Monday, January 9, 2017

Orchid blossom redux: as fava beans

Last week we had Dried Orchid Blossoms created out of pressed bean curd. Today we have some beans with a very similar name. What's the connection? I haven't a clue. The only thing I can say for sure is that they both easy and both amazingly delicious.

My husband used to be utterly addicted to the grocery store versions of these crispy fried beans, but not anymore, because fusty old oil and pallid seasonings have been replaced with zesty, fresh flavors that sparkle on the tongue. 

Fried with the skins on
Not only that, but the textures here are completely off the charts. The meaty, mealy beans become crispy and luscious, frying up into thin, fluttery layers, while the skins provide a chip-like counterpoint. 

And then I tried something new: I discovered peeled dried fava beans in my favorite Middle Eastern market, and suddenly a whole lovely world opened up. I found that without those skins, the beans fry up more evenly, stay crisp easier, and become completely addictive. I've included the recipe for both types of beans, so that you can experiment yourself and also be fully armed in case you run into one kind and not the other. 

I’ll take these over peanuts any old day of the week. Serve with beer or your favorite beverage.
One of the prettiest beans around

Orchid blossom fava beans
Xiāngsū lánhuā dòu  香酥蘭花豆
Serves 6 or more

About 1 pound (450 g) dried fava beans with their skins off or on (see Tips)
Water, as needed
1 tablespoon good sea salt, like Maldon, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon ground, toasted Sichuan peppercorns, plus more as needed
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely mashed
Frying oil, as needed

1. Rinse the beans and place them in a medium work bowl. Cover them by a couple of inches with lukewarm water and let them soak for at least 24 hours. They are ready when they turn completely flat with no wrinkling, and you often will see the roots beginning to swell on the sides of the unpeeled ones, which shows that your beans are really fresh.
Slit the skin halfway around the edge

2a. For beans with the skins on: Rinse the beans and place them in a saucepan. Bring the water to a full boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for only a minute to release the beany smells and soften up the skins a bit. Rinse the beans in a colander set in the sink, drain, and dump them onto a clean tea towel. Slit each one horizontally halfway around the edge of the bean – it’s easiest if you leave the dark end alone, as this tends to be thicker. Let the beans air dry for a couple of hours so that no water explodes as they are fried.

2b. For beans with the skins removed: These don't have to be parboiled, but rather drained well before they are air-dried as in 2a. That's it.

3. While the beans are drying, cover a plate with a sheet or two of tempura or parchment paper. Have a Chinese spider or large slotted spoon next to the stove. Place the finely chopped garlic in a medium work bowl. Heat the salt with the ground Sichuan peppercorns in a small frying pan until they barely begin to smoke and give off a lovely aroma, and then toss them with the garlic.
Moisture exits as white foam

4. Set a wok on a stove, add the beans, and then cover them with the oil. (You can do this in 3 or 4 batches, if you like.) 

5a. For beans with the skins on: Fry them over medium-low heat, stirring often, until almost all of the beans have “blossomed” open. Scoop the beans up in a Chinese spider or strainer and raise the heat under the wok to high. When the oil barely begins to smoke and most of the white foam on the oil has disappeared, return the beans to the wok and fry until the skins are very crispy and the meaty parts of the beans are a golden brown. 

5b. For beans with the skins removed: Simply fry them over medium heat until they are golden and crisp, stirring often. Notice how the beans sound different when they crisp up - as you stir them, it will sound more like pebbles being tossed around in a creek, which tells you they are about done.
Skinless beans ready to eat

6. Use your spider to scoop up the beans. Drain off the oil and then toss them well with the garlic mixture while the beans are still very hot, as this will cook the garlic. Dump the beans out onto the paper-lined plate to drain. Taste and add more salt and/or Sichuan peppercorns as needed. Let them cool to room temperature and serve. If you want to save them for another day, they stay crisper if you dry them out overnight in an oven with the light or the pilot light on. Then, store them in an airtight container. Using them up quickly is a good idea since they are fried and the oil doesn't improve as it sits around on the beans, but getting them to disappear should not prove to be a problem.


Soaked skinless fava beans
Locate dried fava beans in a Middle Eastern or Latin American market where the turnover is fast. Seek out the largest ones you can find, which tend to be meatier. Store them in a cool, dry place and use up as fast as possible.

Alter the seasoning as you like to match your menu and palate.


  1. I've wondered how these fantastic drinking snacks were made for the longest time. Thanks for sharing!