Fava Beans in Tahini
(Ful bi Tahini)
In Syrian culture, there’s a general rule that men don’t do the cooking, with three exceptions: ful, fetteh and barbecues. There is something rugged about these dishes that reassures even the most traditional kitchen-fearing Arab man enough to feel comfortable in his masculinity to prepare them. Ful (fava beans) – whether we’re talking about the version with olive oil or the one in tahini sauce – is the classic staple of Damascus and Aleppo street food.
What we’ve been able to work out from the Syrians that we met is that ful must be boiled to perfection in large copper urns, marinated in lemon, garlic and cumin dressing, then mixed with tomato and parsley. Abu Abdo’s, the ful-maker’s shop in Aleppo, is a landmark that is more than a century old.
Abu Abdo himself passed away a long time ago, but generations of his children and grandchildren have passed on the secrets of the trade and kept the business going. Before the war, if you wanted a take-away, Abu Abdo poured the ful into a plastic bag and tied it up, but we won’t judge you if you use Tupperware!
Below is a simpler version of the traditional recipe you would find in the ful-maker’s shop that we learnt from Rana, who makes this at home quite often. If you don’t want to soak the beans overnight and then boil them, you can use tinned ones. Look out for tins of ‘ful mdemmes’ in any Middle Eastern supermarket.
It is best served slightly warm, but be careful not to mix the warm beans with the yoghurt too soon or else it will curdle.
1 garlic clove
salt to taste
4 tbsp tahini
4 tbsp yogurt
1x 400g tin of fava beans
1 tsp ground cumin
handful of parsley, roughly chopped
½ a tomato, chopped
Using a pestle and mortar, mix the garlic and salt into a paste.
In a large bowl, mix the garlic paste, tahini, lemon juice and yoghurt and give it a good stir.
Heat the fava beans and their liquid in a saucepan until warm but not boiling – you don’t need to cook them; just warm them through. Pour the beans and half of their water (discard the rest) into the yoghurt. Mix and stir well. Remember to make sure the beans aren’t too hot or you will curdle the yoghurt.
Add the cumin, parsley and tomato to add colour and freshness to the dish.