Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fuuling Around

Fuul medames, served with flatbread and pickled vegetables.
Photograph by zachbe; found on Wikimedia Commons.
About a year ago, on Saveur magazine's website, I read and tried a recipe for a very old dish:  Fuul (or ful or foul) medames. The recipe suggested by Saveur may be read here.

Fuul medames, or simply fuul, is fava beans, boiled and/or simmered until the beans are soft enough to be coarsely mashed.  A suitably flavorful fat and seasonings of choice are added to the beans before they are eaten.

Fuul is an ancient dish in the Near East. The earliest physical evidence for fuul consumption is a Neolithic cache of fava beans discovered near Nazareth, in Israel, and bean caches have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, though Herodotus (admittedly a less than reliable source) claimed that the Egyptians of his day neither sowed nor ate beans.  Today, the preferred additions to fuul are olive oil, lemon juice, and cumin, but there are a variety of other ingredients one can use to season fuul, including butter, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cayenne, chili peppers, harissa, tahini, coriander, and parsley. Fuul is a popular Near Eastern breakfast food, and is often accompanied with flatbread and eggs (either hard-boiled or fried).

By chance, at the time I read the Saveur recipe, canned pre-cooked fava beans of the type commonly used in the Near East were available at our neighborhood Wegmans supermarket (for $2.49, or thereabouts, for one can, roughly enough for two servings), so I bought a few cans and tried the recipe out.

I loved it, and my husband was at least willing to eat it again on an occasional basis. That was fine with me, because $2.49 per can was a bit expensive for a regular lunch, and I couldn't find an online supplier that would sell the canned beans by the case at a reasonable price.  Fava beans are not terribly common in the United States compared to many other types of beans, and I do not live in a section of the country where Near Eastern immigrants have settled in great numbers and thus where Near Eastern groceries are common.

Shortly thereafter, our neighborhood Wegmans stopped selling the Near Eastern fava beans (which tend to be smaller than the larger favas often used in Italian cooking).  Wegmans switched, eventually, to selling canned, organic large favas for $1.79 per can.  I tried these favas.  They tasted fine, but I had to remove the skins from the beans after opening the can and before heating/cooking them per package directions, because eating fuul with tough bean skins in it is like eating beans containing small pieces of Scotch tape--not very appetizing.  Since I still had not found a supplier that could provide me with a sufficient quantity of canned or dry beans at a price I was willing to accept, I remained resigned to eating ful only occasionally.  This was unfortunate since Eric had become more interested in fuul after discovering that it tasted a lot better to him when he added some cooked ground beef to it.

Then, within the past month or so, I discovered a food blog called Matters of the Belly, which is written by Noha, an Egyptian woman now living in Australia. She writes, with authority, about how to make fuul, here, and suggests a number of different ways to flavor it.

Dried fava beans of the kind commonly used for fuul;
Photograph by miansari66; found on Wikimedia Commons.
Noha's recipe recommends making fuul from dried fava beans, and reading it inspired me to try again to find a source of dry favas, which would keep indefinitely and have the virtue of extreme cheapness. Moreover, she states that one can easily make a large amount of fuul at one time and refrigerate it, heating up smaller portions and flavoring them as you wish to eat them.  Because that's how Eric and I typically handle most meals (i.e., by cooking large quantities in advance and heating up individual portions throughout the week) Noha's recipe rekindled my interest in making fuul a regular part of our lunch time menus.  So I started another bout of web searching...and discovered that Wegmans carries Goya brand dried fava beans!

When I checked the shelves at our local Wegmans, the fava beans were there...for $1.79 a pound. They were the large beans, which are less desirable for fuul (because of the issue with the skins). But I bought three bags of them anyway.  This past weekend, I attempted to make fuul as Noha recommended, a process that took nearly half a day, exclusive of the time needed to soak the beans.

Noha's recipe recommends beginning by soaking the beans in a large quantity of cold water with 2 teaspoons of baking soda, which is supposed to make the beans more digestible and shorten the cooking time.  So that's what I did.  But the baking soda did not result in a significant reduction of the cooking time--possibly because the Goya beans were the large variety (and also appeared to be very old).  Or perhaps I needed to use more baking soda, because we have very hard water in our area.

At any rate, after two hours of simmering (per Noha's directions), most of the beans were still hard, and still possessed their skins.  So I decided to shell the beans by hand, which was trickier than one might suppose because I had also added red lentils to the mix per Noha's recipe.  So I was forced to scoop out a few beans at a time to shell them.  Even after shelling, it took nearly four more hours of simmering before most of the beans were soft enough to mash and the rest were at least soft enough to chew.  At that point, I decanted them, sprinkled a bit of lemon juice on the top to prevent oxidation, and refrigerated them.

It was a lot of work, but so far Eric and I have had three meals of fuul.  The batch I made tastes pretty much like the fuul I'd made from canned beans, though the texture is a bit rougher (due to the beans that never did completely soften).  I've been trying different ways of flavoring it, all of which were successful.  Best of all, fuul is extremely filling; one doesn't get hungry quickly after a meal of fuul, and one tends to want less food for the rest of the day after eating it.  Although I will go on looking for a source of dried, smaller fava beans, the Goya beans are a workable solution, and I expect we will be eating a lot of fuul from now on.

EDIT:  (1/17/2017)  Corrected the price on the canned fava beans at Wegmans to $1.79.  Now they're $1.89 a can, anyway.


  1. Hm, can you possibly hull the beans the same way I do with garbonzos? Simmer them up as normal, then put them into a coarse 'tea towel'- I actually use a salvaged linen table cloth that got cut into various sized squares for use as a pudding cloths, and sort of scrub them around to loosen the hulls, then they get dumped into a huge stainless bowl [that I also use to make batches of bread dough] and rinsed, sort of an aquatic winnowing as it were. The hulls float off the garbonzos, and leave the cleaned beans.

    I use an old china cap with pestle when I make creme potage des haricots, which presses the pulp of the beans through and leaves the hulls behind - which is also useful for making hummus or adzuki bean paste. I find that ere are often old tech that are useful [plus I hate the whole dog and pony show of cleaning a food processor or blender!]

    1. Hi, Aruvqan! Welcome.

      If my beans weren't so old, perhaps your method would work. But even after soaking and boiling, I have to use a fair amount of pressure to remove most of the hulls. Still, I can try it.

      You're right that old tech is good for a lot of things, especially things related to cooking. I wish I had a Roman style mortar (with a rough interior surface) instead of having to make do with a garlic mashing plate (a modern reinvention of the same idea). Having a larger rough space, as in the Roman era flat-bottomed mortars, would be much more useful.