Recently I attended a two day workshop at Stanford University on “Language, Literacy and The Social Construction of Authority in Islamic Societies”. I must admit, I was a bit intimidated. This was to be a group of highly educated academics, experts in their fields, and I’d be like the new kid at school. My wise eight and 11-year old daughters told me not to worry, that I should just make friends. So I did.
I introduced myself to the first person I sat next to, who turned out to be a delightful professor from Algeria. I was one of only four civilians, what I called us non academics, in a roomful of men and women who had flown from all over the world to present at this workshop. I assumed they’d all be knowledgeable and worldly with a deep understanding of the Muslim world.
But following a few conversations at lunchtime, it became clear to me that a Ph.D. doesn’t buy wisdom or worldliness. At my table were two Egyptians, two Iranians, and my Algerian friend. When it came time for me to introduce myself, they were baffled to learn that I am Afghan. The Algerian exclaimed, “I would have never thought that an Afghan woman would look like YOU! I thought they all wore the burka and were uneducated.”
The Egyptian women asked if I got pinched and grabbed by men when I travelled in Afghanistan, apparently a big problem in Egypt. When I told her no, she wouldn’t believe me, and was convinced that all Muslim men are barbaric and evil. The conversation turned to the subject of the cover of Time magazine that featured a photo of an Afghan girl with her nose cut off at the hands of her husband and her father.
The conversation bounced around, at times growing contentious, until we finally landed on the subject of food. That is when we all found something we could agree upon: That the cuisine of our home countries is superior. The Algerian spoke of couscous and tagine and was thrilled that I knew what they were. The Egyptians praised their national dish: ful medamas (slow cooked fava beans and served with olive oil, parsley, garlic, cumin and lemon juice). I told them about Afghanistan’s national dish, qabili palau.
After lunch I realized that like all these professors who were “experts” in their subjects, I too am an expert. My role is to bring better understanding of Afghanistan and the Afghan people to my community and the people I meet. There is much teaching to be done.
In celebration of the brave people of Egypt and my friend’s enthusiasm about ful medamas I am sharing a recipe I found on epicurious.com. When I made the dish I had some trouble finding Egyptian black fava beans so I used dried, peeled fava beans. I added the salt, garlic and olive oil to the beans for the last hour of cooking before they were fully done. I must admit, when I tried the beans without these ingredients it was horrible, so I added allot of salt. Since I have not had a traditional version of the dish, I decided to share the original recipe with you rather than my modified version. I have to say, my favorite way of eating ful medamas is the Syrian style, with lots of you guessed it, yogurt.
Ful Medames (Egyptian Brown Fava Beans)
Epicurious, April 2009 by Claudia Roden
2 cups dried, small Egyptian fava beans ( ful medames), soaked overnight (and left unpeeled)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 lemons, quartered
4 to 6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
Red chili flakes
Drain the soaked beans and put in a large saucepan with a fitted lid. Cover with water by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover with the lid and cook until tender, checking from time to time to be sure there is enough water. When the beans are soft, add salt to taste, remove the lid and continue to cook so that the liquid reduces. It is common to scoop up a ladle or two of the beans, mash them with some of the cooking liquid, and then stir this back into the beans. This is to thicken the sauce.
Serve the beans in soup bowls sprinkled with chopped parsley and accompanied by Arab bread.
Pass around the dressing ingredients for everyone to help themselves: a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, the quartered lemons, salt and pepper, a little saucer with the crushed garlic, one with chili-pepper flakes, and one with ground cumin. The beans are eaten gently crushed with the fork, so that they absorb the dressing.
A traditional way of thickening the sauce is to throw a handful of red lentils (1/4 cup) into the water at the start of the cooking.
In Iraq, large brown beans are used instead of the small Egyptian ones, in a dish called badkila, which is also sold for breakfast in the street.
Optional Garnishes: Peel hard-boiled eggs—1 per person—to cut up in the bowl with the beans.
Top the beans with a chopped cucumber and- tomato salad and thinly sliced mild onions or scallions. Otherwise, pass round a good bunch of scallions and quartered tomatoes and cucumbers cut into sticks.
Serve with tahina cream sauce or salad, with pickles and sliced onions soaked in vinegar for 30 minutes.
Another way of serving ful medames is smothered in a garlicky tomato sauce.
In Syria and Lebanon, they eat ful medames with yogurt or feta cheese, olives, and small cucumbers.
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