"It feels like everyone in my family is in the food world in some way," chef Tom Sarafian tells SBS Food.
His father is a chef, his grandfather and great-grandfather were too, and his mother is a horticulturist and gardener. "We always had beautiful fresh vegetables and herbs growing in the garden. My dad was my first teacher. He taught me how to use a knife, how to cook," says Sarafian, formerly the head chef of the Bar Saracen. Since the closure of Bar Saracen, Sarafian has collaborated with several local chefs, and has launched a line of food products under the Sarafian label with his incredibly smooth hummus now on the shelves.
The paternal side of his family is from Armenia via Egypt. "Every time we'd go to my grandparents' house, they'd put on this big, beautiful spread of Armenian and Egyptian food, which was very exotic as a kid and very exciting to eat," he recalls. Think elaborate lunches where the food keeps coming: pickled vegetables and all sorts of mezze, bread, hummus and barbecued fish.
When Sarafian visits his grandma Dika, an avid home cook who still lives in Egypt, he asks for one specific dish: ful medames.
The hearty fava bean stew, often simply referred to as "ful", is a staple in Egypt and popular across the Arab world. "It's my favourite thing my grandma makes. It's quite accessible and versatile. You can eat it on its own or you can team it up with a protein like barbecued fish or chicken. It's quite healthy and nutritious. You can have it for breakfast with an egg on top," says Sarafian.
"Hers is quite different than Syrian or Lebanese versions which are quite rich and heavy. Her version is light, with lots of fresh ingredients, almost like a warm bean salad."
She puts toppings on the side so that you can tailor the dish to your liking. You can choose from fresh and pickled cucumber, cherry tomatoes, tarator, chilli, parsley, coriander, olive oil lemon and boiled egg.
The recipe has been passed down from her father, who used to own a restaurant in Alexandria in the north of Egypt. Every day, before the restaurant opened for dinner, he would run a takeaway cafeteria at the front where he'd sell falafel and ful medames.
"It's my favourite thing my grandma makes."
After making the dish for staff at Bar Saracen, Sarafian always wanted to include it on one of his menus.
"You have to learn how to make the original first, how it's been made for however many years until you can make it as good as my grandma can make it or a restaurant in Egypt or Lebanon. I don't like the terms 'modernising' or 'elevating' cuisine, it's not my style. But I like to put a twist on something using ingredients that are fresh and local," he explains.
That's how he came to use fresh Victorian broad beans rather than the traditional dried fava beans.
Sarafian throws fresh broad beans from Day's Walk Farm and Somerset Heritage Produce into a pressure cooker with oil, cumin and salt. Once they're soft, he smashes them with the back of a spoon and mixes them with a salad made with fresh and pickled cucumber, cherry tomatoes, spring onion, parsley, coriander and chopped soft boiled egg. He also mixes in tarator, a Lebanese sauce he makes with tahini, orange juice, lemon juice and toum. Then he serves his ful with a fatty piece of Murray cod grilled over charcoal.
This revisited version of the family recipe even got his grandmother's seal of approval: "It was a bit daunting, but she loved it," he says.
Broad bean ful medames
This recipe is inspired by Sarafian's grandma Dika. It is his favourite dish that she cooks for him when he visits her. Sarafian shares his recipe with us, which can also be made with dried broad beans if you are unable to source them fresh.
- 1 kg broad beans
- 1 brown onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 300 ml olive oil
- 500 ml water
- Place a medium-sized pot full of water on high heat and bring to boil. Pod broad beans then blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes.
- Drain and set aside.
- In the same pot, place sliced onion and olive oil. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally.
- In a small pan, toast cumin seeds over medium heat for 3 minutes.
- Add cumin to mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt and grind to a coarse powder. Add garlic and continue to pound until you have a paste.
- Add the garlic and cumin to onions and cook for 3 minutes or until fragrant.
- Add broad beans and water, (the water should just cover beans, add more if necessary).
- Bring to a gentle simmer then turn to the lowest heat possible, place a lid on the pot, and cook for 1 hour or until skins are very soft and tender.
- Turn off and set aside to cool to room temperature.
- 375 g tahini
- 125 ml orange juice
- 110 ml lemon juice
- 1 tbsp water
- Pinch salt
- Place all ingredients in a bowl for tarator and whisk till smooth. The consistency should be similar to pour big cream, if too thick whisk in another tablespoon of water.
- Set aside at room temperature.
- ½ bunch spring onions
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 2 green chilli
- 1 Lebanese cucumber
- ¼ cup pickled Iranian cucumbers
- 4 eggs
- ½ bunch coriander, chopped
- ½ bunch parsley, chopped
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Bring a small pot of water to boil over high heat.
- Add eggs, turn heat to medium, and cook for 7 minutes.
- Drain and run cold water over eggs to stop cooking. Set aside.
- Slice tomatoes, spring onions, fresh and pickled cucumbers into approximately 1 cm rings, place in a large mixing bowl.
- Thinly slice green chilli and add to bowl.
- Roughly chop herbs and add to the bowl along with a teaspoon of salt and lemon juice.
- Black pepper
- Smoked paprika
- Cayenne pepper
- Olive oil
- When ready to serve, bring the ful to a boil, then with the back of a large spoon gently mash the beans against the side of the pot. The trick is to smash about half of the beans then leave the other half whole.
- Remove from heat, add ⅓ cup of tarator and mix well, the ful will emulsify and become very creamy. If too thick add a splash of water.
- Combine the salad ingredients and mix well.
- Divide into 4 serving bowls or plates and top with egg.
- Serve the remaining tarator on the side, along with the paprika, cayenne, black pepper and olive oil. Adjust the seasoning to your liking and enjoy.
Note: Iranian pickled cucumbers can be found at Persian grocery stores, small baby pickled cucumbers may be substituted.