The cold spell that we've been having here in France has come to an end, but it doesn't mean that warm soups aren't still on the menu!
I'd be lying if I said I just whipped up a batch of this soup....in fact I've been waiting for months it seems to share this recipe with everyone: chorbit ful nabet, or sprouted bean soup.
Now ful nabet, or quite simply sprouted bean is a snack. And while you may not think to order it somewhere, you'll often find it just lying around when you order drinks or accompanying a bowl of nuts. And then you can't stop. The tanginess of the lemon juice mixed with the salt and the crunch of the bean lightly dusted in cumin...and before you know it you've eaten the whole bowl. I'll also give the recipe for this snack.
Many of the bean culinary traditions in Egypt go back to the days of the pharaohs and then the Copts who are often switching between vegan fasts and normal eating. So the ful mudammas , perhaps the falafel (depending on which story you follow), red lentil soup, brown lentil soup, are all examples of staples still going strong amongst Egyptians, particularly among the Coptic communities.
My paternal grandmother was known to snack on ful nabet during certain fasts when she technically was trying to stay away from animal products, or was trying to lose a little weight. But we didn't have it in our household growing up. So I never paid much attention to it. But during my last trip to Egypt in September, a bowl of it was just casually set out on the table, and I began to find it at certain cafes and bars and so began the obsession.
The ful nabet soup is something we never had in the family, but it is a thing. And it's a big thing in the smaller villages where tradition is still very much intact. One book which I picked up, called 'Cairo Kitchen' (as an fyi, my name the egyptian Kitchen came first...but who's keeping track), notes in her recipe for ful nabet soup that large pots of it are made on special occasions and are given out to friends and family.
Whether you're making the soup or just the beans, this has to be prepared in advance as the bean needs to sprout, hence the sprouted bean. You need at least five to six days to let the beans sprout. But once they're done, the rest is easy and barely no time is needed for cooking.
Now when it comes to the bean, there's always confusion: the broad bean or the ful hammam bean. This recipe is the broad bean. The same one used for the falafel. So it's bigger and meatier inside, but it also has the distinct black mark on the front. You need the dry variety for this recipe. The other ful bean is the one used in the ful mudammas.
My recipe for the soup also calls for mastic grains. Mastic is the original chewing gum, it's the resin from the tree that comes from the Greek island of Chios. The ancient Greeks revered it for its medicinal properties. Through trade it made its way into Middle Eastern cooking and a few Egyptian recipes do use it. It has a slightly pine taste to it. Now if you can get some, fantastic. If not, don't sweat it. Most people don't have this lying around the house. But if you want to find it, try Middle Eastern or Greek supermarkets.
Total preparation time: 5 days (for beans)
Total cooking time: 30 minutes (for soup)
Yield: 4 persons
500g dried broad fava beans
1-2 teaspoons ground cumin
olive oil (or any cooking oil)
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
3-4 grains of mastic (if you have)
salt to taste
3 cloves garlic
1 fresh chili (optional)
1.5 litres water (or chicken stock)
1 lemon cut into wedges
dried pita (optional)
1. Place the dry fava beans in a shallow bowl
2. Add just enough water to cover the beans
3. Cover with a damp towel and leave in a cool place
4. Change the water daily
5. Once beans have begun to sprout, rinse and drain before using
6. Boil beans in water and salt for one to two hours (test along the way)
7. Mix beans with cumin
8. Add a pinch of salt
9. Squeeze some lemon juice
10. Adjust salt and lemon to taste
11. Add cumin seeds to a hot and dry frying pan
12. While constantly stirring the seeds, roast them until they turn a golden brown colour
13. Take off heat
14. Chop onion and add to a big pot with some oil and mastic grains if you have them
15. Saute the onion until soft
16. Add water, garlic, salt and chili (if using) to the pot
17. Add the toasted cumin and beans
18. Turn down heat and leave to simmer for 25 to 30 minutes
19. If you want pita chips, cut and fry them in salt and oil
20. Serve soup with fresh coriander leaves, some pita chips and a squeeze of lemon