Riding the fava bean leaf trend

Fava beans by Greensteps at flickrIn his blog, San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer observes that fava bean leaves could be a trend in the Bay Area. I have been buying them for a while, after hearing about them on KCRW’s Good Food, and most recently bought them at the County Line stand at the Berkeley Farmers Market. (Update, 4/13/17: the blog post by Michael Bauer disappeared, but there’s another Chronicle item about fava bean leaves by Jane Tunks, which might have inspired Bauer’s post, or vice versa).

Fava beans play an important role in soil fertility on some farms because they pull nitrogen out of the air and put it into the soil (they “fix nitrogen”).  But if you leave them in the ground too long and let beans form on the plants (i.e., let their seeds form), then much of the nitrogen benefit will be erased as the plant uses the nitrogen to make its seeds (Or so I’ve been told. If I’m off target here, please let me know in the comments.).  That makes the leaves an even more attractive crop, because they can be harvested when farmers tear out the fava plants, thus providing some food and also improving soil fertility.

Last Sunday I made a spring frittata that used fava leaves, asparagus, leeks and feta. All of the ingredients were from the farmers market except for the mint and thyme (plants in my back yard) and the salt. Here’s a rough recipe (if you are new to making frittatas, I recommend reading a carefully thought-out and tested recipe, like the one from Martha Rose Shulman at the New York Times).

Recipe:  Spring Frittata with Asparagus, Fava Bean Leaves, Leek Mint, and Feta

  1. Cook diced leek in oil over medium-low heat for a few minutes, putting on a cover for the last minute or so to help soften the leeks.
  2. Add aspargus pieces, stir to combine, then cover and cook for a few minutes (it’s hard to guess a time here; the goal is to have the asparagus be perfectly cooked when the frittata is removed from the oven).
  3. Add washed and chopped fava leaves, salt and pepper to the skillet, stir, cover, and turn off heat.  Let it steam for a few minutes.
  4. Remove cover and let the skillet contents cool slightly (so you don’t pre-cook the eggs when everything is combined).
  5. Lightly beat 5-6 eggs in a bowl. Add 1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese.  Add more salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Combine the eggs, cheese, and vegetables.
  7. Turn on the broiler on your oven (alternatively, you can turn over the frittata to cook the second side in the skillet).
  8. Place a skillet over medium heat. Add a generous amount of olive oil.
  9. Pour in the egg mixture.
  10. Cook until the bottom of the frittata is light golden brown or the top of the frittata is set.
  11. Place the frittata under the broiler until the top is light golden (the skillet handle might become very hot, so be sure to use a pot-holder or towel when removing it from the oven).

For some cool photos of ladybugs munching on aphids on a fava bean plant, check out this Flickr set by Anauxite.

Image Credit

Photo of Photo of fava beans from Greensteps’s flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.


  1. I have used the leaves in salads and they are delicious, they have a slight pepper taste that compliments any type salad. I am wondering if any other similar leaves work in salads, like pepper plant leaves? Any ideas?

  2. Off the top of the my head, I'm not aware of other unexpected leaves being used in salads, but I would bet that there are some creative restaurants using unexpected leaves as sources of new flavors. One non-salad use of an unexpected leaf that I can think of comes from Food science expert Harold McGee had a piece about eating tomato leaves in the New York Times and presented some evidence that the leaves are not as toxic as once thought. Although he doesn't say anything about using leaves in salads, he has some ideas about using the leaves in tomato sauce or pesto. Touching the leaves, however, can lead to contact dermatitis in some people as this letter in the NY Times explains.

  3. Deborah — You're right, nasturtiums have a delicious, peppery flavor, and since they grow like crazy in backyards, they can often be had for free (just be careful of what has been sprayed on them and be aware that wildlife and pets might have left things on and around the plants). Nasturtiums were the basis for one of my culinary highlights of 2010, a nasturtium risotto from David Kinch of Manresa that uses leaves, stems and flowers. The recipe is archived at Martha Stewart (Kinch did a segment on her program demonstrating how to make the risotto, which might also be on the MS website somewhere). I've also seen a recipe in Rodale's Stocking Up that pickles the unopened flower buds as a substitute for capers. You need a lot of nasturtiums to this, however, like a hillside full of the plants, so I haven't given it a try yet.

  4. I've been planting favas to fix nitrogen in the soil of my garden for a couple of years but cutting them down/pulling them up always seemed sort of wasteful. About a year ago I learned that they were edible so I added them to hortopita/spanikopita and also started adding them to my morning Green Smoothie. This morning was a banana, an orange, a bit of water, a few ice cubes and several cups of fava leaves. Yum! Love nastutium flowers and leaves in salads too, not so much in a smoothie!

  5. Was wondering if my fava leaves were edible and glad to find out they were.
    Just pinched back a few from the garden and they were amazing, sort of reminiscent of snow pea shoots.
    First time growing them and if they don't produce beans, which they may not growing this time of year, then I can harvest the leaves instead.
    It's a no loose situation!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *