Thursday, May 7, 2009
Bulgur Wheat and Fava Bean Salad with Feta Cheese, Lemon Basil, and Mint
You know warm weather is coming when fresh fava beans show up at the farmers market. I feel that fresh fava beans our one of our last truly seasonal vegetables. By this I mean that you will almost never find them available in a grocery store or super market out of season (like we do tomatoes, asparagus, and artichokes).
The first of the season fava beans are the best. Even the large beans are tender, requiring only 3-4 minutes of blanching. If you have ever worked with fava beans, you know that they require affection and patience to work with. Only people who love favas actually cook with them. Fresh favas come in large, thick, hairy green pods. These pods must first be split open to reveal the beans inside. These beans then need to be dunked in boiling hot water for a few minutes (depends on their size and age) to make them tender, and to soften their leathery outer skin. This skin then needs to be peeled off (its easy, just pop the beans right out) before the bean can be used. All in all, fava beans have about an 80% loss when all is finished. 1 1/2 pounds of beans in pods will yeild roughly a cup of peeled beans. Fava beans are like artichokes; a bit of a hassle to work with, but sooooo worth the effort!
Fava beans go wonderfully with wheat, salty cheeses, fresh spring herbs, potatoes, artichokes, peas, and even early tomatoes. My favorite herbs to go with fava beans are tarragon, chives, parsley, basil, mint, chervil, and thyme. I have a mini basil garden going, and my lemon basil is flaunting a few beautful,leafy sprigs, which I decided to use in my first fava bean recipe of the year; Bulgur Wheat and Fava Bean Salad with Feta Cheese, Lemon Basil, and Mint. If lemon basil is not available, then any early basil will do. I really love the mint in this recipe as well. The salty and creamy feta cheese really ties the chewy bulgur wheat and tender favas together, while chopped walnuts add a nice toasty crunch. This is a really nice side dish. I used a full 3 tablespoons of exceptional extra virgin olive oil and the juice of two juicy lemons. If you feel the salad is too dry, add more oil or lemon juice if need be.
Bulgur Wheat with Fava Beans, Feta Cheese, Lemon Basil, and Mint Serves 4-6 as a side dish
Spring, Early Summer
-1 cup bulgur wheat
-1 ½ pounds fresh fava beans
-1 small shallot lobe, minced
-1 tablespoon minced fresh lemon basil
-1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves
-2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
-1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese*
-Juice of 2 lemons, or to taste
-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
-Handful toasted and chopped walnuts
-salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste
Place the bulgur wheat in a 2 quart pot and cover with 1 ½ cups water and a large pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and turn the heat down to low. Cook the bulgur wheat until it has absorbed all the water. Let rest ten minutes, off heat. Uncover, and fluff with a fork. Refrigerate the bulgur if not using with in the hour.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Remove the fava beans from their thick green pods. Add the fava beans to the boiling water. Blanch until the beans are tender and their skins slip right off, about 3-4 minutes for young, first of the season beans, a little longer for later season beans. Drain and immediately run under cold water until cool. Peel the fava beans. They are now ready to use.
Combine the bulgur wheat with the fava beans, minced shallot, lemon basil, mint, parsley, and a little salt and fresh ground white pepper. Stir to combine. Add in the feta cheese, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and chopped walnuts. Stir well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary with salt, fresh ground white pepper, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil.
*Note: If your feta cheese is very moist and creamy instead of dry and crumbly, add it at the end of mixing, after you have adjusted to taste, otherwise, this dish will get soggy and the feta will disappear into the bulgur wheat.