Dried Fava Bean and Fresh Fennel Soup with Polenta

by on January 15, 2008
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Habas (Hulled Fava Beans)Several months ago, I was shopping in a local supermarket, one I don’t often visit, and came upon a shopping cart filled with bags of dried beans with a sign that said “2 for $1.” There were 2-pound bags of garbanzos, black beans, and lentils and 1 1/2-pound bags of a bean I didn’t recognize. I took a closer look and found that they were fava beans, but unlike any that I had seen before, they were yellow. The only time I’d ever cooked dried fava beans, they were covered by a thick, brown skin that had to be peeled off, a tedious and time-consuming process. These beans looked like they lacked that tough skin, so I tossed a couple of bags into my cart, figuring that one day I’d find a use for them.

For months afterward, they languished in my freezer. (I store beans and grains in the freezer ever since a nasty insect infestation taught me not to trust them to my pantry shelves.) But this weekend I was searching my cookbooks for new ways to use the fresh fennel I’d just bought when I stumbled upon this soup recipe in Viana la Place’s Verdura (a goldmine of fennel recipes, by the way). The recipe called for the fava beans to be soaked and then peeled, but I figured that my habas (the Spanish word for peeled fava beans) would make things much easier. Easier is good because this soup, though simple, requires a long, slow cooking time and adding peeling to the process would make it into an all-day production.

Of course, I made a few changes to the recipe. I omitted the quarter cup of olive oil, doubled the amount of fennel, and altered the seasonings just a touch; and, since I’m avoiding processed foods, I left out the pasta originally called for. I contemplated using a whole grain instead, but in the end I thought it would be easier and more in keeping with the Sicilian background of the recipe to serve it over cubes of grilled polenta. D and I absolutely loved it, though I have to warn you that if our daughter is any indication, this soup is not kid-friendly. The strong licorice flavor of the fennel was too much for her, and after choking down a few bites, she asked for a PBJ sandwich (her least favorite sandwich–that’s how much she hated this soup).

I know that most people aren’t going to be able to find fava beans–I don’t know if I’ll be able to find habas again myself–but I think that large, dried lima beans, cannelini beans, or great northern beans would all make excellent substitutes, especially if you use a hand blender or food processor to puree the beans before the fennel is added. If you’re afraid of too much fennel taste, feel free to use only one bulb instead of two. I also think this would be good with some kale or other vegetables added. I served it with a green salad as suggested by the original recipe, but with some kale, broccoli, or cauliflower, it could become a one-pot meal.

Dried Fava Bean and Fresh Fennel Soup with Polenta

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 PJ May 1, 2010 at 11:38 pm

i bought a very similar packet of dried fava and i ended up here looking for a recipe to use them up. I bought them thinking of making Ful Medames but after soaking I see that they are different than the Ful Medames fava beans. Any idea if these are two different kinds of fava beans? thanks!


2 SusanV May 2, 2010 at 12:01 am

I believe that the only difference is that these lighter one have already been peeled, but I could be wrong.


3 tokyovegan November 9, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Hi Susan. Looking forward to trying your recipes (the soup and the polenta!) I also want to use up a bag of Bob’s Red mill fava beans. The bag specifically says not to soak them, and I wonder if you know of any harm in doing so? It seems like it would save a lot of energy, at least….


4 Susan Voisin November 9, 2011 at 11:29 pm

I can’t imagine why they shouldn’t be soaked. Every recipe I’ve seen for dried fava beans calls for soaking.


5 tokyovegan November 11, 2011 at 2:15 am

The soup turned out great, and I ended up adding a lot of fresh ripe tomatoes I received, too! I’m going to make the polenta today….Thanks!


6 MCJ May 17, 2012 at 8:44 am

Is this the correct photo? There appear to be potatoes in the soup.


7 Susan Voisin May 17, 2012 at 9:01 am

There are cubes of polenta in the soup.


8 mamadog November 6, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I had been doing some research about beans to make them more digestible for hubby (a big prob for a vegan fam and a 13-yr old rapidly growing boy). All signs pointed to fennel to aid digestibility; I tested it out with this recipe and it helped tremendously!

I did 2 tiny variations and it was yummy. I used Trader Joe’s bean and barley blend, and then added baby spinach toward the end. Definitely will be making this many times throughout the winter.


9 Lynne Glasspool June 26, 2014 at 11:46 pm

I tried this before and my family loved it, but it took forever to peel the beans. This time I found some dried, peeled beans on sale and it made all the difference, otherwise I would not have bothered. Loved it. I just hope I can remember where I bought the beans!


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