Join The National and Table Tales on a culinary journey around the Middle East to savour the quintessential dishes that embody the spirit of Ramadan. From table staples to family favourites, this series of recipes – one for each day of Ramadan – pays homage to the holy month and the home cook alike.
A Middle Eastern staple, if ever there were one, foul stew is made from fava beans, and is a tasty, hearty and healthy option for your iftar table.
Often credited as the national dish of Egypt, foul (sometimes spelt as ful) was responsible for feeding a large part of Cairo’s population in the Middle Ages, around the 11th century. At the time, the water for a local bath house was heated in large vats, known as qidras. Additional qidras were employed to slow-cook fava beans overnight as the embers of the bathwater fires were kept alit to save resources. The next morning, the owners of Cairo’s cafes and cookshops would pick up the foul wholesale and season it up for their patrons.
The spicy Egyptian version aside, each region has its own version of foul that comes down to the seasoning, with the Lebanese making it with hummus, the Jordanians opting to consume it in dip form, the Moroccans combining it with split green peas, the Syrians garnishing it with Aleppo pepper paste and the Sudanese typically making it in sesame oil.
For a healthier iteration of the Sudanese variant, substituting the sesame oil with olive oil works a charm, too, as recipe contributor Ahmed El Gaili discovered much to his delight.
“I have taken my mum’s recipe and adjusted it a little bit, so instead of using regular sesame oil or corn oil – which are common in Sudan – I make it with olive oil, and add garlic and onion at the beginning to give it a little bit of oomph. I knew I was on to something when my dad tried this version a couple of years ago and whispered to me secretively that it is at least as good as mum’s!
“Foul is my favourite comfort food,” continues El Gaili. “Growing up, we shared foul as the main dish at our weekly family brunch every Thursday, which used to be the weekend.
“In Egypt and Sudan, foul is a mainstay because it is high in protein and it’s highly affordable, so that makes it accessible to a lot of people.
“Outside of Ramadan, people have it for breakfast, or sometimes for lunch or dinner if they can’t afford meats for those meals.
"During Ramadan, it's almost a requirement to have foul for every iftar – it's a bit heavy for suhoor."
Ahmed El Gaili's foul medames
- 260g plain fava beans
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 60g feta cheese, divided
- 1 tbsp plain yoghurt
- Juice of 1 lime
- 75ml olive oil, divided
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 chilli pepper, chopped
- Oil for frying and drizzle
- Drain the beans and rinse. Place the beans, tomato, 40 grams of feta cheese, yoghurt, lime juice, 60 millilitres olive oil, cumin and salt in a bowl, and mash until almost combined.
- Heat two tablespoons of oil in a medium saucepan. Saute the onions for 3-5 minutes until wilted, then add the garlic and stir for another minute. Add the bean mixture and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Serve in a bowl, garnished with olive oil and crumbled feta.
This dish has been brought to you by Ahmed El Gaili and curated by international recipe hunter Hanan Sayed Worrell, author of Table Tales: The Global Nomad Cuisine of Abu Dhabi. The Table Tales concept celebrates the people and stories that give flavour to recipes of the Middle East.