Playing the Ful

11th March, 2010: Posted by G.L. Pease in easy

When I was in Egypt, I fell in love with the cuisine. Who wouldn’t? Wonderful spices, beautiful vegetables, great seafood, fresh lamb, goat and pigeon, brilliant green olive oils, all brilliantly seasoned, simply cooked, and served with delicious breads! It was really fantastic. (I could go on for hours about the roasted pigeon I ate while looking down from a rooftop over the old part of Cairo.)

In Qurna, a small village not far from Luxor’s west bank, there was a little shop across the road from my flat that always had a big copper pot of fava beans, Ful Medames, buried in the ground over hot coals. I’d often wander across the road,for a bowl of these fragrant beans, along with some fried ta’miyya (Egyptian falafel), flat bread (‘eish masri), and a drizzle of olive oil; a delicious, hearty breakfast. Delightful!

I never realized how profoundly such a simple thing could affect me. Ful, fool, broad beans, fava beans. Of all the amazing foods that I ate in Cairo, in Luxor, in Aswan, and perhaps most importantly, in Qurna, I often find myself daydreaming about the ful.

In cooking this wonderful, nutritious dish, we’ll add the garlic and spices in layers to bring out the most of their aromas and flavors. Satéed garlic is added in the beginning, and raw garlic during the cooking, and then again, just before serving to bring some brightness to it. It’s a lovely way to play the Ful!

Ingredients – serves 6

  • 2 cups (1 pound) dry fava beans – choose the small, brown ones for best results
  • 0.25 cup red lentils
  • 1 medium red onion, half chopped fine, the other half reserved for serving*
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced and steeped in olive oil
  • 1.5 tsp. Flavorevolutions Chili Casablanca
  • 0.25 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 0.5 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 0.25 cup fresh lemon juice

For serving:

  • Olive oil
  • Handful of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • Green onions, coarsely chopped (optional)
  • Remaining half of onion, chopped just before serving*

*Chop half the onion for cooking the beans, and reserve the other half, wrapped tightly in cling film, in the fridge. Onions develop a strong, sulfurous taste when exposed to air, so chop the other half just prior to serving.

Method – active, about an hour; total time, 3 hours

Sort and rinse the beans, then soak them for 12 hours in about six cups of water. If, as a friend used to say, you are sensitive to beans (you know what that means), drain and rinse the beans after eight hours, cover again with water, and continue soaking for a total of 12 hours.

Over high medium-high heat, bring the water and beans to a boil. Add the lentils. In the meanwhile, sauté one clove of chopped garlic, and half a chopped onion in a little olive oil until just beginning to color. Add 1 tsp of the Chili Casablanca and cumin, and fry briefly. Add this to the beans.

Season with salt and pepper, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for about 2.5 hours, until the beans have reached the desired softness. After about an hour, add one clove of garlic, minced, and the rest of the Chili Casablanca.

Once beans have cooked, add the lemon juice, adjust seasoning, and cook to reduce liquids, if necessary. Finally, add the last clove of minced garlic.

Ready to serve!

Plate the Ful Medames, top with freshly chopped onions, cilantro and a drizzle of really nice olive oil. Serve with warmed flat bread or pita, and enjoy! A nice pilaf makes a wonderful accompaniment, and turns this savory dish into a delicious, nutritious meal.

Fava beans are amazingly flavorful, and possess a fantastic texture. Their skins are a little more resilient than the softer varieties, so they maintain their integrity well. Choose the smaller brown beans, with their skins, for the best results in this dish. You’ll love the textures.

One Response

  1. Jimbo Says:

    Just found this Greg.
    I love Arab food; just as well as I work a lot in the Middle East. Like a lot of cuisines the “small eats” (dim sum, tapas etc.) play well. Best place for me is Lebanon – the wines are to die for!