Ful medames (pronounced fool mehdahmez) is one of my favorite foods. A big bowl of fava beans with lots of olive oil and garlic, it is eaten throughout the Middle East, mopping up with fresh pita. Filling, inexpensive, and nutritious. So imagine my joy a few years ago when I found out that one of our local Ethiopian restaurants (Cafe Selam, 2715 Cherry St., Seattle) was serving their national version of this dish, which is eaten for breakfast or an early lunch.
I set out to make my own ful because it is such a simple and tasty dish that it makes a great weeknight supper for our family. If you use canned favas (or cook them yourself in advance), you can have it on the table in 20 minutes.
The main differences between Ethiopian and other ful medames is that the beans are fully mashed, a little berbere is added to flavor the mix, and it is served with big rolls of white bread (not pita or injera). The rolls are crusty on the outside and fluffy and warm on the inside. You don't want a real artisan baguette here. Something with a softer texture that lets you soak up the sauce is ideal. This is the only utensil you will have – no forks, spoons or knives are ever used with Ethiopian food.
A lot of the love in this ful comes from the garnish of olive oil, green onions, feta cheese, diced tomato, jalapeno and hard boiled egg slices. You can customize each bite for a new experience.
Berbere is the best known spice mixture from Ethiopia. If you live in Seattle, it is readily available from any of the markets in the Central District, or you can find it on Amazon (Berbere 4.0 oz by Zamouri Spices). It typically contains chilis, ginger, cardamom, cloves, coriander, allspice, fenugreek, rue and ajwain, and is quite hot. In this dish, it provides just a subtle background flavor, but if you make other Ethiopian stews it can play a starring role.
The beans themselves are a type of fava, but they aren't the ones that look like giant lima beans. They are more round, like a chickpea but a lot darker. Any Middle Eastern or Ethiopian store will carry them, usually both canned and dry. Just ask for ful. The canned ones work just fine in this dish, just be sure to drain and rinse well before using.
Ethiopian Ful Medames
Vegetarian / vegan if you omit the feta & egg / gluten free if you choose a different bread
20 minutes if you have pre-cooked beans
- 4-6 big crusty rolls
- 1/4 cup olive oil + more for garnish
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 cup minced white onion
- 1 teaspoon berbere
- 6 cups cooked ful (round fava beans)
- 6 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
- 6 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
- 1/2 cup finely diced tomato
- 1 finely diced jalapeno
- 2 hardboiled eggs, cut into 1/8" slices
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- Put the rolls to lightly toast in your oven or toaster oven.
- Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, and fry the garlic and onion for 2 minutes. Add the berbere and cook for 1 more minute. Add the ful and 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer.
- Remove from the heat, mash the ful, adding water if needed to reach the texture of refried beans. Salt to taste. Return to the heat briefly.
- To serve, divide the mashed beans between four shallow bowls and garnish rather heavily with more olive oil, green onions, feta cheese, tomato and jalapeno. Top with the egg slices and sprinkle them with a little cumin powder. Serve immediately, with the rolls on the side.