Why It Works
- Toasting cumin seeds, then mashing them with garlic in a mortar and pestle releases maximum flavor.
- Lemon and tahini balance out the fava bean's inherent funk.
The zeitgeisty chokehold hummus has on the American public has always bugged me. Not because hummus isn't good. But because it's unfairly eclipsed so much other good stuff from the Middle East.
Take the North African and Levantine classic of stewed fava beans, ful medames. You've heard of it, right? Or perhaps you haven't? Yeah, because companies like Sabra and their millions of marketing dollars have led you to believe that hummus and you are an OTP, damn the rest of the Middle East's mindboggling culinary diversity.
So let's talk about ful (pronounced "fool") for a minute, because you might find you like it even more than hummus. Where the chickpea is a wan wallflower, the fava—and I'm talking the brown, dried or canned variety here—is proudly, robustly funky. Hummus is one texture: creamy. Ful, with its mashed-up beans and rich broth, is more fun and varied, and it takes ingredients like cumin, garlic, and tahini to bolder places than hummus ever could.
You'll find ful all over, from Ethiopia, where it's served with hot green peppers, to Yemen, where it's a soupy, almost-puréed concoction with tomatoes. Syrians in Aleppo love their ful, which they often top liberally with their famous sanguine chilies.
But my favorite ful comes from Egypt, where it's power breakfast on the streets of Cairo. There, ful vendors stew dried favas day and night until the beans are fall-apart soft, then they add tahini, crushed garlic, cumin seeds, and lemon. Creamy, a little spicy, and more than a little pungent, all the ful needs is some fresh pita for swabbing.
This was what my Egyptian friend Alex ate almost daily when living in Cairo, and every once in a while he'd grace my kitchen table with a batch of his own. It's from Alex that I learned the importance of mashing your garlic in a mortar and pestle and how to balance its pungency with just the right amount of cumin and lemon. Just as with pesto or guacamole, smashing helps to make the most of its raw, brash flavor.
Alex also taught me that the world won't end if you use canned favas instead of dried. Actually, the ful might be better for it.
I'm normally a dried beans-only kind of guy, but I make an exception for favas. For one, cooking dried favas is a royal pain. They're harder to find than the canned version and take a long, long time to cook (like chickpea long). Also, while most canned bean liquid tastes pretty insipid, the broth in canned favas is a great addition to ful—it carries plenty of the beans' innate funky flavor, and when boiled down a little with tahini, it makes for the perfect ful consistency.
Canned favas also cut your cook time from hours to minutes. That's important. This is breakfast, after all.
This recipe is for Cairo-style ful in all its creamy, comforting glory. But there's another ful I want to share before we go back to pretending that hummus is the only bean mush in the Middle East. It's the recklessly indulgent kind that Alex's father, Tarek, makes when there's no one around to tell him no. Alex's ful is relatively restrained; Tarek's is too much in the best possible way. For his spicier, richer take on this classic dish, see my recipe for spicy ful medames.
All it needs is some pita, but if you're in leisurely brunch mode, take the time to make some tomato-cucumber salad (or radish-cucumber in tomato-unfriendly weather), get out some labne or a soft cheese (I like Istanbuli), and fry up some falafel. That's a full Egyptian breakfast to be proud of.
Of course this is just the beginning. You can always add hardboiled eggs to your ful, or chopped tomatoes.
You could even, horror of horrors, serve it over hummus.
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, freshly toasted
2 (15-ounce) cans fava beans
3 tablespoons tahini
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice from 2 lemons, or more to taste
Put garlic cloves, cumin seeds, and a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle and crush until seeds are cracked and garlic is in small, flimsy chunks. If you don't have a mortar and pestle, mince garlic very fine.
Empty fava beans (with liquid) into a medium saucepan and combine with tahini and garlic paste. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until liquid retains some brothiness but turns thick and sauce-like, about 5 minutes.
Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Mash one-third of the beans with a potato masher to thicken if desired, then serve with toasted pita.
Mortar and pestle (optional)
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 3 to 4|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 7g||8%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||5%|
|Total Carbohydrate 29g||11%|
|Dietary Fiber 8g||27%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 5mg||23%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|