In The Night Counter, Laila goes to the Arabic grocery in Detroit and decides for the first time in her marriage not to buy the ingredients to make her Egyptian husband foul.
Whether you write it out from Arabic as “foul” or “fool,” I’ll grant you that it doesn’t sound very appetizing in English. But foul medamos is actually a staple of much of the Middle East, particularly Egypt, and an appreciated breakfast or late night dinner served up with hot pita. Also know as “people’s food” because of its affordability, foul can be made so many different ways. The only absolutely necessary ingredient that Laila or anyone else making foul would definitely need is the foul itself, which is dried fava beans that have been boiled until soft. (Fava beans are also a key ingredient of another “people’s food”: falafel)
Many shops in the Middle East ladle up the steaming hot beans in a bowl and let you decide how to dress them—lemon juice and olive oil are a given, as is garlic usually. But from there, you can go a lot of different ways—some like to mix it up with green chilis, others like to stir in chickpeas, still others prefer a swirl of tahini or to scoop it up with raw onions, some like it warm, some like it hot. Here’s the way I imagine Laila would make it.
1 16-oz can fava beans, drained and rinsed
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
1 small green bell pepper, finely diced
1 bunch of green onions, sliced
1 Persian-style cucumber, seeded and diced (optional)
¼ c. of chopped flat leaf parsley
Juice of two lemons
6 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed.
1t ground cumin
¼ t. red pepper –or to taste
Salt to taste
Wisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, cumin, red pepper and salt into a dressing. Add the fava beans, peppers, onions, and cucumber. Mix together gently so that the beans don’t fall apart. Add in the parsley. Serve at room temperature or chilled, but allow at least half an hour for flavors to mix.
I marked the cucumber as optional, but really it’s all optional. In fact, I think I’ve been known to make the same thing but using black beans and corn instead of the fava beans and calling it a Mexican salad. Of course, that brings me to my theory of the continents being connected once via the similarity in recipes that seem to be so dominant in both Egypt and Mexico. Of course, war, occupation and conquistadors could also explain that away. But I digress.