Foul Medames , or stew of fava beans, is Egypt’s unmistakable street food staple and its most delicious vegan breakfast. In this blog post, you will learn how to make it from scratch in your slow cooker, from the comfort of your own home.
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What is Egyptian Foul Medames (fava beans)
“Egyptians are happy as long as they have their daily dose of fava beans”, this is a common joke that alludes to the importance of Foul Medames in the Egyptian life in general, and diet in particular.
A perfect dish of Foul Medames, or fava beans, comes with tender buttery beans in a pool of a spicy sauce. The final fava beans is dressed up differently according to different households. My go-to is generously drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, a shower of parsley, studded with juicy diced tomatoes, and served with hot pita bread and spring onions on the side.
Historically, fava beans became part of the Egyptian diet during the Greco-Roman period from 332 BCE to 614 BCE. (Source: Rawi magazine, 10th edition).
Foul Medames (ful medammas), or stewed fava beans, is a delicious and affordable source of vegan protein, which explains why Foul Medames is immensely popular and ubiquitous in Egypt.
Foul Medames (fava beans) street carts are scattered all over big and small cities with adjacent tables where people get to enjoy their customized foul (fava beans) sandwiches.
My early memories of Foul Medames (Fava Beans)
No one in my lifetime has prepared Foul Madames as well as my “Teta Aida” (teta means grandma in Arabic). She never trusted store-bought stewed fava beans and she made it herself from scratch. Hers was zesty, perfectly seasoned, and so tender. It always came with a luscious velvety sauce.
Everything my grandma Aida cooked, she poured her heart into, so I will pause her for a richly deserved ode.
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.
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 she 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!
How to make Foul Medames (fava beans) from scratch
My grandma prepared her Fava beans stew from scratch, and I honor this tradition to this day. The only difference is that she used “Damasa” or “Kedra”, a traditional pear-shaped pot that is created for this purpose, while I use my handy dandy slow cooker/crock pot.
Nowadays, making fava beans can’t be easier. 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 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of fava beans with ample room to add water (necessary for the cooking process).
Along with the fava beans and water, I add to the crockpot some ingredients to accentuate its vibrancy, aroma, and flavor, such as cloves of garlic, one whole quartered onion, a spoonful of orange lentils, another spoonful of rice, and one big whole tomato quartered, one lemon (not lime) quartered, and finally, a spoonful of ground turmeric.
It takes between 5-6 hours on low in the crock Pot to have a fork tender stew with irresistible aroma. Set your crockpot on low, and check on the beans every two hours to make sure there is enough liquid. If the liquid runs low, add some hot water off the kettle.
When the fava beans are fully cooked and tender, I add the spices and let them impart their flavors for another half an hour.
Fava Beans Versus Broad Beans
Authentic Egyptian Foul Medames calls for small dry fava beans against the large broad beans used in other Middle Eastern countries.
Small dry fava beans have thinner skin and a more buttery texture, and to be honest, they have a better flavor as well.
While both are available online and in Middle Eastern grocery stores, my personal preference always go to the small dry fava beans to make authentic foul medames.
Homemade Foul Medames (fava beans) Versus Canned
While canned fava beans are available in most grocery story and an excellent occasional shortcut to fix a meal of fava beans, they come with multiple health disadvantage:
- Canned Fava beans are processed, as a result they include high level of salt and sodium.
- Cans contain BPA, which is a chemical often used in food packaging that can migrate from the lining into the food and later to our bodies.
- Cans contain toxins in form of preservatives.
If you intend on consuming fava beans on a regular basis, I strongly recommend making your fava beans from scratch.
Bonus: you stew fava beans in big batches, especially if you have a big slow cooker, and then store them in small ziplocks. Freeze them for months and pull out a zip lock each time you are craving something healthy for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
For properly storing the fava beans in the freezer, date and label large ziplocks. Line cylindric container with the zip lock and half-fill it with the stew of fava beans.
Remove the ziplock from the container, flatten it and expel all the air. Lock the zip locks and place it in the freezer. Watch this video for storage tips.
Whenever you crave foul medames, just pull our a ziplock out of the freezer, defrost, heat the foul in a skillet, add some water, olive oil and adjust the seasoning.
Foul medames is an excellent excellent freezer food for a breakfast, or brunch or even dinner on a whim.
Versatility of Foul Medames (stew of fava beans)
Given its nature as a flavorful and filling dish, traditionally, fava beans are frequently served during lent. Generally, it is spiced up with cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and lemon, yet each Egyptian household keeps its secret “Tahwiga”, or spice blend, for its signature foul medames dish.
Personally, my rendition of Foul Madames has evolved, given my exposure to different cuisines, and I find myself taking the dish to new territories. For instance, I puree it using a stick blender to serve it as a frijoles-like appetizer dip along with spicy pita chips.
My variations on this dish are endless. They all depend on the general mood and occasion.
How to serve foul medames
Foul medames (stew of fava beans) is best served warm on a tray replete with sides of spicy tahini, an assortment of pickles, brine olives, and of course warm pita bread, or even better Aish Baladi (whole wheat Egyptian bread), mint tea, and a convivial company.
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