Egyptian Cuisine — Ful Medames, Mashed Fava Beans

Ful medames (sometimes transliterated as fool mudammas, recipe follows) is a staple dish of mashed fava beans seasoned with cumin, lemon juice, and olive oil and served with a variety of garnishes, and is enjoyed throughout the Middle East and northeast Africa with origins in either Egypt or Sudan.  Evidence of the dish’s history can be found dating as far back as Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt, when pharaohs were buried in their tombs with a supply of the beans to provide fuel for the afterlife.

More Egyptian dishes on The World Cup of Food:

  • Ta’miyya, fava bean falafel (with Egyptian cuisine overview)

During the Middle Ages, ful was made at the public baths of Cairo.  Fuel was scarce and precious, so the hot coals from the fires used to heat the baths were used to gently simmer beans at night in huge quantities.  Food shops would pick up their ful in the morning and serve them as breakfast while they were still hot.  Today ful medames is eaten at any time of day in Egypt, and is considered to be one of Egypt’s national dishes.

Dried fava beans were not easy to come by in the Olympia, Washington area.  We don’t, to our knowledge, have a Middle Eastern or African market nearby, but luckily dried favas are sometimes used in Mexican cuisine.  We have many Mexican and Salvadoran markets from which to choose, and were able to find dried favas (labeled “habasand “Lima Beans;” we looked in to it and found that they are not the same as the frozen lima beans and are in fact peeled, dried favas) at the Ramirez Mexican Store in Tumwater, an excellent market with an even better restaurant inside.

Ful medames are traditionally garnished with some combination of lemon juice, boiled eggs, olive oil, and onions, and we found sources that recommended chopped herbs like parsley or mint, radishes, chopped tomatoes, or hot peppers.

Ful Medames

adapted from From the Lands of Figs and Olives: Over 300 Delicious and Unusual Recipes from the Middle East and North Africa by Habeeb Salloum and James Peters and from The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent by Jessica B. Harris

SERVES 4 TO 6

For the beans:

  •  1 pound dried fava beans, rinsed and inspected for stones or debris
  • enough water to cover

For the dressing:

  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Garnishes:

  • Boiled eggs, quartered
  • Radishes, quartered
  • Green onions, sliced
  • Parsley leaves

The night before we wanted to eat our ful we cleaned our beans and covered them in a large bowl with water (making sure that there was plenty of water since they would swell considerably):

beanssoaking

The bowl was refrigerated overnight, and by the next day the favas had doubled in size and were ready to cook:

beanssoaked

The beans were drained and rinsed one more time in a strainer.  In a heavy-bottomed pot, the drained beans were covered with water by about an inch:

beansreadytosimmer

The pot was covered and brought to a simmer.  After an hour and a half of slow simmering, the favas were so well-done (having a consistency like thick slit-pea soup) that we didn’t even have to mash them:

beanscooked

The cooked beans were set aside.  For the dressing, we started by grinding the coriander and cumin, then adding the garlic and salt:

spicesandgarlic

The garlic was pounded with the pestle until it formed a smooth paste with the spices, then we added the lemon juice and olive oil and stirred to combine:

fulmedamesdressing

About half the dressing was mixed into the bean mixture:

dressingmixedin

For garnishes, we prepared our eggs (quartered with a small, clean piece of fishing line, which worked great), radishes, green onions, and parsley:

fulmedamesgarnishes
Resemblance to any particular Muppet is coincidental.

To serve, the ful medames was scooped into large bowls, tastefully adorned with our garnishes, and drizzled with some more of the lemon-cumin dressing:

fulmedames

Ful medames is the eating experience one would get if hummus and refried beans had a baby.  In other words, it was delicious.  The lemon-cumin dressing, eggs, and beans formed the perfect bite together, a little tart, rich, and starchy all at once.  The leftovers, spread over sourdough toast and topped with an egg cooked over-easy, even made a serviceable breakfast the following day.  Looking at all the possibilities for how ful medames can be served, it is no wonder that it is Egypt’s national dish.

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