Beans, shell

Other Names: Shellies, shellouts, shelly beans, shuckies.

General Description: Shell beans are any member of the legume family that are sold in their pods, ready to be shelled, or pre-shucked. All beans grow in pods of various sizes and colors but few are sold fresh like shell beans. These have a subtle flavor and tender texture, and they are easier to digest than dried beans.

Black-eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata) are cream-
colored and kidney-shaped with a black eye on the curved inner side inside long, skinny, dark pods. Although black-eyed peas originated in Asia, Spanish explorers and African slaves brought them to the southern U.S. Mixed with rice, black-eyed peas are essential for hoppin’ John, a Southern dish that must be eaten before noon on New Year’s Day to ensure good luck for the year.

Cranberry beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are an Italian favorite. These round, plump beans dappled with pink and wine-colored splotches have a flavor recalling that of chestnuts. They are the classic bean for pasta e fagioli, an Italian dish of pasta and beans. When cooked, shelled cranberry beans lose their red color.

Fava beans (Faba vulgaris) have large, flattened, light green pods about 8 inches long and 1 inch wide. Inside, the beans are protected by a white spongy material. Favas were the only bean known to Europe until the discovery of the New World. They are quite hardy and have been cultivated since ancient times around the Mediterranean and in Britain.

Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus) are large, plump, pale green beans with a kidney like curve. When young, the beans are pale green but as they ripen they develop a creamy yellow color. The name “lima” refers to their Peruvian origins, though when the name was adopted by English-speaking countries the name was incorrectly pronounced “lie-ma” rather than “lee-ma.”

Season: Black-eyed peas are available year-round from central California. Cranberry beans are available fresh in the summer. Fresh fava beans are available from California from April through June. Lima beans are in season from June to September.

Purchase: Black-eyed pea pods should be firm and filled out with plump beans from end to end. When very fresh, cranberry bean pods are firm and brilliantly colored. Look for shiny, bright green fava pods with evenly developed light green beans. Look for plump, firm, and dark-green lima bean pods.

Avoid: Avoid overgrown black-eyed peas. Check inside wilted and brown cranberry bean pods (the beans may be fine); avoid beans with rusty brown spots. Avoid favas that are yellow, an indication of age. Note that some people may be highly allergic to favas—this is called “favism.” Avoid lima beans that have pale or shriveled pods.

Storage: Refrigerate unshelled beans in a plastic bag for no more than 1 week. Black-eyed peas, cranberry beans, and limas can be frozen with great success. Freeze the shelled beans in a double layer of plastic bags.

Preparation: Black-Eyed Peas and Cranberry Beans:

To shell, press on the inside curve of the pod, split open, and pop out the beans.

Fava Beans:

  1. Pull open along the seams and remove the beans.
  2. Drop into boiling, salted water for 30 seconds. Drain and drop in ice water.
  3. Slice the inner skin of each bean with a fingernail and pop out the beans.

Lima Beans:

Snap off the stem end and unzip the pod by pulling on the string. Remove the beans.

Serving Suggestions: Sprinkle green favas or precooked limas at the last minute into any sauté of fish, seafood, or poultry to add a colorful and tasty accent. When cooking rice, couscous, orzo, or wheat berries, stir in favas or precooked limas just before serving. Make Tuscan-style beans by simmering cranberry beans in chicken stock till tender, then adding with cooking liquid and chopped plum tomatoes to olive oil–sautéed garlic and sage, and simmer till beans are soft but whole—serve with grilled steak.

Flavor Affinities: Bacon, broccoli rabe, chiles, cilantro, cumin, curry, duck, garlic, ham, mustard greens, onions, oregano, sage, shallots, smoked turkey, thyme, tomatoes, Tuscan kale.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com