Ful Medames (Slow Cooked Fava Beans)

I’m a proud kitchen traveler.

Cooking from countries across the world, I learn about their histories, climates, and geographies. While I may not have been to these places in real life, I feel like I’m connecting with a tiny part of their culture. And when I do travel, I find that I can instantly bond with anyone over food.

Ful medames (Egyptian fava beans)
Ful medames: just as good the next day too!

Ful medames, also known as ful, took me to Egypt. The history of ful can be traced back to the Middle Ages (at least!). During this time, to maximize fuel efficiency, ful was cooked overnight using heat from dying embers which warmed bathwater in public bathhouses. Hence, the small, round of fava beans earned its name– bath beans (fūl hammām), and the merchants near the bath houses gained a near monopoly on ful. [1]

I searched long and hard in Vancouver for dried small fava beans– I visited my beloved Persia Foods and Donald’s Market, large grocery chains, and even Indian markets– but I was out of luck everywhere. Eventually, I settled for dry broad fava beans instead.

To mimic the effects of simmering the beans overnight, I pressure cooked these beans to help soften the skin and physically break them down. I also simmered them for a few hours to get it to the desired (uber soft) consistency. When boiling beans, it’s important to never add salt to the water. The salt causes the skins of beans to harden, which is undesirable. Salt can be added to the dish once the beans are fully cooked.

Researching this recipe, I came across quite a few seasonings and accompaniments that can go with ful: clarified butter, lemon juice, cumin, olive oil, eggs (fried or boiled), chili powder, bechamel sauce, tomato sauce, onions, pepper sauce, tahini and parsley. I added thinly sliced red onions, lemon juice, cumin, olive oil, and salt.

Here’s a version made with red lentils:

Ful Medames (Slow Cooked Fava Beans)

Yield: ~2 L (a lot)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dry fava beans (small, round variety preferred, I used broad fava beans)
  • Water
  • Salt to taste (~1 tsp)
  • Lemon juice to taste (~1/4 cup)
  • Ground cumin to taste (~1-2 tsp)
  • Olive oil to taste (~1/4 cup)
  • Red onion, thinly sliced (to garnish)

Method

  1. Soak the fava beans in water for at least 8 hours at room temperature. Or in the fridge for 1-2 days. Drain the soaking water and rinse.
  2. In a pressure cooker, cover beans with 2 inches of water and cook for 30 minutes.
  3. Transfer everything (including the liquid) to a pot, and simmer for 2-3 hours, make sure the beans are mostly submerged, add more water as needed. My beans turned into a homogeneous brown mass as they simmered, I think that’s a good sign. I also cooked mine with the lid off for to evaporate excess water and help the ful to thicken up.
  4. When the bean mixture is thick and soft, season with salt (~1 tsp), lemon juice (1-2 lemons), ground cumin (1-2 tsp), and olive oil (~1/4 cup). Mix well. Garnish with thinly sliced red onions and serve with Middle Eastern bread and lemon wedges.

[1] Wright, C. (n.d.). Did You Know: Food History – Ful — The Egyptian National Dish. Retrieved September 14, 2015.

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