Thursday, 16 May 2013

Special Salad (Ful Mesdames)

My grandfather was born and grew up in Alexandria, a thriving city on the north coast of Egypt, but as part of his work or military service he was sent south to the area around Cairo. I never remember what his work there consisted of for the climax of the story was never that so much as the journey north again as he and his colleagues headed back to Alexandria.
It was a journey made by train with one necessary pit stop. Near to one of the stops there was an eatery and it was here that the young men would jump off the train and fill themselves with a huge helping of Ful Mesdames before racing back in time to catch the next train.

Ful Mesdames is an easy dish, and one that I know Granddad has made for the family on several occasions, but I think its appearance as just a bowl of beans did nothing to tempt me to try it.  It was only whilst living in London that I learn to fully appreciate its simplicity and its well rounded textures and flavours.
It comes in three economic variations. The lowest (if I remember correctly) is just the beans, the second, served with a hardboiled egg and a little salad, the third with a sunny-side-up egg and a more varied salad.

Ful refers to Fava Beans which is the correct ingredient to use. I can't stand their texture so instead I use a can of lentils or black eyed beans. Use what you like, but chickpeas don't work. These are drained and dumped into a hot saucepan already containing a good slug of oil and one (or two) cloves of garlic, finely chopped. Before they cook too much add about two teaspoons of cumin (I keep adding until it smells and tastes about right) and a squeeze of lemon juice (I love the flavours to be intense and I use the juice of half a lemon). Cook until the beans soften and heat and the flavours are incorporated.

If you have enough liquid in the beans crack two eggs onto the beans and cook it until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Otherwise, fry the eggs.

When the beans are cooked divide them between two bowls. Top each one with an egg.
Cover the eggs and beans with a generous portion of salad and serve. The salad consists of shredded iceberg lettuce or baby spinach, finely diced tomato and finely diced or crumbled salty fetta (Danish or Persian fetta seems to provide the best contrast of flavours).

Eat with a spoon and remember to pierce the egg yolk so it mixes with the cooked beans.

And once you've got this down pat, what's to stop you adding your own ingredients and just running with it? That's how it came to be referred to as 'Special Salad' by one friend.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! My workmates know it as Fancy Salad.

    I add onions to the beans.

    I also add cucumber to the salad and tuna as well.

    I poach the egg in the microwave.

    I love fancy salad!


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