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Ancient Roman Fava Bean Dip

The Romans first said “nothing is new under the sun,” and this 2,000-year-old recipe for a fresh fava bean spread or dip shows that in spades: Fresh fava spreads are all the rage at trendy restaurants now.

This recipe hinges on the odd spice combinations common in Roman cuisine — cumin, coriander, lovage, black pepper, and fish sauce. The Roman fish sauce was called garum, and, so far as the experts can tell, it is pretty much the same thing as modern Southeast Asian fish sauce, which is widely available in supermarkets. Worcester sauce isn’t the same, but it’s a decent substitute.

I developed my version of the ancient Roman recipe after reading about it in Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today. My measurements and choice of ingredients are developed after making this disha  few times; Apicius is pretty vague about such things.

Serve this as a side dish with meats, or as an appetizer with toast or crackers.

Serves 4

  • 1 pound fresh fava beans, shelled and blanched
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce or Worcestershire
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped lovage or parsley
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Once your favas are blanched and out of their jackets, simmer them in the white wine until they are easily mashed, about 8 minutes. They should absorb the wine.
  2. Put the beans, olive oil, vinegar, and the fish sauce or Worcestershire in a food processor, along with the remaining ingredients, and buzz into a paste.
  3. Taste for salt and buzz a little more. Serve warm or at room temperature with a little more olive oil drizzled on top and a sprinkling of black pepper.

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4 responses to “Ancient Roman Fava Bean Dip”

  1. Kathryn

    Is it a pound before they’re shelled or after?

  2. shakti

    Just thought this may be useful tip for anyone, home or resturant, to remember that fish sauce is not vegetarian nor Worcestershire as it contains anchovies.
    Try tamari,or selection of marinades from health stores,great for stir
    fries, barbecues, salads – you really will use them and your vegetarian friend will know you care!
    Remember eggs upset many too! Egg substitutes from health stores.

  3. Alessandra Martellacci

    Tried it. Love it. Absolutely love it. I can’t have tahini (sesame allergy) so hummus was always a tease for me. This over fits the bill. My hummus loving friends are swearing fealty to this wonderful recipe. Thank you so much!!!

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