Friday, October 22, 2010

Broad Beans and Peas

Cultivation of vegetables in Chile maintains a geographic distribution according to the taste of the inhabitants, or more accurately, according to the nature of the climate.  In the north beans are dominant, in the south peas, among the Mapuche fava beans and in the archipelago of Chiloé, potatoes. Caludio Gay 1882 [1]

Most of the posts in Eating Chilean start out with something new I see in the market, and this is no exception.  I had never seen, much less eaten, fava beans in the US, but knew about them because of their relation to favism, a genetic intolerance discussed in every introductory course in Physical Anthropology. [2] Peas, of course, I knew.  But only the fresh green ones; finding dried peas—as in pease porridge hot—to be common in Chile (historically, if not today) was another surprise.   

Broad Beans or Fava Beans (Vicia faba)

Broad beans (habas in Spanish) are among the world’s oldest domesticated plants, and were part of the Mediterranean crop inventory by 6000 BC or earlier. 

As a dry bean—and apart from garbanzos the only bean known in Europe--they were commonly part of ship’s stores, and probably came to the Americas with Columbus and to Chile with the conquistadores.  While they are very hardy and can be grown under a wide variety of conditions, they do best in cool climates and do not set seed pods well in temperatures over 65° F.[3]

Araucania (click to enlarge)

When the Spanish arrived, the Mapuche, the indigenous people of south central Chile, were a riverine people dependant on hunting, fishing, collecting wild foods and cultivating maize, potatoes, and other American crops. Their homeland, the Araucania, from the Rio Bio Bio south to the Rio Tolten and beyond, has a temperate oceanic climate; marginal for most Amerindian crops with tropical origins, except potatoes. Average summer temperatures are in the 60s and 70s, and winter lows are usually above freezing. Annual rainfall, concentrated in the winter months, ranges from 45 inches in Temuco to almost 100 inches in Valdivia.  Not great for maize or common beans, but ideal for favas.

When fava beans were adopted by the Mapuche is unclear, but they were probably introduced to the region by the Spanish who briefly set up fortified towns in the Araucaria in the 1550s, before the Mapuche developed military tactics to drive them out.  Tomás Guevara, in El Pueblo Mapuche (The Mapuche People), writes:

With the Spanish occupation, especially in the final third of the 16th century, Araucanian agriculture underwent a major change, and in consequence, produced a revolution in the economic and social order, building on the family structure and the intelligence and energy of the patriarchal community. Without abandoning their existing crops, they learned to cultivate the cereals imported by the conquistadores, especially wheat, which they called cachilla for its origin in Castile, and barley, cahuella. Following these in importance came fava beans and peas.[4] 

Habas aren’t mentioned by Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán, the Chilean born Spanish soldier captured by the Mapuche in 1620, who gives us some of the earliest information on Mapuche food, but they occur in virtually all later accounts of Mapuche food or agriculture.  For example, in the Mapuche lonco (headman) Pascual Coña recalled:

When I was still little I helped my father.  He worked in the fields, where he planted a little wheat, a little barley, peas, flax, maize, fava beans, common beans, potatoes; but only a little of each species; the old people had little practice in this work.  When harvest time came, all these products were gathered, but soon they ran out and a great shortage of food followed. The first foods after the great shortage (of September to November) were fava beans and peas. 
As the little harvest drew near and green products appeared, the women would go to harvest their fava beans or peas; carrying baskets and chaihues [sifting baskets]. They filled them and then returned happily to their houses.  In their houses they shelled them and put them over the fire in a large pot to boil. When they were well cooked they took the pot off the fire and put them in a big sieve. They ate them communally with soup.[5]

Today fava beans continue to be popular in Chile and in terms of area planted, are the 14th most important vegetable.  Production of 21,000 metric tons of fresh favas makes Chile the 13th largest producer in the world (2005), and among the largest exporters:  921 tons with a value of $1.6 million US. In 2008. [6]

But enough history; how and why should you try them? 

For the “why,” it’s simple:  they are good, nutritious (see below), and along with peas and asparagus, are among the earliest spring crops to appear.  They are buttery, mildly bitter, with a nutty taste.  And they are inexpensive (here in Chile), easy to grow and simple to prepare.  How? Simply snap off the ends of the long pods and string them, like big string beans.  Then open the pods and strip out the beans.

