutes). Add beans and stir gently until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes four to six servings.