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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ful Medammes--with Lentils!

 Lentils cooked in the style of ful medammes

Ful Medammes--with Lentils!

Mexico is full of beans.  Literally.  Full of beans.  Pinto, canario, alubias, flor de mayo, flor de junio, negro, garbanzo, peruano, sangre de toro, amarillo, vaquita, moro, bayos gordos, habas, vaquita roja, ayocote café, ayocote morado, mantequilla, ayocote negro, alberjó name but a few.  But with the plethora of delicious New World beans available here, the one type of bean I can't find is the small broad bean, or small brown fava beans used for one of my favorite Middle Eastern dishes, ful medammes.  Well... don't get me started on the beloved beans of my youth such as black-eyed peas, shelly beans, crowder peas and a few others.  But today, we'll focus on a delicious, simple-to-prepare dish made with lentils, but flavored like the popular ful medammes of Egypt.

On my first visit to Egypt I discovered this heavenly style of cooked small brown broad or fava beans eaten out of a copper pot for breakfast.  A little delving led me understand that ful medammes is considered the national dish of both Egypt (and the Sudan), eaten by all economic classes at all times of the day.  Street venders sell it, fancy hotels feature it, elegant homes serve it, and peasants almost survive on it.  It is eaten for breakfast, as a part of mezze as an appetizer, or as a complete meal.  While countless versions exist, since every cook has his or her own favorite way to prepare them, the basics stay the same:  onion, garlic, olive oil, cumin, lemon, tomato, salt, and pepper.  Easy.  

A Bit of History
Ful medammes (also spelled foul and madames, midammis, mudammas and no doubt other variations exist as well) probably originated in the Sudan and Egypt, gradually making its way to the rest of the Middle East via the Horn of Africa   The word "medammes" was originally Coptic, meaning "buried, " a reference to the beans being buried in the hot pot and/or the pot being buried in hot embers.  There are mentions of this cooking method as early as in the 4th-century Talmud Yerushalmi although the beans themselves were found buried in jars in tombs thousands of years before.  Clearly, however, ful medammes was pre-Islamic and pre-Ottoman in Egypt.  During the Middle Ages in Egypt, the making of the dish was monopolized by the people living around the Princess Baths because as wood was scarce, fuel couldn't be wasted, so the locals used the fires and embers to bury their pots of beans to provide breakfast for hungry Cairenes.  

Cook's Notes:  Because I don't have access to the same beans used in the Middle East, I simply use lentils to prepare in the same way. Any dried bean would work for this recipe, however.  I like to use lentils though, because they cook so quickly.  Note, however, that sometimes in the Middle East this is prepared with small brown favas with a handful of lentils thrown in as well. When I am in a hurry, I just dump the main ingredients into a pot (reserving the tomatoes and salt until toward the end of the cooking time), bring to a simmer, and cook until soft.  When not rushed, I sauté the onion and garlic first in olive oil with the cumin and coriander.

Recipe:  Lentils in the Style of Ful Medammes
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced
1 to 2 tablespoons freshly ground cumin (I use 2)
2 teaspoons freshly ground coriander seeds (optional)
2 cups dried lentils, green brown, or Puy, cleaned and washed
4 cups water
1 can chopped tomatoes (or used fresh!)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Note:  Remember that you can skip the sautéing of the onion/garlic/spice mixture if you don't have time.  Simply add them to the cooking water.

Heat the oil in a large pot.  Sauté the onions for 5 minutes over medium heat.  Add the garlic, cumin, and coriander.  Sauté for another 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the dried lentils and water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a gentle simmer.  Cook, uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft.  Add additional water if necessary.  Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper.  Cook for five minutes to marry flavors.  Serve with the Parsley Sauce or any of the ingredients suggested below.

Lemon-Garlic-Parsley Sauce

1 to 2 cups parsley leaves and some stem
1 or 2 garlic cloves
Zest of one large lemon
Juice of one large lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Process until smooth.  Check and adjust seasoning as needed.  Note:  I made this in a food processor, but realize that the mixture would be smoother if made in a blender.

 Parsley, lemon, garlic, and oil to garnish the lentils

Additional Garnishes
In addition to the parsley garnish shown above, any of the following can also be placed on a separate plate to serve with the lentils or beans, if you prefer them:

  • Chopped tomato
  • Chopped onion
  • Ground cumin
  • Yogurt
  • Grated or crumbled cheese (feta, goat, or any cheese of choice)
  • Olive oil
  • A chopped salad made of any or all of the above
  • Cilantro or mint
  • Wedges of boiled egg
  • Fried egg
  • Lemon wedges
  • Pita bread or any grilled flatbread
  • Clarified butter
  • Basturma
  • Tahini
  • Vinegar
  • Cucumber sticks or cucumber-tomato-onion salad--or tiny cucumbers, if available
  • Garlicky tomato sauce
  • Olives
  • Middle Eastern-style vegetable pickles (turnip, beet, etc)
  • Lemon zest
Other Styles of Preparation
  • In Aleppo, Syria, fava beans are simmered all night in a copper jar to be served for breakfast swimming in tahini and served with a dollop of red pepper paste on top
  • In Malta, ful bit-tewm (beans with garlic) a similar dish, cooked in olive oil, garlic, fresh or dried mint, and dressed with olive oil and vinegar is served during Lent
  • In Ethiopia it is served with injera, a flatbread made with yeast and teff flour
  • In northern Somalia, ful or shanan ful, is a breakfast dish of slow cooked fava beans which are mashed to a paste and served with chopped green onions, tomatoes, hot chiles, yogurt, feta cheese, olive oil, tesmi (also niter kibbeh or niter qibe--a highly seasoned clarified butter) , lemon juice, berbere, and cumin

