Fuul Medames (Stewed Fava Beans): The King of Egyptian Foods

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Proverbial in its transcendence over ever-changing food fads, fluctuating market prices and intransigent class barriers, and sold on pedestrian carts and in shops, while still cooking in its urns fuul medames is the Egyptians’ quintessential food.

Cuisine tunisienne Foul Mdamès (photo: blogspot)

Fuul or fava beans are as old as Egyptian culture. Quantities of the bean were discovered in 12th Dynasty Pharaonic tombs. Ramses II offered 11,998 jars of beans to Hapi, the God of the Nile.

The word medames is a Coptic word which denotes “cooked inside the earth”. The fuul is stewed slowly over a low fire in a pot or urn called “qidra” or “idra”.

The fuul is stewed slowly over a low fire in a pot or urn called “qidra

Fuul medames is cooked every where in Egypt: in homes, and on pedestrian carts and shops while still cooking in its urns.

The Egyptians have loyally held on to the cult of eating fuul, savouring it equally for breakfast, lunch or dinner, often varying its manner of preparation to suit each repast.

They have done so while pulling jibes at themselves in a good- humoured nod to the resilient bean that has faithfully withstood the vagaries of time, filling in for more expensive meat, poultry or fish.

Egyptians’ partiality to eating it aside, research indicates that the fava bean which constitutes  fuul medames  is actually a king – among legumes.

Fava beans  are a powerhouse of minerals, vitamins and dietary fibre.

They are low fat and low glycemic making them ideal for diabetics, and  for maintaining cardio vascular and colon health.

A cup of cooked fava beans contains 177 micrograms of folate, an important member of the B family of vitamins. This is 44 per cent of the recommended daily allowance for adults.

Folate is essential for maintaining energy, metabolism and the nervous system. Fava beans are also an important source of Vitamin B6, with benefits to the skin, and liver.

The bean is one of the richest sources of managanese, providing 1.6 micrograms in every cooked cup. This is nearly 100 per cent of the required daily allowance for women and 70 per cent of that for men.

The manganese content in fava beans is essential to supporting the nervous and immune systems. It is also vital in fighting osteoporosis, arthritis and diabetes, and can help alleviate the discomfort of pre-menstrual syndrome.

Fava beans  include iron, thiamin, vitamin K, selenium, pottassium, phosphorus  and zinc,  as well as Vitamins A and C.

Not surprisingly, their high mineral content also makes fava beans a prime comfort food.

One half a cup of cooked beans (without additions) contains only 90 calories, making it a nutritious option for weight control.

The manner of cooking fuul in Egypt is as varied as the country’s different provinces and cities. From fuul Iskandarani, (Alexandrian fuul with stewed tomato sauce)  to fuul with ‘hot oil’ (zeit haar), the manner of cooking the bean in Egypt is versatile. Garlic is used in fuul recipes, as well as onions, tahina, cumin and hot paprika.  Sometimes eggs are added, and even minced meat.

Here is a basic fuul medames recipe:

Soak 1 lb of fava beans for 24-48 hours.

Rinse in a sieve then put in a stainless steel ‘idra’ or pot specifically used for stewing fuul.

Add one quarter cup of yellow lentils (you may use black lentils) and one tomato.

Cover with cold water.

Partially cover the ‘idra’ leaving  space for steam to escape.

Cook on the lowest fire possible.

Leave to simmer of 6-8 hours or until fuul is soft.

Put in a dish.

Add olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

Eat with baladi bread, white cheese and pickles as a side dish.