Monday, August 5, 2013

Broad bean, bell pepper and quinoa salad with basil tahini dressing

Broad bean, bell pepper and quinoa salad with basil tahini dressing

Last week I bought some broad beans, also called fava or faba beans, from our local organic farm. Their botanical name is Vicia faba L.

These sweet, creamy and delicious pod beans only have a short natural season during the summer, so are usually dried, canned or frozen to preserve them. It is therefore a real treat to eat them fresh.

Dried broad or fava bean is an ancient staple of many middle eastern and north African cuisines.

In Egypt, ful madames (literally 'buried beans') is the national dish, and ta'amia, a falafel considered to be superior in every way to the chickpea concoctions favoured further north, is also popular. 

Ground into a flour known as shiro, broad beans also play a central role in the Ethiopian culinary tradition.

Interestingly, in Ancient Egypt broad beans were cultivated but considered unclean and fed to slaves. Herodotus even claimed that Egyptian priests would not even look at beans, let alone eat them.

The Ancient Egyptians weren't the only ones with a thing about broad beans. 

Pythagoras, the Ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher, actually banned his followers from eating them. There are many theories about the reason for this, which I shall return to later.

In Europe broad or fava beans are more frequently eaten green and immature, particularly in Italy where they are harvested when the size of garden peas.  

Broad beans should be double-podded, unless they are very young and tender. 

Step 1

Remove the beans from their pods.

Step 2

Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and add the beans. Cook for approximately 2 minutes and then drain.

Step 3

Place the beans into a bowl of cold water.

Step 4

Pop the tender, bright green beans out of their thick, leathery skins by using your nail to slit the skin and squeezing gently.


Serves 2


  • 170g double de-podded broad beans (approximately 20 bean pods)
  • 110 g (4oz, 1/2 cup) quinoa
  • 3/4 cup boiling water from kettle
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (washed and chopped into small pieces)
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper (washed and chopped into small pieces)
  • 15g (1/2 oz) pine nuts

  • 85g (3 oz) fresh basil (washed and chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons light tahini (sesame seed paste, available in supermarkets and health food stores)
  • 1 teaspoon sweet white miso (available in some supermarkets and health food stores)
  • 2 teaspoons apple juice concentrate
  • 1 dessert spoon fresh lime juice


  1. Double de-pod the broad beans as described in steps 1 to 4 above
  2. Add hot water to quinoa in a small pan, cover with lid, bring to boil, turn heat down low and simmer with lid on for 15 minutes. Do not remove the lid during cooking.  It is easy to tell when it is done because the seeds display a little white thread that curls around them. Please click here for more information about quinoa.
  3. Put all ingredients for the dressing in a jug and blend until smooth
  4. Mix cooked quinoa, beans, peppers and pine nuts together with the dressing
  5. Serve garnished with fresh basil. Can be eaten as a main meal or in smaller portions as a side dish.

Nutrition and health benefits


Broad beans are very high in protein, starch and fibre and contain many beneficial vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients with anti-oxidant, anti-hypertensive, hypolipidemic and anti-cancer properties.

Broad beans are a very rich source of dietary fibre, which acts as a bulk laxative that helps to protect the mucous membrane of the colon by decreasing its exposure time to toxic substances as well as by binding to cancer-causing chemicals in the colon. Dietary fibre has also been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels by decreasing re-absorption of cholesterol binding bile acids in the colon.

Broad beans are rich in phyto-nutrients such as isoflavones and plant-sterols. 

Isoflavones such as genistein and daidzein have been found to protect against breast cancer in laboratory animals. These phytoestrogens appear to have a different mechanism of action from endogenous oestrogen which may explain their protective effects.

Phytosterols, especially ß-sitosterol, are reported to lower cholesterol levels in the body. There is, however, controversy about this and the evidence base is currently not strong enough to support claims that phytosterols protect against cardiovascular disease.

Broad beans contain Levo-dopa or L-dopa, a precursor of neuro-chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, epinephrine and nor-epinephrine. Dopamine in the brain is associated with smooth functioning of body movements. 

L-dopa is used to treat Parkinson's disease and there has been some research interest in whether eating broad beans improves motor performance.

Fresh fava beans are an excellent source of folates. 100 g beans provide 423 µg or 106% of folates. Folate along with vitamin B-12 is one of the essential components of DNA synthesis and cell division. Adequate folate in the diet around conception and during pregnancy may help prevent neural-tube defects in the newborn baby.

They also contain good amounts of vitamin-B6 (pyridoxine), thiamin (vitamin B-1), riboflavin and niacin. These vitamins function as co-enzymes in cellular metabolism of carbohydrate, protein, and fat.

In addition, broad beans are a good source of minerals like iron, copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium and contain high levels of potassium. 

Potassium is an important electrolyte of cell and body fluids. It helps counter pressing effects of sodium on heart and blood pressure.

It isn't all good news...

As I mentioned at the beginning, the ancient philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras, banned members of his brotherhood from consuming broad or fava beans. 

Fierce debate raged for centuries about the reason for this.

Aristotle said that Pythagoras condemned fava beans "either because they have the shape of testicles, or because they resemble the gates of hell, for they alone have no hinges, or again because they spoil, or because they resemble the nature of the universe, or because of oligarchy, for they are used for drawing lots."

Diogenes proposed that the Pythagoreans rejected favas because they cause thought-disturbing flatulence, saying, "One should abstain from fava beans, since they are full of wind and take part in the soul, and if one abstains from them one's stomach will be less noisy and one's dreams will be less oppressive and calmer."

A later sect known as the Orphics believed that Pythagoras had forbidden the eating of broad beans because they contain the souls of the dead. "Eating fava beans and gnawing on the heads of one's parents are one and the same," went one of their sayings.

Pythagoras by Bruce Pennington

Modern medicine has a more prosaic explanation.

Raw broad beans also contain the alkaloids vicine and convicine which can induce haemolytic anaemia in patients with the hereditary condition glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. The toxic substances are concentrated in the skin of the bean. This potentially fatal condition is called favism after the fava bean.

Favism has been known for many centuries along the Mediterannean littoral but was first reported in the American medical literature in 1933 and in the UK in the 1950's. More detailed understanding of the physiology of the disease has only emerged in the last 25 years.

The condition is especially prevalent in the Middle East and in old Magna Graecia - the region ruled by the ancient Greeks, which now forms the coastal areas of southern Italy - where as many as 30 per cent of the population in some areas has it.

For most people, consumption of broad or fava beans provides many benefits provided they are prepared properly.

Soaking dried beans overnight followed by cooking, substantially reduces the concentration of antinutrients, such as vicine and convicine.

Sprouting beans is also an effective means of reducing vicine content.

Removal of the skin by double de-podding will also reduce the risk as the potentially toxic substances are concentrated in the skin.

Breeding varieties of Vicia faba that do not contain vicine and convicine is a priority and marker-assisted selection techniques are being investigated.

If you are from a region with a high prevalence of favism or you know that members of your family have suffered from it, you must be very cautious.

Whether poisonings were the basis of Pythagoras' pronouncement or not, no one can say for certain.

Iamblichus tells of the time a group of Pythagoreans were being pursued by their enemies when they came across a field of favas in bloom. Rather than disobey the master's dictates and flee through the field, they were slaughtered. And when two who were captured were questioned about their beliefs, they refused to answer. The husband chose death and the wife, a Spartan, bit off her tongue and spit it at her captors to avoid spilling the beans.

Broad beans are rich in tyramine, and thus should be avoided by those taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors.

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