Fava Beans Star in Cosecha Tamales

The earthy bean signals spring on the dinner plate.


Fava bean tamales


One doesn’t generally think of fava beans as part of Mexico’s native culture. In the Bay Area, one’s apt to find them in the springtime, heaped in farmers market stalls and on the menus of local Cal-Ital restaurants. They can be large and starchy, or tender, with a green, fresh taste.

The Spanish are thought to have introduced them to Mexico in the 14th century. Dominica Rice-Cisneros, the chef-owner of Cosecha, has fond memories of eating them in Mexico City, usually in sopa de habas—simple, brothy bowls of earthy fava beans blended with chicken stock and poured over blanched nopales.

So it is with much pleasure that Rice-Cisneros is serving them in tamale form. Labor-intensive, sweet, and delicately flavored, they are a delicacy of the desert country north of Mexico City and not often seen here.

Rice-Cisneros heard about them first while working as a personal chef in Los Altos. One of her -co-workers had memories of the tamales—her mother had been famous for them. “I’d heard of black bean tamales, which are similar, flavored with strong indigenous herbs, like avocado leaves, but I’d never heard of fava bean tamales,” said Rice.

It led Rice-Cisneros to doing her own research on the dish, finding old-fashioned recipes in cookbooks from the 1980s.

For her tamale dish, Rice-Cisneros favors fresh, green fava beans from local farms like Riverdog and Catalan. She blends them with green garlic and olive oil into a smooth paste. Then, corn masa is spread into a large flat square, and the fava bean paste is spread on top; the whole is rolled so that the tamale achieves a number of layers of masa and filling.

“They’re like little roulades, the size of a Twinkie,” says Rice-Cisneros. She describes them as savory yet verdurous, with the sweetness of the favas harmonizing with the sweetness of the masa. Look for them on Friday and Saturday nights in April on Cosecha’s dinner menu.

Cosecha, 907 Washington St., Oakland, 510-452-5900, www.CosechaCafe.com

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