A Personal Anecdote:  The Bean Pot

Remember the days when air travel was fun?  When attendants were polite?  When real food was a part of a flight?  When there was room to wiggle with baggage weight?  I do.  Barely...But here is one such story:

My late brother Jim and I were always close, sharing life in a fun and loving way, always.  Jim loved to give presents, and of course, I loved to be a lucky recipient of his largesse.  Once when I was living in Abu Dhabi and he and his young family were nearby in Bahrain, I visited after he had just returned from a trip to Cairo.  Thrilled when he told me he had bought me a copper bean pot in the exotic Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo, I couldn't wait to see it.

The pot is large--two feet tall or more, made of heavy copper, adorned with brass handles, shiny and gorgeous, speaking of the loving hands that crafted it, but in my eyes never destined to hold simmering beans. When Jim proudly gave it to me, he asked how I would get it home to Abu Dhabi, since the airlines would surely make me check it and it would probably be ruined--he had had the luxury of stowing it on a military plane which had no such restrictions.  Laughing, I said, with the sparkling confidence of youth, "I'll just put it in the seat beside me and strap it in!"

"Never happen," he countered, "never gonna happen. The airlines will NEVER allow you to take that big pot on board."

In the mid-70s in the Gulf, flights were rarely full and you had to load straight from the tarmac without the ease of a plane pulling right up to the air-conditioned terminal.  When Jim took me to the airport, he had to leave me, of course, before the ticket counter, which in those days was off limits to all but passengers.  Wanting to see me off, he headed to the rooftop viewing area where he could wave goodbye, leaving me with the parting words, "They will never let you take that pot on board, Sweetie. Trust me!  I'll hang around long enough to pick it up and take it back home."  I happily replied back, "Well, I'm not going to check it and let it get dinged up!"

When I checked in, I sadly explained my predicament, pitifully saying I just couldn't possibly check the beautiful pot with my luggage because it might accidentally get ruined and asked if I could take it on board.  The mail attendant, looking a bit dismayed, said, "But Miss, you aren't allowed to take extra baggage on board.  Looking dismal I pleaded, "But my brother bought it in El Misr.  El Misr! Egypt! Just for me.  How can I risk damaging such a precious gift?"  Smiling, the male attendant said, "Of course, Miss.  You are right.  Of course you can it on board.  In fact, I'll close my counter and walk you to the plane myself so you don't have to carry it."

Laughing and smiling, I jauntily crossed the tarmac and waved up at my brother my brother, who stood shaking his head and smiling, as the attendant walked with me, flirted a little, and carried my precious pot on his shoulder.  On his shoulder!  And if fact, after seating me in a choice seat, he gave my pot the seat next to me and buckled it down with the seatbelt. 

Ah...the good old days, when flying was actually fun.

The bean pot, tarnished and imperfect, just the way I like it

Parting Shot:
One perfect rose, for my brother, who is always in my heart

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Recipes, like life and love, are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!


Anonymous said...

It is always such a pleasure to read any of your posts, Victoria.....

Eha said...

What a great post! I love beans, I love lentils - use both at least a few times a week. And my nutritionist's conscience sings :) ! This is such an easy recipe so full of flavour with so many variations things can never get boring!! Well, I normally have red lentils which may not quite fit? But shall try! Oh, I absolutely love that pot and your brother and I like the same coloured roses . . . thanks!

Victoria Challancin said...

Not to worry, Eha, red lentils will work just fine. It it the flavor principle that matters.

Victoria Challancin said...

Thank you, Jude, for the kind words. Happy to know you enjoy the posts.

Hotly Spiced said...

I remember those days. That's when flying was so exciting. What a good story and I love your pot. I love your image of the blue bowl with the vibrant green garnish - stunning! xx

Unknown said...

I love foul medammes! Great idea to use lentils - I look forward to making this. And I always love your photos.
Beautifully done.

Joan Nova said...

Besides being an excellent food educator, you're such a good storyteller. Love the story of the copper bean pot.

Victoria Challancin said...

Thank you, Joan. I miss my bother so much but have so many loving memories.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I so loved your story Victoria! Oh for those golden days of travel again! :D And I had no idea medammes meant buried!

Gold On Runescape said...

Besides being an outstanding food instructor, you're such a good storyteller. Love the tale of the birdwatcher vegetable pot.

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Martine @ Chompchomp said...

LOL, those days of flying really are over. Although recently I flew Virgin with my wedding dress in tow and they really gave us the royal bridal treatment! We didn't even have to pay for our food or drinks!

Nancy said...

Another great post and recipe Victoria! I love Ful Medammes and the lentil alternative sounds fantastic. Thanks for sharing:)

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