Dried Broad Beans from Hodmedod’s
Dried broad beans were once a common ingredient in Britain, and have been eaten here since the iron age. Broad beans are one of Europe’s oldest and most important crops, having been cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. The dried form was valued for its high protein content, especially at times when there was little else to eat, such as in late Spring when other dry stores such as wheat, or salted meat would begin to run out.
Today these dried fava beans are still popular and widely eaten in many parts of the world. In Egypt they are used to make the popular dish ful medames, a puree of the dried beans eaten with fresh vegetables such as onion and green chilli and mopped up with flat bread. Dried broad beans are also eaten in Sicily and Puglia, where the pure and primitive dish of beans and bitter greens (‘ncapriata or fave e cicoria) is enjoying a renewed popularity as people rediscover these ancient dishes. For a long while younger generations didn’t want to eat dishes like these as they were associated with poverty.
This association with poverty most likely informed the great Jane Grigson’s view on dried broad beans – in the entry on broad beans in her Vegetable Book, the loss of this ingredient to British cookery is something she was not very sorry for. The historical importance for dried pulses is that they store well, so they played an important role in peoples diets, especially in winter and at this time of year (in early spring), which is also known as the hungry gap, when stores are running out. Over-wintered vegetables such as cabbages are finished, bolting or rotting, so the arrival of new spring vegetable would be hotly anticipated. In this regard the dried pulse is no longer important, or necessary, however the health benefits of such pulses has been appreciated more recently, as well as the fact they can make such cheap and delicious food.
Until recently, homegrown British pulses such as the dried broad beans were dying out, and that is where the wonderful company Hodmedod’s comes in. As a response to a growing demand for home grown produce, Hodmedod’s have worked with English farmers to grow indigenous varieties of pulses, some of which were almost completely forgotten. Before they started this venture in 2012 it was nearly impossible to find British grown pulses. The first product Hodmedod’s sold was the dried broad bean (Hodmedod’s have chosen to call it by its more sophisticated sounding Italian name fava bean). Ironically some of the homegrown pulses they sell sound more exotic than the ones we regularly import from halfway around the world. Their range includes more familiar things like split peas and marrowfat peas but they also grow things like the Carlin pea and its relative the Red fox pea (better known in the north of England). Interestingly, the Carlin pea is eaten more in Japan that it is in Britain. More recently they have introduced the red haricot bean and quinoa, all grown by British farmers.
Today we are more familiar with fresh or frozen broad beans and it is the fresh that are prized, but the dried version is a very versatile ingredient (as well as delicious), and so good for you – filled with protein, fibre and all the other good things we are supposed to eat. Unlike beans with the skin still on, the dried broad beans take very little time to cook. They are perfect for adding to soups such as minestrone, or some form of soup started with a ham hough or ham ribs.
The recipe below is simply for a puree made from the split broad beans – the beans are cooked until they become so soft they fall apart and produce a very smooth and rich puree to which garlic and butter are added. It is creamy and nutty. This is the perfect accompaniment to rich stews, or sausages cooked in gravy or a rich tomato sauce. At the bottom of this article you will see a dodgy photograph of the broad bean puree sitting under a pile of pink lambs liver, caramelised onions and crispy bacon (perfect with a glass of nice Chianti according to Hannibal).
This provides a homegrown alternative to other pulses from around the world such as chickpeas and lentils, as well as a great alternative to other forms of stodge such as mashed potatoes, or polenta, or risotto. Using Hodmedod’s supports British farmers and you can even buy them online at Hodmedod’s website, or even here on Amazon. I bought mine from realfoods in Edinburgh.
Recipe for Dried Broad Bean Puree
Ingredients (Serves 2)
150g split broad beans
25g unsalted butter (the more you add the more voluptuous it will be)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 bay leaf
Rinse the beans with cold water until the water runs clear. Put into a pot and cover with 3cm cold water. Add the garlic, bay leaves and salt. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally. The beans will take about 30 – 45 minutes to cook and get really soft. You may need to add more water before they are ready. When the beans are falling apart and are very soft add the butter and mash them until you form a smooth puree. Make sure to mash the garlic cloves in too. Check for seasoning. If you think it is too thick you can add some water or a little milk to get it to the right consistency.