The fava bean porridge of the donation
and the garlic and oil of daily life…
- Mishna Tvul Yom 2, 3
I’ve always been curious about the recipes and ingredients of ancient Israel: the grains, meats, vegetables, fruits and spices that were consumed in Biblical times. This period in history has always fascinated me, especially the food—what was eaten, how it was prepared and the ways it was served. Finding out how people lived thousands of years ago is like putting together a complicated puzzle with lots of missing pieces. We rely on the research of archaeologists, historians, and the surviving texts from this period—namely the Talmud, Roman writings, and of course the Bible. Here, we read the Bible as a history book, gleaning clues from both the Torah and the New Testament to determine the important role food played in Biblical times.
At Nazareth Village studying Biblical cuisine
I recently visited two places in Israel that offer a rare glimpse at ancient Biblical life: Nazareth Village and Neot Kedumim Biblical Landcape Reserve. Both of these locations offer a unique opportunity to experience what life was like for the ancient Israelites. At Neot Kedumim I met with Dr. Tova Dickstein, who is known worldwide as an expert on ancient and Biblical foods. She’s been interviewed by National Geographic and the History Channel, as well as the Naked Archaeologist. Tova generously shared her extensive knowledge of Biblical foods with me, which made for a fascinating afternoon.
Interviewing Dr. Tova Dickstein at Neot Kedumim
Tova gave me an educational tour of Neot Kedumim. The reserve stands above a valley where archaeologists have unearthed one of the oldest known agricultural communities. Neot Kedumim was established in the 1960’s by Noga Hareuven, a well-known biblical botanist. He wanted to create an educational park where the landscape would reflect the physical setting of the Bible. The plants, trees and crops that grow there reflect the flora of ancient Israel. After the park was established, archaeologists discovered some incredible things at Neot Kedumim, including ancient wine and olive oil presses. The park also contains reconstructed wheat threshing floors, water cisterns, and ritual baths.
Reconstructed ancient olive press at Neot Kedumim
If you’re planning a trip to Israel and you have an interest in Biblical history, I recommend a visit to Neot Kedumim. Here is a link to their website if you want to learn more:
At one point during our interview, I asked Tova what the main protein source was for the Ancient Israelites. She explained to me that meat was rarely consumed because it was very expensive; in fact, it was considered a “luxury.” Our Biblical ancestors ate a largely vegetarian diet that relied heavily on grains, Mediterranean vegetables, fruits, and legumes. One of most popular legumes in the Biblical diet was the “broad bean,” or what we refer to today as the fava bean.
Dried Fava Beans
Fava beans are one of the oldest domesticated food legumes. References to fava beans occur in both the Talmud and the Mishna, indicating they have been part of the Middle Eastern diet since at least since the 4th century. During our interview, Tova told me that fava beans were likely one of the main protein sources for the ancient Israelites. In fact, the ancient method for cooking fava beans is discussed in the Talmud. The beans were immersed in a pot of water, sealed, then buried beneath hot coals so they could slowly cook.
Ful mudammas (pronounced fool mu-dah-mahs), a popular Middle Eastern dish made from fava beans, bears a striking similarity to this ancient method of cooking. Sometimes spelled foul mudammas and often referred to as simply “ful,” this dish is served throughout the Middle East. Ful is known for making you feel full and satisfied due to its high fiber content. In Muslim countries ful is often eaten during Ramadan for breakfast so people can fast more easily during the daylight hours. It is sometimes served on top of chickpea hummus in a dish called “hummus ful.”
Ful mudammas is served in different ways throughout the Middle East; it is particularly popular in Egypt and Lebanon. Some countries top it with hard-boiled egg, others like it with chopped fresh tomatoes. Some serve it mashed, others leave the beans whole. The base of the dish tends to be the same everywhere, including fava beans, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Lemon wasn’t cultivated in Israel at the time of the Torah, though there was a similar citrus fruit called a “citron” that was sometimes used in cooking. That said, lemon juice is very much an ingredient in ful mudammas. If you would like to keep it strictly Biblical-style, cut the lemon. The rest of the ingredients were available and common to the ancient Israelites.
Ful muddamas is traditionally served for breakfast or lunch, sometimes together with hummus, alongside fresh warm pita bread. The bread is used to scoop up the fava beans. Personally I find this dish quite filling without the bread, so those of you who are gluten-free can readily enjoy this recipe too. I usually use roasted garlic in my ful, which is easier to digest than raw. Either can be used; raw garlic will have a stronger flavor in the finished dish.
Food Photography and Styling by Kelly Jaggers
- 2 cups (16 oz.) cooked or canned fava beans
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 onion, minced
- 2 raw or roasted garlic cloves (to learn to roast garlic, click here)
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 cup water
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Juice from 2 fresh lemons (or more to taste)
- Sliced hard boiled egg
- Diced ripe red tomato
- Raw onion sliced into rings
- Fresh minced parsley or cilantro
- Red chili pepper flakes
- Tahini sauce
- If using dried beans, soak them overnight, then cover with water and simmer till tender. Drain and set aside. If using canned fava beans, pour them into a colander to drain. Rinse the beans in cold water. Set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Fry the diced onion till it becomes translucent and golden. Add roasted garlic and cumin, sauté for 1 minute till fragrant. Add the fava beans to the pan, then add about ½ cup of water to the skillet. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, season with salt and pepper to taste (I usually add about ½ tsp salt and a dash of pepper). Cover the skillet.
- Let mixture simmer for about 10 minutes on medium low heat until the beans are nice and tender. Remove lid from pot and continue to cook until the liquid has reduced by about 75 percent. Remove from heat.
- Pour the fava bean mixture into a mixing bowl. Squeeze in the fresh lemon juice. Mash the mixture to a semi-smooth consistency; it should be a little more chunky than hummus. For a mashing tool, I like to use my spice pestle. You can also use a potato masher or the back of a large metal spoon.
- Serve each portion on a plate as you would hummus. Create a shallow basin in the center of the ful mudammas. Drizzle olive oil lightly inside the basin, then garnish with the ingredients of your choice.