Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Breakfast: Ful Mudammas

Today I decided to showcase a healthier side to Egyptian cooking. So I'm going to talk about Ful Mudammas, simply known as Ful (pronounced like 'fool').

It's one of the national dishes of Egypt and one of the least appetizing looking ones from afar, until you take your first bite; then you're hooked. It's a bean mash, with fresh vegetables, olive oil, lemon juice and spices. And that's it.

It's so simple to make, that it became one of my dad's signature dishes to make when he ran out of ideas to entertain us with dinner. After he and my mom divorced, dinners for at least two nights of the week had a set repertoire of choices. They were: roasted chicken from the grocery store with salad, an omlette with basturma (cured beef with spices), Wendy's, or ful. Ful was always the least exciting option because it wasn't as exciting as a Wendy's grilled chicken. But, it was very healthy and above all, filling. And any fool can make ful, ha ha ha. His version was more of a salad, so the beans were not mashed and it was cold. But everything else was the same. And it was tasty.

When I got to grad school, we had a month to prepare for our exams. That's when I made a comeback to ful. I had a very set study regime which revolved around food. Breakfast every day was hot ful, and pita. I did this on purpose because it kept me full until about 2pm. So I had no real excuse to break on account of hunger pains. Dinner was usually a can of sardines and bread and salad. I'm still recovering from sardine overload, but I figured it was the best brain food a student's budget could buy.

The ful was a great breakfast idea, the only problem was that it didn't keep very well. I mean it does keep for a week, but by day 2, it looks gross; I'll be honest. So I'd redo it everyday; it was productive procrastination. My boyfriend at the time was essentially the poster-boy for the English. I offered my homely ful one day and one look at it was enough for him to wave it away; without even so much as a bite! All that to say is you need to try it before you can say anything.

The origin of ful is not too certain. Many claim it can be traced back to the Pharaohs. However, back in 5th century BC, the great historian Herodutus noted that Egyptians don't sow beans, and even if they grow wild, no one picks them. But ful beans have been found inside Pharaohonic temples, so who really knows.

The name mudammas originates from the Coptic word to mean 'buried'. The Coptic language, is a cross between greek and late pharaonic which is still used in the orthodox Coptic churches. The idea was that ful was cooked in a large pot and buried underground.

The bean that is commonly used by Egyptians and grown is called ful hammam, it is a small and
rounder looking bean

than other varieties like ful baladi (country bean), ful rumi (kidney-shaped), ful akhdar (fresh fava beans). Ful Hammam translates into bath bean. The story behind this name is during the Middle Ages, when there were bath houses throughout Cairo, the Princess Bath house continuously burned huge vats of water outside of the bathhouse. At the end of the day, the embers were still hot, so the people took advantage of the large pots and filled them with ful to cook in overnight. In the morning, the ful was served as breakfast for everyone. Hence bath bean.

That may have been the starting point of ful stands found throughout the city. In Cairo, you can find them readily serving hot ful with fresh pita bread as a sandwich, or simply in a bowl. It is also the meal of choice of the fellahin (peasants/farmers); the idea being it's a meal that sits like a stone in your stomach. So you eat this in the morning, go work all day and have your main meal afterwards. I read somewhere that it is the rich man's breakfast, the shopkeeper's lunch, the poor man's supper (or student..).

The easiest way to make this is buying a can of fava beans, which you can find in any middle east or mediterannean food store. Some grocery stores will sell it too. You can also buy the dried version in bulk, and soak it overnight.

Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4-5 persons

1 can of ful madammas

2 cups of soaked beans

1 egg, hard or soft boiled (depending on your taste)
1-2 tomatoes
1/2 cucumber
1/2 green pepper
1 green onion or 1/4 of a white onion

juice from half a large lemon
1/4 cup of white vinegar

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
salt, pepper


1. Chop up vegetables into bite size pieces
2. Boil egg
3. In a pot on medium heat, add beans
4. Add lemon juice or vinegar
5. Stir beans around and mash with a spoon or fork
6. Beans do not have to be smooth; mash according to your preference
7. Add all vegetables--make sure you mix vegetables in, but that you are not cooking them
8. Add olive oil and spices.
9. Cut egg into small pieces and mix into ful
10. Serve with pita bread

Serving suggestion:
black sweet tea--I like how it works with the savoriness of the ful.

And there you have it. Breakfast or dinner, it tastes great, fills you up, and will please all your vegetarian and vegan friends (without egg). Just make sure it's not judged before tasting.

1 comment:

  1. Ful, sweet nectar of life. Can't believe you ate ful while studying. Doesn't it make you want to pass out?