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 ingredients that existed in ancient Israel: the grains, meats, vegetables, fruits and spices that were consumed at the time the Torah was written. This period in history has always fascinated me, especially the food—what was eaten, how it was prepared and the ways it was served. I’m particularly interested in the many ways we can benefit from that culinary knowledge today in our modern kitchens.
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
In Israel, I visited two unique locations that offer a rare glimpse at ancient Biblical life: Nazareth Village and Neot Kedumim Biblical Landcape Reserve. Both of these places offer a unique opportunity to experience what life was like for the ancient Israelites.
In this blog, I’m going to focus on my experience at Neot Kedumim, where I met with Biblical food expert Dr. Tova Dickstein. Tova is known worldwide as an expert on ancient foods. She has been interviewed by National Geographic and the History Channel; she has also appeared on the Naked Archaeologist. Tova generously shared with me her extensive knowledge of Biblical foods.
Interviewing Dr. Tova Dickstein at Neot Kedumim
Tova also 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 what life was like in Biblical times, I really recommend that you check this place out. 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, as well as 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.
Dry 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 actually 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 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 more easily fast during the daylight hours. Israeli Jews enjoy their own version of this healthy and nourishing dish; it is often served on top of chickpea hummus in a dish called “Hummus Ful.”
Ful Mudammas is served in many different ways throughout the Middle East. Some countries serve it with hard-boiled egg, others like it with chopped fresh tomatoes. Some people like to serve it mashed, others leave the beans whole. The base of the dish remains the same everywhere: fava beans, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. The lemon juice is a more modern development in the preparation of fava beans. 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.
Different varieties of fava beans
The easiest and tastiest way I’ve found to make ful mudammas is with canned fava beans. The dried beans take a long time to soak, and even after a long, slow period of cooking, they never turn out quite as tender as the canned beans. I really like the new organic canned variety canned by Westbrae Naturals. Sadaf also offers a nice canned fava bean under the label “Foul Mudammas.” Fresh fava beans should not be used in this dish.
Ful Muddamas is traditionally served for breakfast or lunch with fresh warm pita bread. The bread is used to scoop up the fava beans. Personally I find the dish quite filling without the bread, so those of you who are gluten-free can readily enjoy this recipe too.
1 can (16 oz.) cooked fava beans
Extra virgin olive oil
½ onion, diced
2 roasted garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin
½ cup water
Salt and black pepper to taste
Juice from 2 fresh lemons
All of these garnishes are optional, and can be served on top of the ful mudammas to enhance the flavor. I usually garnish with hard boiled egg, cilantro, and paprika. Feel free to choose the garnishes that sound most appetizing to you!
1 hard boiled egg, sliced
1 ripe red tomato, diced
1 raw onion, sliced into rings
2 tbsp fresh minced parsley or cilantro
Red chili pepper flakes
Kosher Key: Pareve
Prep the canned fava beans by pouring 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 turns golden brown. Add roasted garlic and cumin, sauté for 1 minute. 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 and the liquid has reduced by about 75 percent. Uncover the skillet and 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 muddamas. Drizzle olive oil lightly inside the basin, then garnish with the ingredients of your choice.