Foul Medames or the stew of the fava bean is a Middle Eastern breakfast and an unmistakable street food staple in Egypt. The stew of fava beans is the white canvas of legumes. A forgiving and inclusive dish it proves to be. It could be spiced up or down, cooked either with butter or oil, with or without tomato sauce, mixed with eggs, or served vegan.
No one in my lifetime has prepared Foul Madames as well as my grandma. And I will pause here for a richly deserved tribute. Anyone who is or was fortunate enough to have a loving grandma is among the richest people on earth. The love of a grandma is an infinite well of sweet memories. It is simply unconditional! It doesn’t depend on the grandkids’ good behavior or straight As. A grandma seldom says I am tired, rarely complains, or loses her cool and, most probably, is shy away from disciplining a child. Such was my grandma.
As the French would say, I was cerise sur gateau to my grandma. I am her first grandchild and the first joy in her life after many mournful years, in which struggled with the sudden loss of her two younger siblings. I was her joy; she was my warmest companion. Though she left us over two decades ago, she remains vividly present in spirit, as my guardian angel and kitchen guru!
Now back to Foul Madames. My grandma prepared her Fava bean stew from scratch, and I honor this tradition to this day. The only difference is that she used “Damasa” a traditional pear-shaped pot that is created for the purpose, while I use a contemporary gadget; a fuss-free crock pot.
I order raw/dry fava beans online. I soak the beans in cold water overnight. To neutralize the bitterness of fava beans, I add a spoonful of bicarbonate soda. My 7-quart crock pot comfortably accommodates 750 grams of fava beans with ample room to add water (necessary for the cooking process).
Along with the fava beans and water, she used to add some unexpected ingredients for color’s vibrancy and subtlety of flavors. She used to add two whole clove of garlic, one whole onion, a handful of orange lentils, a spoonful of rice, and one big whole tomato. It takes between 4 and 5 hours on low in the crock pot to have a smooth, rich, and tender stew. After it is cooked, I add the spices and let them impart their flavors for another half an hour. A bonus of this dish is that you can store the 750 grams in small ziplocks and keep them in the freezer for months. It makes an excellent freezer food for a brunch on a whim.
My Foul Madames has creatively evolved, given my exposure to different cuisines as a peripatetic expat. Sometimes, I puree it using a stick blender to serve it as a frijoles-like appetizer dip along with spicy pita chips. Or I cook it with butter and Basturma (Armenian cold cut) as-all-inclusive lunch meal on a lazy Sunday. To make peace with Shaksuka in one iron skillet, I add it to sizzling olive oil mixed with spiced tomato sauce and crack few eggs on top of it. My variations on this dish are endless. They all depend on the general mood and occasion.
This dish is best savored with mint tea and a convivial company. Surprisingly, foul madames has been among the top 5 solicited dishes by my non-Egyptian friends. And my foul medames brunch is becoming almost a popular monthly tradition that I share with a different group of delightful friends each time. I like to serve it in a bar style along with an assortment of pickles and chopped tomatoes. I am listing the recipe today, as I promised many to share it. Thank you, teta, (grandma in Arabic) for you perpetual love. It is all over the web now.
Recipe of “Foul Madames” (Stewed Fava Beans):
Serves 10 to 12 people
For soaking the fava beans:
- 750 grams fava beans
- water (enough to cover the beans)
- 1 tablespoon bicarbonate soda
For cooking the stew
- 2 tablespoons orange lentils
- 1 tablespoon white rice
- One medium tomato, whole
- One small onion, whole
- 2 gloves of garlic
For seasoning the stew
- 1/4 cup Canola oil or/and olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Cumin
- 2 teaspoons Coriander
- 1 teaspoon sumak
- 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme or oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon curry
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
For the dressing (optional)
- Kosher salt (as you wish)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- Soak the fava beans: Cover the fava beans with enough cold water. Mix in the bicarbonate soda and stir until it is all dissolved. Leave the beans soaked overnight.
- Stew the fava beans: Rinse the fava beans well with cold water and place it in the slow cooker and cover with water: Add the tomato, garlic, onion, lentils and rice. Set on low for 4:00 hours.
- Season the fava beans: 30 minutes before the cooking time is over, uncover the slow cooker and add the oil and spices and let them impart their flavor.
- Add the dressing: To give a glow and depth of flavor, mix together some extra version olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and add it to the fava beans. This step is optional.
- Serve it hot with pita bread, Humus or tahini, an assortment of pickles, fresh lettuce, chopped tomatoes and tabasco sauce.
- The cooking time depends on the size of the beans, and the brand. Start with 4 hours, and increase the cooking time if necessary.