Whenever we have people over, it seems there's always someone who doesn't eat meat. I'm sympathetic to the cause; after all, I grew up in a house with a vegetarian. To complicate matters, guests often aren't fond of soy, so I'm always on the lookout for riffs on rice and beans. When I had the fava beans at Cafe Byblos, which I review this week, I was reminded how much I like this Middle Eastern staple, and decided to add them to my repertoire. See also: - Photos: In the kitchen at Cafe Byblos - Review: A quick trip to a land of sunshine and bright Mediterranean tastes - Cafe Byblos Mediterranean Grill is now open
I started with a recipe from Claudia Roden for ful medames, a classic Egyptian dish made from thick, soupy beans spiked with lemon, parsley, garlic, cumin and olive oil. Dried favas are harder to find than canned, but if you've cooked much with legumes you'll understand why I was willing to make a special trip to Jerusalem International Market.
When I pulled out the recipe this morning to make breakfast -- yes, in Egypt, favas are served for the morning meal -- I realized I'd already blown it. The cardinal rule of cooking is to read the instructions before starting, and mine began by telling me to cook the beans in advance or, as the package said, soak them overnight. To jump-start matters, I put them in a pot of boiling water, let it return to a boil, then turned off the heat. An hour later, when I drained the pot and refilled it with fresh water, I was ready to proceed.
Now I gave the instructions a closer read. Roden calls for all the flavorings -- olive oil, lemon, garlic, cumin, parsley -- to be added at the table. But raw garlic tends to scare people off, so I decided to borrow a technique from Alice Waters and add the cloves to the pot while cooking. That way the raw edge would be gone, and I'd be able to mash the garlic along with the beans. The recipe says to reduce the cooking liquid, but I'd started with a lot of water in the pot, so I decided to drain them instead, reserving enough cooking liquid to add back in after hand-mashing the beans.
Finally we sat down, more for brunch than breakfast, and tried the favas. Even with all the goodies, they were still a disappointment -- not just to my kids who would've preferred waffles and syrup anyway, but to me.
After some quick research, I found an online tip from Saad Fayed, who remembers scooping fava beans off his father's plate even before he could say the word "more." His advice was to stir in tahini along with the other condiments -- and that did the trick, adding the extra depth and creaminess our bowls were missing. Ful medames won't exactly put our waffle iron out of business, but at least now I have another vegetarian trick up my sleeve.