Put in a pan with a little water and steam for 5 to 8 minutes—until tender. (old beans may take longer). Taste one.  If you like it, you are done.  If you find the outer coating of the seed tough or chewy, remove it—this seems to be recommended in most recipes (here for example), but I’ve never found it necessary. 

From this point, peeled or unpeeled, there are lots of choices.   My favorite is simply seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil, spring onions, parsley, salt and pepper.

Or if they are especially young and tender, try a Spanish style 

Ingredients for an tortilla for 2 people
500 gr. fresh beans, 2 green onions, 100 cc. olive oil, salt, 4 eggs.

Thoroughly wash beans and pods, we will use the pods. Drain and cut the ends of each pod. No need to remove the filaments from the edges, unless the beans are not tender. Cut into pieces an inch long.
Cut the green onions into thin slices. Sauté beans in olive oil with onions over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add a glass of water, just enough to cover the beans, and a little salt, and let cook over medium heat 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until beans are tender and  almost all the water has evaporated.
Beat eggs separately with a little salt. Drain the beans and onions to a colander to remove excess liquid and add the beaten eggs. Pour into a medium nonstick skillet, heated with a tablespoon of olive oil. Let tortilla set over medium heat 2-3 minutes, then lower the heat and let simmer 8-10 minutes.
With the help of a plate or lid, turn the tortilla and finish cooking on the other side about 5 minutes. If you want it browned, increase the heat at the end.  The tortilla should be slightly moist inside, but that’s a matter of taste. Serve warm or at room temperature, accompanied by fresh bread.  (my translation)

Peas (Pisum sativum)

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old. [7]

Like fava beans, peas (arvejas in Chilean Spanish, guisantes [8] or chicharos elsewhere) are an old crop, cultivated in Bronze Age villages in Switzerland as early as 3,000 BC.  And like favas, they are a cool weather crop.  While today’s peas are usually eaten as green peas while tender, sweet and  young, mature dry peas were an historically important source of protein in the diet of Mediterranean, North African and European people.
A large kettle containing a thick porridge made of peas hung over the fire in many English and Scottish homes during the Middle Ages and was customary even in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Because few of the peasants could afford meat, they based their meals on pease porridge with an abundance of whatever vegetables were on hand. When the fire died down at night, the morning porridge was quite cold. Each day the fire was relit, and more peas and vegetables were added to the kettle. Indeed, the original ingredients in the kettle could have been nine days old.[9]
The date of their arrival in Chile is unknown, but Juan Ignacio Molino’s Ensayo sobre la historia natural de Chile, published in 1810 notes that they were common by then:  “Garbanzos, lentils, peas, barley and other similar grains are found here in great quantities.”[10]  And the cool rainy climate of south central Chile is ideal for their cultivation.

Arvejas secas – Dry peas

Today dry peas, or field peas, continue to be produced in Chile, but at a very reduced level; production has declined from 20,000 hectares in 1930, when peas were second only to beans in hectares of legumes planted, to only about 1,800 in the late 1990’s, the last period for which I could find information.  The recent decline has been largely due to weevils that infest the dry seeds.[11]  I found mine in a tostaduria in Santiago’s large public market, La Vega.

Arvejas con arroz – peas with rice
Why was I looking for them?  Because I had eaten cordero arvajado, lamb stew with dry peas, on an ethno-tourism visit to a Mapuche home and because I knew that historically peas had been an important Chilean food.  The classic Chilean cookbook La Gran Cocina Chilena (8th Edition, 2000) includes recipes with “peas” (arvejas or guisantes) in the tile for arvejadas (stews with peas) of chicken, pigeon, lamb, tongue, meatballs, schnitzel, tripe, and conger; plus “guisantes” of Brussels sprouts and “guisante frances;” arvejas with ham and eggs, with rice, with pasta, with mote, with almonds, with leg of lamb, and with pork kidneys; tortilla de arvejas; and pea soup.  And of course, peas are in many more dishes that don’t have them in the title.  Most now call for canned or fresh green peas, but they were made originally with dry peas.

Pollo arvejada – Chicken with (green) peas

Cooking dry peas

Sort through the peas for any that seem damaged or spoiled and for any pebbles or twigs.  Then wash and cover with abundant water and soak over night.  Cook the soaked peas in their soaking water (or fresh if you prefer) until tender, 1 to 2 hours (and perhaps more), adding onions, garlic, bacon, etc. when they are ½ cooked if you wish.

