Sudanese Shahan ful (fava beans), avocado toast, 'moonblush' tomatoes, Sudanese cinnamon tea
Saturday, 18 Mar 2017

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I must confess I’ve never had Sudanese food before. Apparently there’s one restaurant in London, Khartoum. It’s in Kensal Green, ie. far away from my hood.

Like, I almost never go to Kensal Green. I hear Paradise By Way of Kensal Green is good, but I feel no pressing desire to trek out to West London. And I’m not even sure Khartoum-the-restaurant still exists.

So I set out to cook some Sudanese food blind, so to speak. The recipes I found online were a bit heavy on the peanut-based stews and lamb - it’s just that I’m not a huge fan of lamb, and I already have a favourite peanut sauce, sambal pecel. When I discovered that ful (fava beans) is pretty much a national dish of Sudan, I knew this was the Sudanese dish for me.

I absolutely love ful. I know I’ve done a post on the Singapore/Malaysian version before, but that veers from the forms popular in the Middle East and Africa, the ful motherland, and a more historical version warrants cooking.

The fava bean, that humble and overlooked pulse, is a significant food in human history. Fava beans were quite possibly the first farmed crop, conferred with magical properties and offered to the gods. Bean specimens have been found as early as the 10th millennium b.p. (and it’s seasonally appropriate: in Italy fava beans were traditionally placed on altars to mark St Joseph’s Day, March 19). In its full (sorry) expression of mashed beans, it’s an ancient dish reportedly dating from Pharoanic Egypt and is mentioned in the Talmud (quote: The fava bean porridge of the donation and the garlic and oil of daily life - Mishna Tvul Yom 2, 3).

Ful: endorsed by the Biblical and Egyptian gods.

While browsing the internet for Sudanese recipes, I came across this method of frying garlic in oil then adding it to the cooked dish, called gadha in Sudan and quite like tempering spices in Indian cooking. I took that, and the religious text above (which I’ve probably taken completely out of context), to make something quite like a fava bean porridge, with garlic fried separately in oil mixed through at the end. This garlic-oil-frying does necessitate the use of a separate pan, but I promise you it truly makes the beans fragrant with garlic and isn’t pointless chef faff.

Sudanese ful is traditionally eaten with Pita bread and onions and tomatoes. At the moment I still have part of a storebought prepackaged loaf (Weight Watchers malted Danish), so I dispensed with the pita, and ran with the whole breakfast beans theme. I toasted some bread and mashed some avocado with salt, lime juice and Aleppo chilli for avo toast and, although it may seem discordant with the rest of the meal, made some moonblush tomatoes (as Nigella Lawson calls them).

Though you can quite easily buy ‘sunblushed’ tomatoes in a tub, they’re straightforward to make and an excellent way to use up any cherry tomatoes you might have in the fridge. I used za’atar instead of dried thyme which kind of fits the whole theme, and they’re rather lovely this way. You can of c ourse use any kind of herb/spice combination.

They keep in a container in the fridge for a couple of days. You can have them with pasta and salads, but I quite like them as a little snack, just as they are. There’s olive oil so it isn’t fat free, but that’s entirely justified as lycopenes are better absorbed when doused in oil and blasted with heat, just as these little tomatoes are.

The final (but obligatory) part of a breakfast-type meal, even at dinnertime, is a cup of tea or coffee. The Middle-East/Africa region does particularly good flavoured coffees and teas, and Sudan has a very lovely cinnamon tea. Unlike su jeong gwa, the Korean cinnamon punch, this actually involves black tea (and thus, caffeine) but is equally sweet and cinnamony.

As always, my #NoMuslimBan post ends with links to food-related or women’s lifestyle blogs and instagram. My intention is to counter the popular image in the West of a horde of great unwashed coming out of the desert of the Muslimban nations, or of suffering children in rubble. These are the images I see reinforced every time I glance at a newspaper rack in a supermarket, and of course we need to understand that there is war and suffering (which is precisely why there are refugees) - but I feel images of nonwhite people from certain parts of the world as regular and equal human beings and not as alternately aggressors or victims, as normal people doing normal things like eating, cooking and taking selfies, is sadly lacking.

Sudanese food blogs:
Sudanese Kitchen, who might have a cookbook out at some point.
Taste of South Sudan

Also:
Wholeheartedly Sudaniya
Memoirs of a Sudanese breath (poetry)

And:
Food52’s article: Why are there so few Sudanese cookbooks?

Sudanese Shahan ful/foul/fuul (fava beans)

Ingredients

Serves 3 (or very hungry 2)

  • 2 400g tins of peeled fava beans (eg. this)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp ground chilli
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 chopped tomato
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1/4 cup (olive) oil
  • 1 lime
Method

Open the tins and dump contents into a pot. Simmer on low heat.

Stir occasionally, squishing the beans as you go.

When it looks heated through, add the cumin, ground chilli, chopped onion and tomato.

Put a separate small pan or pot on. The garlic and olive oil goes in, and cooks on low. Move the garlic bits around occasionally so they don't burn.