Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Ful for Love

Or more accurately, at our house, we love Ful! I'm talking about Ful Medames, the national dish of Egypt, which features fava beans. I know this is practically blasphemy, but I'm forced to admit I don't actually like fava beans, nor do I make my version of ful with them. We were first introduced to the idea of Ful in Crescent Dragonwagon's tour de force vegetarian cookbook, Passionate Vegetarian.

While I was planning menus for this week, DS put in a special request for Ful, one of his all-time favorite dishes. I understand that in Egypt and the Sudan it's usually eaten for breakfast, but as our taste for breakfast foods tends to run to eggs, cereals, and donuts, I usually prepare it for dinner. With some misgivings, I jotted it down for last night's dinner selection. While DS and I have quite often been used to eating vegetarian, DC is a devoted carnivore. Although he is very willing to try anything I cook, naturally I would prefer that he enjoy his food! But as it turned out, we ALL love ful!

Since it is not only extremely healthy and easy to prepare, as well as delicious, I thought I would share my version of Ful with you. It is basically Crescent Dragonwagon's recipe, with some minor simplifications. She calls for the traditional fava beans, but says you can substitute white beans or black-eyed peas if you prefer. I always use Great Northern beans, but I am sure that dried Lima beans or even garbanzos (chickpeas) would work fine.

Stefan's Ful Medames

Here are the ingredients you will need:

1 1/2 c. dried Great Northern beans
2 t. salt
2 1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. fresh ground black pepper
1/2 t. sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 t. turmeric (more, to taste)
1/4 c. chopped Italian parsley (leaves only)
3-6 cloves garlic, peeled and run through the garlic press
Juice of 1 fresh lemon
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 ripe tomatoes, diced
3 extra-large eggs, hard-cooked and diced

1. Pick over the beans to remove any foreign matter or cracked beans, then place in a colander and rinse thoroughly.

2. Spray a large, heavy soup pot with non-stick spray and put the rinsed beans in the pot. Add cold water to cover by about 2 inches. (I usually measure by adding water until it reaches the 2nd knuckle on my index finger.)

3. Add 2 t. salt, place the pot on the stove over high heat, and bring to a boil.

Here, let me just say a few words about bean cookery. Many people believe that cooking with dried beans is both time-consuming and difficult, requiring long soaking and hours of cooking. Let me reassure you, THIS IS NOT TRUE.

It is not necessary to soak most types of beans before cooking. It may take somewhat longer to cook unsoaked beans, but seriously, what's another 30 minutes or so, compared to the advance planning needed to soak the darn things beforehand? Some people do find that soaked beans are a bit easier to digest, but this is only the case if you pour out the soaking water (along with some of the nutrients!) and add fresh water for cooking.

The length of time it takes to cook dried beans will vary with the age of the bean, something we as consumers don't have much control over. It generally takes about 2 hours of cooking time for the Great Northern beans I buy to become tender (unsoaked).

Dried beans are so much more economical than canned ones, plus you have the option to season them as you like, that the advantages of using them outweigh the disadvantages.

Another myth I would like to de-bunk is that adding salt to the cooking water will toughen the beans. In my experience, this is simply not true, and the beans also taste so much better if you add salt to them while they are cooking.

4. Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer until just barely tender (about 1 hr. and 45 minutes).

5. Add the cumin, paprika, turmeric, and black pepper, partially cover, and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes more.

6. The beans should not be terribly soupy, they should have absorbed most of the cooking water. (If necessary, boil uncovered for a few minutes to reduce some of the liquid. Adjust it to your liking!). Add the parsley, garlic, lemon, and olive oil, and more salt and pepper if needed. Remove from the heat. **Please note, the amount of garlic is chiefly where Crescent and I part company. She likes quite a bit more than I do! That's why I say 3-6 cloves. Adjust the garlic to your taste.

7. I should have said this earlier, but while the beans are simmering, you can be prepping the other ingredients: chopping tomatoes, cooking and dicing the eggs, peeling garlic, squeezing the lemon, chopping parsley, etc. Put the tomatoes and eggs into separate bowls and set aside.

8. Also while the beans are simmering, you can be preparing this AWESOME sesame sauce to serve with the Ful:

In the food processor, combine:
1/2 c. sesame tahini, 1/2 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons), 1/2 t. salt, and 3 cloves of garlic, crushed in the garlic press. Add 1/2 c. water or more, to thin down the mixture to pouring consistency.

Heat the sauce in the microwave until nice and hot, but not boiling.

9. To serve, ladle some of the beans into each person's bowl. Let them add chopped tomato and egg.

Top with warm sesame sauce, and serve with pita bread.


  1. Wow very very healthy especially with the turmeric (it has so many health benefits good for skin to).

    I love how the meal centers around the legume based stew, and everything is like little sides and the pita, etc. so it's almost like a one pot meal.

    I will have to try that recipe.

    I to use Great Northern White Beans but to be honest I've never cooked Fava beans or consumed them, are they bad? good? what about them sucks?

  2. Yes, very healthy as you said, with the lemon and garlic and tumeric! DS and I love bean stews, and used to make a big pot every week to eat on until it was gone... DC is not so enamored of this as we are, so I try to balance everyone's tastes while cooking. This one IS a great one-pot meal, as you noticed, and the condiments really make it special! We love the comnbination of creamy beans, tangy lemon, pungent garlic, and the smokiness of the cumin and turmeric. Come to think of it, the Spanish-style smoked paprika would be delicious in here too!

    If you do get a chance to make this, you'll probably want to use a whole lb. of beans (about 3 c.), which is the amount you normally use in your bean stews. Basically double the recipe. Although you might not want to DOUBLE all the seasonings-- taste and adjust it to your liking!

    As to the Fava Beans: well, they are HUGE and very tough. You absolutely HAVE to soak them, as the skins must be removed before cooking. The skins are pretty much inedible. Actually, Crescent tells you to remove the skins no matter what kind of beans you use, but I usually skip this step with the Great Northerns :)! I personally do not care either for the texture of the Fava beans (hard to describe, kind of mealy? and tough?) or the taste, which is very strong. That's just my own personal taste... Obviously, many people love Fava beans! I have heard they are delicious fresh, but have never tried them. Of course for this dish you use the dried ones.

    If you do make the Ful, let me know how it turns out!

  3. Oh yes, also, be sure to make the tahini sauce-- it really adds a lot to the dish! So yummy... Crescent says the Ful is not eaten this way in Egypt, that the sesame sauce is "an Israeli touch."

    !Buen provecho! :)

  4. Great post with lots of really good information!

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