I just cut the first favas of the season. The small velvety pods, with their tiny, juicy beans, are so tender that I love to eat them whole, on the spot.
I still have a bagful in the freezer of the remaining large shelled favas from last year. They have a tough, slightly bitter outer skin that would need to be removed, if we decided to follow the sophisticated Italian ways–but here nobody ever peels the fresh favas. I love to stew these tender pods with lemon and wild fennel, like string beans, or I chop them and cook them with orzo, risotto-like, adding chopped fresh garlic and a handful of crumbled feta at the end.
Fava is the easiest plant to grow, even in our poor, rocky soil. The first time we planted dry fava beans, five or six years ago, it was already mid-winter. Too late, as it turned out. Everybody else on the island sowed them in late October. During the Lent that precedes Easter, my neighbors cooked delicious fresh fava stews. But in April our first plants had just started to fill with white flowers, accentuated with tiny black splashes. When the first pods formed the days had grown warm, and the favas needed regular watering. As they were taking-up too much space, and it was time to plant the tomatoes, we decided to uproot them before we even begun to get tired of inventing one more fava dish to use up the abundant crop, as is the case ever since…
The return of fuzzy green almonds, like the fresh favas, marks the beginning of Spring. I love to pick them from the trees and nibble on them. Their crunchy outer layer is thick and juicy before they develop their hard, woody shells, and the nut inside looks like a translucent jelly drop. In Turkey the green almonds are cooked together with lamb, in a lemon-based sauce, and this time of year you can buy them in the markets of Istanbul and Anatolia. Here tsagala, as the unripe almonds are called, are preserved in heavy syrup and made into one of the countless spoon-sweets the frugal Greek cooks have invented. I often add the green almonds to salads, especially to the thick-yogurt-garlic tzatziki. Most of all, I like to make pickled green almonds, following the Eastern Mediterranean tradition. The crunchy, sour-sweet pickled tsagala are an ideal accompaniment to the sweet and strong anise-flavored ouzo or raki.