We all know that each country has its own distinctive cuisine. Within each cuisine, there are a bunch of especially popular dishes that stand out as the country’s National dishes, or the dishes it is most well known for. Within these few iconic dishes, there is always that ONE dish that reigns supreme over the rest. One dish that is more than just a local food, but a dish that captures the very essence of a certain country or region and is as unique as the people and culture that inhabits it.
In Egypt, this dish is Fuul. No doubt about it.
Fuul is a simple dish of stewed fava beans, traditionally cooked slowly in a pot called a ‘qidra’ (pronounced edra) with some split red lentils for several hours over a flame as low as a candle, and is the quintessential breakfast food in all of Egypt.
Visit any house in Egypt at breakfast on any given day of the year, and you are most likely than not going to find Fuul on the table. Take a stroll through Cairo’s old streets and alleys early in the morning and you’ll see hoards of locals crowding around the colourful and tattered wooden Fuul carts, where metal bowls of steaming hot Fuul and crispy Taameyya (Egyptian falafel) are being rapidly handed out by the vendor, complete with all the trimmings, and devoured on the spot with blistered loaves of Egyptian balady bread (no utensils needed).
It is a humble dish as old as time, and one that is such a fundamental part of our heritage and culture that it basically runs through every Egyptian’s veins.
In the month of Ramadan, this dish is temporarily relocated from breakfast to ‘sohour’. Because we fast all day in Ramadan, from sunrise to sunset, it is a custom to wake up late at night just before the sun is about to rise and have a meal called ‘sohour’. It is a lovely tradition where all the family gets together in the middle of the night in the kitchen and partakes in this ritual of preparing the meal that will sustain them during the long fasting day ahead. Fuul is ALWAYS there, usually along with eggs, cheeses and Taameyya.
Fuul is the perfect fuel for ‘sohour’. It is extremely filling and slow to digest because of its high fiber content, which means it releases a steady stream of energy for several hours after consumption, keeping hunger at bay for longer. It is packed with goodness: loads of protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals (iron, copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium), which make it an incredibly nutritious and healthy dish. It is an excellent source of folates, vitamins B1 and B6 and one of the highest plant sources of potassium, making it one hell of a nutrient powerhouse!
Now that today’s science lesson is over, let me move onto the more important aspect of Fuul…it is downright DELICIOUS!
In our house, my father would cook a huge batch of plain Fuul at the beginning of the week. We’d store it in a massive container in the fridge and heat up as much as we want as needed every night with whatever flavourings we feel like. The choices of flavourings are vast, and the best part is that you can customise it as you please! The classic, traditional Egyptian style Fuul is flavoured with cumin, lemon juice and olive oil, and, quite honestly is hard to beat. Other favourites however are tahini, tomato, butter and even curry-spiced Fuul.
Here, I give you the basic method to cook the beans, as well as several flavor combos to try. The ones pictured here in these photos are traditional Egyptian-style fuul, spicy tomato & harissa fuul, and tahini fuul. It’s best to make many little dishes of the various flavours and share with family or friends accompanied with pita bread.
Most Egyptians don’t soak their beans; they simply cook the Fuul for about 6 hours on low. However, I find that soaking them overnight with a bit of baking soda not only reduces the cooking time to just 2 hours (that’s a THIRD of the time!!), but also makes them SO much easier to digest and less harsh on the stomach (less bloating/gas). DOUBLE WIN!
Fuul is available pre-cooked in cans in most Middle-Eastern stores, but I cannot stress enough that it doesn’t even COMPARE to the proper homemade stuff.
I really hope you try making this humble dish that is so incredibly close to my heart and is the true taste of home to me.
- • 500g dried fava beans
- • 2 tsp. baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
- • 250g red lentils, washed and drained
- FLAVOUR OPTIONS (per 1 cup cooked Fuul)
- Traditional Egyptian Fuul:
- • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- • 1 tsp. ground cumin
- • ½ tsp. ground coriander
- • 2 tbsp. olive oil
- • optional: chopped tomatoes & onion
- Tomato Fuul:
- • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- • 1 tsp. harissa paste OR ½ tsp. chilli powder (optional)
- • 1 tbsp. olive oil
- Tahini Fuul:
- • 1 tbsp. tahini paste
- • 1-2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- • 1 clove garlic, minced
- • chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Curry Fuul:
- • 1½ tsp. curry powder
- • 1 clove garlic, minced
- • ½ an onion, chopped
- Butter Fuul:
- • 1-2 tbsp butter (if you can get your hands on local Egyptian ‘zebda balady’, that is the BEST)
- The night before you want to cook the Fuul, place the fava beans and baking soda in a large bowl. Cover with PLENTY of water (it will swell like crazy), cover the bowl loosely and leave to soak overnight at room temperature.
- The next day, rinse and drain the fava beans. Place in a large pot with the lentils, cover with water by about 5-7cm (2-3 inches) and put the pot on medium heat. Bring to the boil and as soon as it boils, turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting. Cook partially covered for 1½ to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the lentils completely disintegrate and the fava beans are soft. If the pot is getting dry throughout the cooking time, add more hot water about a ½ cup at a time.
- At this point, if you aren’t using it all right away, pour the Fuul into a large container that has an airtight lid. Let it cool for 10 minutes or so and then squeeze fresh lemon juice onto the entire surface of the Fuul. You will notice that it will immediately turn a lighter colour! This is great, as it keeps the surface of the Fuul from oxidizing and turning dark. Once the Fuul is completely cooled, cover with the lid and store in the fridge for up to a week.
- To prepare the Fuul with the flavourings, place required amount of Fuul into a small saucepan over low heat (remember, the amount of flavourings I listed above are per one cup of cooked Fuul, so multiply accordingly if you are heating up more than a cup at a time), add your flavourings of choice and 2-3 tbsp. water to loosen it up to a scoop-able consistency. Heat through well and season with salt & pepper to taste. Serve with pita bread and an extra drizzle of oil on top (except for the butter Fuul; top that with an extra pat of butter).