Interview by Bibi van der Zee, guardian.co.uk, Modified: April 19, 2013 14:51 IST
Nick Saltmarsh of Hodmedod's shares his passion (and a recipe) for this ancient staple - plus an exclusive reader offer.
I used to go off foraging when I was at school; the school food was not really up to much, so I'd supplement it with whatever I found in the grounds. As I grew more adventurous, I moved from blackberries, chestnuts and nettles to sheep's sorrel, puffballs and chickweed. Then, when I was at university, I'd work on farms during the summer. That was where I found what I was really passionate about, and I've been working on local food and sustainability ever since.
A couple of years ago I was researching food around Norwich and became really interested by the fact that local farmers were growing huge amounts of fava beans, but were then exporting them to the Middle East, or selling them as animal feed.
It turns out that the fava bean - also known as the broad bean - is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the UK, and we were eating it as far back as the iron age. It was a crucial part of the British diet for centuries, but in more recent times it became stigmatised as a food of the poor, and fell out of fashion.
However, they are an important part of our crop rotation system, so farmers have carried on growing them. We grow around 500,000 tonnes a year in the UK. So we bought some ourselves, tried them and really loved them. Then we bought a couple of tonnes and put them in some local shops and got really brilliant feedback. People thought they were delicious, and also really loved the story behind them. So we decided we wanted to bring back the fava bean for good.
Egyptian ful medames
This may be a national dish of Egypt, but it's also served throughout north Africa and the Middle East. Ful medames is a delicious spicy stew that's traditionally eaten for breakfast (and to break your fast). It's also an ideal candidate for home freezing.
Serves 8-121kg whole dried fava beans1 garlic clove 1 red onion45g fresh coriander20g fresh parsleyJuice of 2 or 3 large lemons1 small hot chilli¼ tsp cayenne¼ tsp cinnamon3 heaped tsp cumin500-700ml jar passata2 heaped tsp tomato puree3 heaped tsp sugar (or more to taste)100ml sunflower oil (plus oil for frying)Salt and black pepper1
Soak the beans overnight. Drain, place in a pan, cover with plenty of water and cook for around one hour until tender.2
Chop the onion and garlic until very fine (or puree in a food processor), then fry gently in a little oil. Meanwhile, chop and mix the herbs, oil, lemon juice, chilli and spices.3
Add this mixture to the onions and garlic, then cook for a few minutes. Add the passata and tomato puree plus 100ml of water, which you can first use to wash the remains of the passata out of the jar or packet it came in.4
Cook for a few more minutes and then add the beans. Continue to simmer and taste - adjust seasoning with sugar, salt and pepper. The beans will be ready as soon as the seasoning is balanced, although you can leave them to reduce if you would prefer a thicker sauce.5
Eat straight away or allow it to cool, divide into portions and freeze. It's delicious eaten with pitta bread, tomato salad and a fried egg.Nick Saltmarsh of Hodmedod's. Photograph: Sylvaine Poitau for the Guardian• Exclusive reader offer Hodmedod's is offering Guardian readers a 10% discount on all orders. Go to greatbritishbeans.co.uk and enter GUARDIAN10 at the online checkout
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