Garlic has a long history in Egypt. Four dried, preserved cloves were found in King Tut’s four thousand year-old tomb. Garlic gave strength to the builders of the Great Pyramids of Giza and was also at the root of the world’s first recorded labor strike. Slaves refused to work when their masters first reduced and then eliminated their daily garlic ration. Once garlic was reinstated, construction on the pyramids resumed.
Garlic remains popular in Egyptian cuisine and its national dish, Ful Medames, is a garlicky fava bean paste that’s usually eaten for breakfast. Ful Medames, once considered peasant food, is very filling and thus popular as a pre-fast meal during Ramadan. The dish is also popular in Syria and Lebanon. The Syrians make it the same way the Egyptians do; the Lebanese add their beloved chickpeas. The following recipe comes from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.
2 cups small Egyptian fava beans (soaked overnight and left unpeeled)
1/3 c. chopped flat-leaf parsley
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 lemons, quartered
Salt and pepper
4—6 cloves garlic, crushed
As the cooking time varies depending on the quality and age of the beans, it is good to cook them in advance and to reheat them when you are ready to serve. Cook the drained beans in a fresh portion of unsalted water in a large saucepan with the lid on until tender, adding water to keep them covered, and salt when the beans have softened. They take 2-2 1/2 hours of gentle simmering. When the beans are soft, let the liquid reduce. It is usual to take out a ladle or two of the beans and to mash them with some of the cooking liquid, then stir this back into the beans. This is to thicken the sauce.
Serve the beans in soup bowls sprinkled with chopped parsley and accompanied by Arab bread.
Pass round the dressing ingredients for everyone to help themselves: a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, the quartered lemons, salt and pepper, a little saucer with the crushed garlic, one with chili-pepper flakes, and one with ground cumin.
The beans are eaten gently crushed with the fork, so that they absorb the dressing.