Sunday, December 10, 2006

Ful Medames, the Holiday Antidote

Eggnog, cheese balls, shrimp dip, trifle, fruit cake – there is no doubt about it, the closer we get to the holidays, the richer and heavier our food and drink becomes. Following a festive evening, what I really want to eat is an antidote to all that gluttony. Something nutritious, comforting and uncomplicated that resets my body’s balance and allows me to face another Christmas party buffet, plate in hand.

Ful medames is just such a meal. I’ve found three references to this rustic fava bean stew over the last few months, all of which highlight its role as a daily staple in Egypt (where some consider it a national dish) and Sudan.

First, I spotted an October 3 New York Times article entitled “A Hand on the Ladle, and a Eye Out for the Law,” which told the story of the popular – but unlicensed, and therefore illegal – street vendors who ply Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods selling ful from their carts for the equivalent of 20 cents. Then, in Emma’s War: a True Story, I read journalist Deborah Scroggins’ descriptions of her attempts, during a 1988 visit to Khartoum, Sudan, to meet with government officials in order to gain permission for a trip to a refugee camp. Her task was complicated by the fact that the officials arrived to work at 8, took a break at 10 to eat a breakfast of ful, left for lunch and a nap at 1, and rarely returned to the office. Finally, just this weekend, I was devouring Apricots on the Nile: A Memoir with Recipes when I came across Colette Rossant’s reminiscences on ful medames, a dish she discovered as a child during World War II when she lived in Cairo with her Egyptian grandparents. Their cook made ful medames everyday for the household staff, while concocting much more glamorous dishes for Colette and her family. Nevertheless, young Colette loved ful medames. Per her grandmother’s instructions, she was supposed to eat a baguette with butter and jam as an after-school snack, but Colette and the cook conspired to ensure she could eat ful medames instead.

Although ful medames is more typically eaten for breakfast or as a snack, I like to have a bowl for lunch or as a light supper. It is an especially appealing meal when I crave something wholesome and nourishing after a lazy holiday afternoon spent grazing over cheese platters and cramming my plate with every dessert on offer. Meet ful medames, my un-holiday holiday dish.

Ful Medames (Fava Bean Stew)
Serves 4 as a light main course

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
2 15-ounce cans fava beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
3 scallions, sliced
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and sauté the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent. Add the ground coriander, ground cumin, cayenne pepper and bay leaves, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the chopped tomato and vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mash together the fava beans, lemon juice, tahini, parsley and salt in a separate bowl. Stir this mixture into the soup, making sure to break up any clumps of the mash. Simmer for another 8 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and remove the bay leaves. Ladle into serving bowls, scooping up from the bottom of the pot. Top with the eggs, scallions and cilantro leaves. Serve with warmed pita bread. If you want to eat ful as the Egyptians and Sudanese do, try using the pita bread to scoop up the stew, sans spoon.

This post is an entry in the Super Souper Challenge, a food blog event hosted by running with tweezers.

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Anonymous said...

Oh my word.
I just used this recipe and it is totally amazing.
Thank you for sharing. I think I will make it again tomorrow because we ate it all.

Ann said...

Oh yes. This is a good one, just tasted a batch I made - using home grown beans, onion, parsley, bay and coriander (cilantro). Didn't have any tahini, can only imagine how incredibly delicious it must be with that too!

Holiday in South Africa said...

wow its nice recipe. bapok taste.