Dear Tired, over-stretched lifestyle-blocker with too many lambs to crutch, too much hay to cut, too many kids home for the holidays, and a whole paddock of ragwort requiring spraying,
Did you know that there's a delicious, completely undemanding, pretty-much-impossible-to-go-wrong-with vegetable out there just waiting for you to grow? Not only does it require very little of your time, but it also has infinite culinary potential and, better still, there's still time to sow it! In fact, there's almost no time at all that you can't throw its seed in the ground!
The humble broadbean, which so many of us shy away from because of the grizzly way it was prepared for us as children (bitter, fluffy pods boiled to a leathery texture, or tough, grey bullets served as an accompaniment to sausages and mash) is one of the world's most popular vegetables. Not only is it a thriver, even when neglected by the gardener or challenged by climate, but its culinary versatility lends itself to the cuisine of whatever country it happens to be growing in.
Going by various names including fava, fava field bean, horse bean, or tic bean (and probably a whole lot more!), the broadbean is enjoyed in the Middle East as spicy falafel patties served in pitas, in the Mediterranean, sweated with dill, garlic, and olive oil, or in Spain as bright green pesto whipped up with mint and lemon juice. The secret of this legume's utter scrumptiousness in any dish (with the possible exception of falafel where older specimens will suffice) is to eat the beans when they are young, or peel them when they are more mature.
I adore broadbeans, and sow them throughout the year from late winter to late summer, revelling in the fact that they require so little attention. Being large seeds, they germinate even in ground only roughly hoed. Manufacturing their own nitrogen (which also makes them an excellent green crop to dig into the soil after harvesting is complete) they are undemanding in terms of feeding and, although they do enjoy moisture, they continue to thrive even in a dry season. In a wetter climate, where they tend to romp, a quick pinching out of the top leaves once the desired height has been reached, is enough to halt their growth, and those same leaves, of course, make a delicious addition to salads.
But, best of all, although you will often find broadbeans artfully staked in neat rows in the garden of someone who has time to attend to this chore, unsupported broadbean plants will, in all but the wettest, most humid of climates, continue to grow happily, and produce a decent crop even when they flop untidily on top of each other and begin to "rust". Now that's my kind of vegetable!
Why not grab a bag of broadbean seed right now, soak them overnight to hasten germination and, if you haven't got a rough patch of ground where you can sow them, tuck them around the edge of the spud patch – or in the patio tub of that ugly conifer you've always wanted to biff. Then get trolling the 'net for some exotic "fava" recpies. The one below might just get you in the mood!
PS: if you do find time to "stake" your broadbean plants, builder's reinforcing iron-mesh, mounted horizontally on warratahs, is perfect for the job. Look for it at your local dump-shop.
- 1/2 a bucket of mature broadbeans
- 1 large clove of garlic (peeled)
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- juice of 2 lemons
- olive oil (start with a ¼ cup)
- salt and black pepper to taste
Pod the beans and boil them until tender. Remove their outer grey skin (it doesn't take as long as you think, and kids love the job) to expose the greener flesh beneath. Whiz the beans together with the garlic, cumin, and lemon juice, adding a little oil at a time, until a smooth paste results (you may need to add extra oil, depending on the texture of the beans). Add salt and pepper to taste and, if required, more lemon juice.
Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with something bright (red capsicum looks pretty against the green of the beans) and chill until required. Serve with crostini or plain crackers.