Versatile fababeans can create an entire feast

One hot summer day, my mother seemed frustrated as she asked my father what she should do because she had nothing to offer the guests they were expecting for the weekend.

My father suggested making a weekend of fresh fababeans.

Our garden that summer was overflowing with fababeans, young, green and tender. We had planted the dry brown seeds in the early spring along with other vegetables and herbs.

We were lucky this year because the fababeans seemed to have been untouched by insects and the garden was teeming with them. The young tender beans, sometimes pods and all, were our morning, noon and evening snacks. We referred to them as “foul,” the Arabic name for the fababean.

The family we had invited were, like us, immigrants from Syria, and there people thrived on fresh fababeans for their meals and snacks. Without doubt, the fababeans would make our guests feel at home.

No sooner had our guests arrived and we began snacking on the fresh green tender beans. By the time it was dinner, we sat down to Mother’s delicious green fababean salad, followed by a moist fababean stew. Even the rice she poured the stew over had fababeans in it. It was faba-day galore.

We planted fababeans every year and even with the wrath of the drought and dust storms in southwestern Saskatchewan in the 1930s, we would have a good crop. This is because of the garden Dad had dug, plowed and seeded and which we watered from our well. Fababeans, lentils, chickpeas and a number of root vegetables were our saviours during those harsh years. As far as we knew, our non-Syrian neighbours did not grow them, either because they were not part of their daily diet or because fababeans needed moist soil to grow. Of course, there were those of European origin who knew of the fababean, but where they came from, farmers used them as food for animals.

It was thanks to our garden, however, that when our fababeans ripened, my siblings and I would gorge ourselves for days on the tender pods. It was my mother, however, who would transform the faba into the delicious dishes that she was raised on in Syria.

The Mediterranean region has long been familiar with fababeans. The bean was very popular in Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs where every strata of society loved the taste of them. Until today, two of Egypt’s national dishes are fababean-based: foul mudammas (cooked fababeans with garlic, lemon and oil) and ta’miyya (falafel).

The cool climate of Europe was ideal for growing these beans. From Roman times to the “discovery” of the Americas, fababeans were the only edible beans known in pre-Columbus Europe.

After their introduction to the Western Hemisphere from Europe, fababeans thrived. Mexico and Brazil became the largest producers, their nutrient value, and high protein and carbohydrate content an ideal food for the peasants and labourers. Today, China, Ethiopia and Australia are the three leading producers of them.

In 1972, commercial production of fababeans began in Western Canada to be used as a substitute for soybeans for feeding livestock and as a rotational crop to maximize nutrients in the soil. Fababean acreage has increased in Ontario, in both the north and south.

But alas, both Canada and the United States grow fababeans primarily as animal feed and not for human consumption.

Yet, times are changing. With the ever-growing interest in plant-based proteins, fababeans are appearing on the horizon to fit the bill, especially for the health-conscious consumer.

Fababeans, also known as broad beans, horse beans, vicia, Windsor, and English dwarf, have been grown as well in western Asia and North Africa. There are several types of faba, the most common growing from two to four feet high and producing large, thick pods with flat angular seeds — the type we grew on our farm. The size of the seeds vary from the size of a pea to more than an inch long and half an inch wide.

Rather than harvesting the fababeans when they are green and tender, it is more common to harvest them when they are mature yet still green. These are the fababeans that are sold frozen or canned in the Mediterranean, Asia, large supermarkets and even some farmers markets.

However, in most cases, fababeans are sold after being dried on the plant before harvesting. They are brown and are sold just like chickpeas, lentils and peas, in bulk or packaged in plastic bags.

Fababeans are a healthy, nutritious food. They are low in calories —about 80 calories per cup cooked. They have no saturated fat and no cholesterol and are high in protein, iron, folate and fibre.

Many culinary experts believe that there are more dishes made from fababeans than any other type of bean. With its historical longevity, this may well be true. The fababean dishes I grew up on were many, all exuding a unique sweetish but earthy bean flavour.

With these few recipes, most of which our family enjoyed in our farm days, the uninitiated can sample delicious fababean dishes from the Middle East and North Africa.

Fababean Pottage – Foul Mudammas

Serves four.

The streets of the cities in the Nile Valley are lined in the early morning hours with vendors selling fūl mudammas from earthenware pots, the most common breakfast dish for about 90 percent of the people of Egypt.