(Note that whole dry peas are not the same as split peas.  Split peas are dry peas that have been skinned and mechanically split into halves.  They do not require soaking.)

Making arvejadas

Although the recipes differ in certain respects, arvejadas generally entail braising the meat with onions, garlic and perhaps other vegetables (carrots, potatoes, tomatoes) and adding fresh, canned, or cooked dry peas near the end of cooking.

Roberto Marin’s Secrets of Chilean Cuisine gives this recipe:

Pollo Arvejado
6 chicken thighs
6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, sliced
3 cups fresh or frozen peas [or cooked dry peas]
1 medium onion, diced
½ cup oil
3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon thyme
Salt and pepper
1.  Heat the oil in a skilled and sauté the garlic until very well browned.  Remove the garlic and fry the chicken thighs in the same oil until golden.
2. Add the carrots and onions.  When the onion is translucent, add 1½ cups water and the seasonings.  Simmer over low heat until the chicken is tender, about 30 minutes. 
3.  Add the potatoes, turn up the heat and boil for about 15 minutes.  Finally add the peas and cook another 10 minutes.
Secret:  Bring out the flavor of the chicken by marinating it for two hours before cooking using ½ clove of crushed garlic, thyme, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

Nutritionally fava beans and peas are similar, providing good levels of protein with very little fat, useful quantities of iron and calcium.  They are good sources of vitamins while green, and the mature seeds are good sources of dietary fiber.[12]

[1] Gay, Claudio. 1882. Agricultura, Vol. 1 p. 160. París: En casa del autor; Chile: Museo de Historia Natural de Santiago. On line at All translations mine unless otherwise noted.
[2] G6PDH is the most common human enzyme defect, being present in more than 400 million people worldwide. African, Middle Eastern and South Asian people are affected the most along with those who are mixed with any of the above. A side effect of this disease is that it confers protection against malaria, in particular the form of malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly form of malaria. A similar relationship exists between malaria and sickle-cell disease. One theory to explain this is that cells infected with the Plasmodium parasite are cleared more rapidly by the spleen. This phenomenon might give G6PDH deficiency carriers an evolutionary advantage by increasing their fitness in malarial endemic environments.   G6PD deficiency is closely linked to favism, a disorder characterized by a hemolytic reaction to consumption of broad beans, with a name derived from the Italian name of the broad bean (fava).   Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia on line at
[3] Posts tagged “growing fava beans” Botanical Interests Online, On line at and Vicia faba
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  On line at
[4] Guevara, Tomás.  2003. El Pueblo Mapuche. Chapt. 4.  On line at
[5] Wilhelm de Moesbach, Ernesto. 1936 Vida y costumbres de los  indigenas araucanas  en  la segunda mitad del siglo xix (presentadas en la autobiografia  del  indigena  Pascual Coña). Santiago de Chile: Imprenta Universitario Estado 63. p. 31 & 96.On line at
[6] Chilean Agriculture Overview, 2009. Agarian Policies and Studies Bureau, Ministerio de Agricultura. On line at 'baby' buscan diversificar mercado de las hortalizas, 4/7/2008. Chile Potencia Alimentaria on line at , and El cultivo de la haba,, on line at
[7] Children’s song of unknown origin, see “Pease Porridge Hot” From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, on line at
[8] “Guiso” is “stew” in Spanish; “guisante” is “pea.” Although it seems to mean “that which is stewed” it turns out to be from the Arabic biššáut, "pea."  Evidently the two are unrelated.
[9] Pease Porridge Hot, Pease Porridge Cold, Vegetarians in Paradise, on line at
[10] Molina, Juan Ignacio.  1987. Ensayo sobre la historia natural de Chile: Bolonia 1810. Primera traducción del original italiano, prólogo y notas del Prof. Dr. Rodolfo Jaramillo.  Santiago :  Eds. Maule. p. 198. On line at, and Chilean Agriculture Overview, op. cit.
[11] Correa Vergara, Luis. 1938. Agricultura Chilena. Vol. 1. Santiago:  Imprenta Nascimiento. p. 138.  On line at