I have a great fondness for foods that require you to do a little bit of work with your hands. Shelling pistachios, cracking walnuts, hand-mixing dough - these are all enjoyable activities in my book. There's just something therapeutic about the repetition and simplicity of it.
Fava beans, when you bring them home from the market or grocery store in their big rugged green pods, require double shelling. You first remove all the beans from the big pod. You then quickly blanch the beans in boiling water, run them under cold water, and shell each bean individually by pinching it between two fingers until the bean inside pops out. And who doesn't like to pop bright green beans out of their shells one by one??
OK, so I realize that to many of you this just sounds like a big fat waste of time and/or a big fat pain in the ass. This, my good friends, is why they sell frozen shelled fava beans at the super market (sometimes). Those will work just fine in this salad.
The white beans here are best made fresh. We had cooked up a pound of cassoulet beans the night before for dinner, reserving half for salad the next day. Be careful not to overcook your beans - you don't want them turning to mush in the salad.
This salad is bright and simple - fresh spring produce tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, a briny sheep's feta, and heaps of fresh mint. I am including a recipe but I really encourage you to toss together whatever spring vegetables look good to you. You can't go wrong with lemon, mint, and feta.
FAVA BEAN, WHITE BEAN, AND ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH LEMON, MINT, AND FETA
- 2 cups cooked white beans such as cassoulet or cannellini
- 2 cups shelled fava beans
- 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
- 2 handfuls mint, chopped
- 1 handful feta, such as sheep’s feta that comes in a brine
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- juice and zest of 1 lemon
- ¼ cup olive oil
- salt and pepper
Place the fava beans in a pot of boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, off the heat and drain the beans. Run the beans under cold water to stop the cooking. Remove the shell from each bean by pinching the bean between your fingers. Set aside.
You can quickly blanche, steam, or sauté the asparagus. You want to cook the asparagus just for a minute or two, until bright in color. I blanched my asparagus for about a minute in a large sauté pan of boiling water. Place the asparagus in an ice bath or run under cold water after to stop the cooking. Pat the asparagus dry with a towel, and cut the spears into small segments, about 1 inch long.
If you have a wooden salad bowl, you can “garlic the bowl” prior to adding all of the salad ingredients: take the minced garlic and rub it all over the bottom of the bowl with the back of a wooden spoon. My mom has always done this for salads, and it’s a great way to season your salad bowl over time.
Add the cooked white beans, fava beans, the asparagus, and the rest of the ingredients to the salad bowl, and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Depending on how salty/briny your feta is, you may need to add more olive oil or lemon juice. Divide among plates, zest a little more lemon over each plate, and enjoy.