For a food to become a national dish of a country, it has to represent that country in a way to make that food unique, usually by being popular or native to the country. Quite possibly, in the case of Egypt, a food may be a national dish simply because of its taste!
Okay, so that may not be the only reason, but the national dish of Egypt, Ful Medames, easily lives up to its reputation. What is it that makes this dish so special? The fava bean! While it may not be the most popular pea in the pod, what it lacks in appearance it definitely makes up in taste. After all, Ful Medames wouldn’t be Ful Medames without them!
You may be surprised to know that the fava bean dates back to around 6500 BCE where they are believed to have originated in the Eastern Mediterranean. They resemble lima beans except they are larger and, when dried, are brown or tan in color.
In the Middle East, the fava bean is considered seasonal, but they are enjoyed all year round in dried form. Though a staple for a dish like Ful Medames, the fava beans can also be eaten in their raw, shelled state.
With its creamy, buttery taste, the fava bean is known to be a quite filling food. Many people of Middle Eastern descent eat Ful Medames during Ramadan as an early breakfast meal before fasting. Fava beans may also be used in falafel, but they are not quite as popular in that dish as its cousin, the chickpea. Fava beans are also used in some stews and can be made into a fava bean sauce that goes perfect over pasta.
Another great reason to enjoy fava beans are for their nutritional content! They are low in fat and calories and high in protein and fiber. Unfortunately, they are not so easy to find as more popular beans are. There are some retailers online that will sell them, and you can find them fresh, frozen, canned or dried. By all means though, check your local supermarket or Middle Eastern store. They are worth the search!
One important tidbit about fava beans is that they can be harmful to some people. A condition known as favism has been recognized in some people in the Middle East who develop adverse reactions to eating the beans or inhaling their pollen. Anemia can develop as the main reaction to eating fava beans by those who have enzyme deficiencies of the blood. Favism, though, is a rare disorder, affecting an estimated 1 out of 2000 people. It is thought that some people of the Middle East lack a specific enzyme in the blood that would prevent them from developing favism.
However you eat them, fava beans can add that special something to whatever you choose to use them in. From sauces to stews, to full on Ful Medames, you can’t go wrong with the fava!