It’s so easy to just bop down to the corner falafel stand and pick up a pita full of the Middle Easts’ favorite fast food. But get to know – and make, another meal, the kind you have to sit down for.
Dark, meaty fava beans set down in a nest of yellow choumous and a beige ring of tehinah, topped with a brown hamine (long-cooked) egg. Parsley, to offset the earthy flavors. Lemon juice, to balance the dish with a little acidity, and a generous drizzle of good olive oil. On the side, pickles for piquancy, and a little bowl of hot sauce. Onion, just because. Some preserved lemon quarters. And fresh pitas. Nutritious, cheap, comforting. Satisfying in every sense. It’s ful and choumous: the Middle Eastern workingman’s lunch.
The ingredients are always the same, but each cook makes them a little different. Some people like dark fava beans, using a traditional pot whose long neck allows slow evaporation of the cooking liquid. Some just boil up the quicker-cooking, lighter, haricot bean. Either way, ful and choumous is easy to make, but requires a number of steps. If you want to do this totally from scratch, you will need to prepare three ingredients the night before: beans soaking in one bowl, chickpeas in another, and a pot of gently-boiled eggs simmering on the stove.
Classic Ful and Choumous
This recipe serves 4-6.
500 grams/1 lb. of dried fava or haricot beans
water for cooking
5 cloves of garlic
a bay leaf
the juice of 2 lemon halves, and 1 more tablespoon
1 tsp. cumin
the brown, shiny peels from 2 large onions
2 cups of chickpeas, or 1 can
1 cup tehina, plus 3 more tablespoons
First: The Ful.
Pick over the beans.
Rinse them and put them to soak overnight in plenty of water. Next morning, drain the beans and put them up to cook in fresh water.
Add a fat clove of garlic, a bay leaf, and some olive oil to the water. Cook the beans till tender. Favas take 1-3 hours. If you choose white beans, they will cook in far less time – up to an hour.
When the beans are soft but not falling apart, crush 2 fresh cloves of garlic into a small bowl. Stir 1 tsp. each of salt and cumin in, and add this seasoned garlic to the bean pot. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir the beans up. Crush some of them with a potato masher or a fork, so that they’ll absorb the flavors of the seasoning. Let them cook another 5 minutes. Then either turn the flame off, or start serving.
Second: The Hamine Eggs.
You can just boil eggs as usual, or take this opportunity to do it the old-fashioned way. Make several, it’s not worth the trouble for only one or two.
Take 6 eggs and the peels from 2 large onions. Put it all in a pot.
Cover the eggs and peels in plenty of cold water; bring to a simmer.
Drizzle a layer of olive oil over the suface. This prevents the water from evaporating during the long cooking period. Simmer the eggs, covered, over the very lowest flame you can achieve for 6 hours or overnight. They are delicate, creamy eggs, unlike any others.
Put 2 cups of dried chickpeas in a separate bowl. Cover them with plenty of water and let them soak overnight. As with the beans, drain them, and cook in fresh water till soft. It’s not a sin to open a can of chickpeas either. Although fresh-cooked always taste the best, canned chickpeas still make good choumous.
Do not add salt to either beans or chickpeas till they are completely cooked and easy to mash.
Put the cooked or canned chickpeas in a blender or food processor. To them, add
1 fat clove of garlic
3 Tblsp. of tehina
salt to taste
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 Tblsp. olive oil
Blend everything to a smooth paste, adding a little more olive oil if you like. We like our choumous with some texture in it, but if you like yours more mayonnaise-like, add more oil and a tablespoon of water, and keep blending till you like it. Once you’re satisfied, cover the choumous and set it aside while the beans finish cooking.
Put into a bowl:
1 cup raw tehina paste
3/4 – 1 cup water, depending on how thick or thin you like it
1 fat clove garlic, crushed
juice of 1/2 lemon
Blend all the ingredients, either by hand or in the blender. If you’re not used to the ways of tehina paste, don’t be alarmed that it initially becomes very thick when mixed with water. Keep mixing, it will smooth out amazingly.
Spoon a generous amount of choumous onto the plate. Take the spoon and spread it into a neat circle, thinner in the middle.
Spoon a ring of tehina on the inside of the choumous circle.
Put a pile of hot beans in the center of the plate. Top the beans with a little chopped onion, chopped parsley, and a peeled, still-warm hamine egg. Squeeze lemon juice over the whole; drizzle olive oil over it. If you’re fond of hot sauce, drizzle a few drops of it over the dish too.
Put some small plates or bowls with pickles, olives, sliced onions, or pickled lemons in them.
Now tear a chunk off your pita and use it to scoop up some of everything. Savor every mouthful, it’s the real McCoy.