  • 1 c. dried fababeans, soaked overnight and drained 250 mL
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil 60 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt 7 mL
  • 3/4 tsp. black pepper 3 mL
  • 3/4 tsp. ground coriander seeds 3 mL
  • 3/4 tsp. cumin 3 mL
  • 4 tbsp. lemon juice 60 mL
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, with shells removed
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped coriander leaves (cilantro) 30 mL

Place fababeans in a pot and cover with water to one inch (2.5 centimetres) above beans, then cover the pot and cook over medium heat until beans are very tender, adding more water if necessary.

Drain fababeans and place in a mixing bowl, then add two tablespoons of the olive oil, salt, pepper, coriander, cumin, lemon juice and garlic. Mix well until some of the fababeans break.

Transfer to four soup plates then place an egg in the centre of each plate. Sprinkle each plate with the remaining oil, then garnish with the coriander leaves and serve.

Fababeans with Rice – Foul Ma’a Rizz

Serves four to six.

  • 4 tbsp. butter 60 mL
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp. salt 10 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper 3 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice 1 mL
  • 2 c. fresh or frozen green fababeans 500 mL
  • 1 c. rice, rinsed 250 mL
  • 3 c. boiling water 750 mL
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh coriander leaves 30 mL

Melt the butter in a saucepan then add the onions, garlic, salt, pepper and allspice. Stir-fry over medium heat for 12 minutes.

Add fababeans, rice and water, stir, then bring to boil. Cover and cook for 15 minutes over medium-low heat stirring a number of times to ensure rice does not stick to bottom of saucepan, re-covering each time.

Turn off heat and allow to cook in own steam covered for 30 minutes.

Place on a serving platter, then sprinkle with the coriander and serve hot.

Fababean salad – Salatat Foul

Serves about four.

  • 1 lb. fresh or frozen shelled green fababeans, cooked and drained 0.45 kg
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped parsley 125 mL
  • 4 tbsp. finely chopped green onions 60 mL
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil 30 mL
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice 30 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 3 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper 3 mL

Thoroughly combine all ingredients, then place on a platter and serve.

fababean Soup – Shawrabat Foul

Serves six to eight.

The beans are easy to skin after they have been soaked.

  • 2 c. dried fababeans, covered with water and mixed with 1/2 tsp. (3mL) baking soda, soaked overnight, then rinsed 500 mL
  • 7 c. water 1,750 mL
  • 1 tsp. salt 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. black pepper 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. cumin 5 mL
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 c. olive oil 60 mL
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice 60 mL
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley or coriander leaves (cilantro) 30 mL

Drain the fababeans. Skin the beans and place in a saucepan. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for about one hour or until the fababeans are tender. Purée in a blender or food processor.

Return the purée to the saucepan and stir in the remaining ingredients except the parsley or coriander leaves. Bring to a boil and cook for five minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Serve in individual bowls garnished with the parsley or coriander leaves.

Egyptian Falafel – Ta’miya

Makes 40 to 50 patties.

Ta’miya, known as falafel worldwide, is Egypt’s version and one of the country’s national dishes.

  • 4 c. dried fababeans, soaked overnight and drained 1,000 mL
  • 3 large onions, chopped into large pieces
  • 1 head garlic, peeled
  • 1 bunch parsley, washed, stems removed
  • 2 small jalapeno peppers, seeds removed
  • 4 tsp. salt 20 mL
  • 2 tsp. cumin 10 mL
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander seeds 10 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. black pepper 7 mL
  • 1 tsp. baking soda 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. baking powder 5 mL
  • oil for deep-frying

Place fababeans, onions, garlic, parsley and hot peppers in a food processor, then process until fababeans are finely ground — to the consistency of smooth dough.

Add salt, cumin, coriander, pepper, baking soda and baking powder then process for a further minute. Remove from the processor and form into patties.

Heat the oil in a deep fryer or saucepan medium heat then deep-fry the patties, turning them over once or twice, until they turn golden brown and crisp on the outside. If patties break up while frying add a little flour to the bean mixture and thoroughly mix. Drain on paper towels.

Serve patties in sandwiches in half rounds of Arab bread, on a bed of tossed salad, or as an entrée with tossed salad.

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