Egyptian Brown Beans

by Sarah on April 26, 2009

This is my very first restaurant review but I will not write about Mul Yam, where I saw Shimon Peres leaving with his bodyguards or Turkiz which is frequented with Israeli TV personalities (Asi Dayan, actor) but a little worker’s diner in Ness Ziona.
Etzel Yohanan (Yohanan’s) is a Yemenite restaurant situated between a large garage, a parking lot and rundown stores but despite its unglamorous location Yohanan’s is a popular place. You probably won’t find Shimon Perez there but it has a respectable history of clients as seen from the pictures and newspaper articles decorating the wall. The owner of the restaurant, Yohanan, is always out in front, reading the daily paper or eating with one of his clients. He says hello to everyone who walks in, and everybody walks in, young college students, local workers, couples and families. It is a no nonsense place, with reasonable prices, quick service and homey atmosphere.

We often go there Friday afternoon for lunch when I have to cook for the evening and don’t want the added hassle of cooking and cleaning for lunch as well. We order the usual, tomato and cucumber salad, hummus ful, leg soup with fenugreek sauce, rice, meatballs, falafel and Yemenite bread. It is not gourmet, but perfect for a quick and healthy sit down meal.
Hummus ful is chickpea spread with mashed Egyptian brown beans on top. It is originally an Egyptian dish but the Yemenites have adopted it as their own. It is traditionally flavored with lemon garlic sauce, chopped chilies and hard boiled eggs and perfect for scooping up with pita or Yemenite bread (Saloof). The leg soup is served with hilbeh sauce (fenugreek) which is ground fenugreek seeds which has been whipped with water to an airy and viscous consistency (a texture which I need to get used to).

Unlike other restaurant owners Yohanan is a down to earth likable fellow who is generous with his cooking tips. This is saying alot in the restaurant business where all the pretentious chefs are hoarding their proprietary secret recipes. He isn’t like that at all, on the contrary, he has helped me with my Egyptian brown beans which never softened (I didn’t cook them enough) as well as giving me advice on how to make Yemenite bread. When he does this, he is serious and focused because he is a professional and Yemenite food is his specialty.

Ful Madames
2 cups Egyptian brown beans (not the large fava beans, or broad beans)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (if the water source is hard)*
2 tablespoons of red lentils
1 green chili pepper, finely chopped
Juice of one lemon
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, mashed
3-4 hard boiled eggs

Soak the beans in water overnight, completely submerging them (about three times the volume of beans). Add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda in the water if the water source is hard. The following day drain the beans and place them in a pot, covering them with water. Add two tablespoons of red lentils and bring to a boil. Cover and cook on the lowest heat for 6-12 hours or until the beans and skin are soft. Set aside a handful of beans for garnish. Once you have softened beans, mash them with a fork or food processor for a smoother consistency. Add salt.
Garlic sauce:
Combine lemon juice, mashed garlic and season with salt.
Spread mashed brown beans in a shallow bowl with the back of a table spoon, add some of the garlic sauce, finely chopped green pepper, and halved hardboiled eggs on top. Add some olive oil, whole beans and a pinch of cumin. It can be served above hummus (chickpea spread). Eat by scooping up with pita bread.

Clifford Wright’s recipe calls for peeling each bean after boiling them. I don’t do this and it is not the way Yohanan prepares his beans. The peels take a long time to soften, and if they are removed it might be easier to digest but it would affect the consistency of the final product. He also says not to peek into the pot while the beans are cooking because this will discolor them. I read this in a Egyptian Cookbook as well but I have to admit that I do take a look at the beans before they are done.
*Note that too much baking powder degrades some of the vitamins in the beans as well as adding a unpleasant soapy flavor.
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