In the United States, legumes are often regulated to lunch or dinner while various cereals, breads, meats and eggs dominate the breakfast table. However, in other parts of the world they have staked their claim as early morning staples.
Consider, for example, the fava bean (no Hannibal Lecter jokes please). A part of the human diet since at least 6,000 BC, fava beans are commonly served throughout the Middle East at breakfast. They are especially popular in Egypt, where they are the stars of what is often called the Egyptian national dish: ful medames (“buried beans”).
Ful medames is also widely consumed in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Israel, Sudan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. Like any dish eaten by so many people in so many places, there are countless variations on the basic recipe. Mine is pretty simple, and more or less representative of the average ful medames recipe you are likely to come across.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz. can fava beans, rinsed
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
Salt to taste
Preheat the oil in a medium size skillet on medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft. Toss in the garlic and stir for a couple of minutes.
Add the fava beans and cumin, stirring until everything is nicely mixed. Remove from heat.
Empty the contents of the skillet into a sturdy mixing bowl. Use a fork or potato masher to mash everything to together. Add the lemon juice, tahini and salt and stir well.
Ful medames is sometimes served with fresh tomato or eggs. I like to have it with a big dollop of hummus on top. It is pretty much always served with a flatbread such as pita. Hot, strong tea makes the perfect accompanying beverage.
If you’re feeling especially operatically-inclined while enjoying your ful medames, cue up Giuseppe Verdi’s classic “Aida,” which is set in Egypt and first premiered in Cairo in 1871. It remains one of the most performed operas in the world, just as ful medames is one of the most popular dishes in the Middle East.