Fatima Salem O'Connor was born in Cairo, married an American and settled in Washington. One of the first problems facing her was whether to combine her native cuisine with American dishes or abandon time-consuming Egyptian culinary traditions for American fare.
She has compromised. She cooks American dishes (including an outstanding cranberry sauce), yet she makes sure her three daughters Dena, 11; Randa, 8; and Tanya, 7, as well as her husband, are exposed to Egyptian foods.
At home in Cairo, O'Connor was not taught to cook. It was only in Washington that she began learning "by books and burning."
She does everything with extreme gusto, so reading cookbooks was not sufficient. To prepare Egyptian dishes she started an Arabic garden in her backyard on McKinley Street. A fig tree and grapevine were essential for starters. In addition to tomatoes, eggplants and zucchinis, she grows tiny thin cucumbers with light skin, Milookhiya (an exotic green herb with aspects of both spinach and okra) and Gargera (Egyptian watercress). Her herb garden includes coriander, mint, basil and rosemary.
Her culinary skills improved to the point where she became chairman of the Welcome to Washington International Club's International Cooking Committee Cookbook.
One of her favorite dishes, which she serves at least once a week, is Egypt's Fool. The basic ingredient is small, dried fava or broad beans with black eyes. Often called "the meat of the poor," they have been eaten in Egypt for the last 10,000 years and still remain the most popular mass food.
According to O'Connor, fool is to the Egyptians what chick peas or garbanzo beans are to other Middle Easterners. Instead of Falafel, deep-fried patties made from chick peas and spices, Egyptians eat tamiya, fava bean patties.
Egyptians, rich and poor, eat fool at almost every meal. For breakfast it is served cold with lemon juice, oil, green peppers and onions. This same basic salad, garnished with eggs, mint and perhaps olives can be served at noon or in the evening.
Before dawn during the month of Ramadan, fool is eaten plain with yogurt as a high-protein sustenance for the long days of fasting.
For Americans, fool prepared in a variety of ways makes an excellent vegetarian meal. High in protein and low in cost, it is easy to prepare and delicious. Before cooking, the beans must be picked over and cleaned very carefully. The secret to good fool is a lengthy simmering ove a very low heat, sometimes as long as eight hours. The beans then turn a purplish hue. After cooking a large quantity of fool, O'Connor freezes the beans for use later.
Once the beans are softened they can be used as a dip, in salads or in dishes with vegetables or meat.Tahina, sesame seed paste, is usually served as an accompanying sauce with pita (flat bread).
As a Mediterranean country, Egypt also prides itself on fine fish recipes. One of O'Connor's favorites follows. Try it with the fool dip or salad, rice and Tahina.
Fava Bean Salad (6 to 8 servings) 2 cups uncooked "fool" (small fava beans), or 2 cans (20-ounce size) small fava beans, drained Water 1/4 cup vegetable oil Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste 1/2 teaspoon salt Pepper to taste 1/2 teaspoon cumin (optional) 1 green pepper, sliced thin 1 red onion, sliced in thin rings 1 tomato, diced 1 tablespoon fresh parsley 1 tablespoon fresh mint (optional) 2 hard-cooked eggs (optional) Black olives (optional)
If using dried fava beans, wash in a sieve set under cold running water until the water runs clear. Then drain thoughly.
In a heavy saucepan bring 2 quarts water to a boil over high heat. Add the beans, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Simmer over very low heat for 6 to 8 hours. If needed, add more water after 3 hours.
When the beans are cool make the salad. With a whisk, beat the oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cumin together in a deep bowl. Blend in the beans with the green pepper, onion, and tomato. To serve place in a salad bowl and sprinkle with parsley and/or mint and garnish with hard-cooled eggs and black olives.
Serve with warm pita, feta cheese and tahina.
Egyptian and other Middle Eastern food products can be purchased at Joseph's, 18th and Columbia Road; Thomas Market, 2650 University Blvd., Wheaton; and Skenderis Imports, 2625 20th St., NW.
(Sesame Seed Paste Sauce)
(Makes 2 cups) 1 cup tahina paste Juice of 4 lemons 2 teaspoons cumin, or to taste 6 cloves fresh garlic, mashed
Blend all ingredients and serve as an accompanying sauce with Fool Midammis and Samak Mashi. SAMAK MASHI
Fish Stuffed with Parlsey and Coriander
(6 to 8 servings) 1 whole rockfish or sea trout (4 to 4 1/2 pounds), cleaned and scaled but with head and tail left on 1 teaspoon salt Pepper to taste 6 cloves garlic, minced Juice of 3 lemons 1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, preferably the flat leaf variety 1/4 cup fresh coriander (sometimes known as cilentro or Chinese parsley), or 2 teaspoons ground 2 carrots, peeled and grated 1 large onion, minced 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Rub the fish inside and out with the salt, pepper and garlic. Pour the juice of 2 lemons over all. Let marinate for 1/2 hour in a shallow baking and serving dish. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the parsley, coriander, carrots, onion and tomatoes. Blend in the juice of the remaining lemon. Adjust seasoning to taste. Stuff the fish with the mixture and close with poultry skewers. Add the vegetable oil to the lemon marinade and return the fish to the pan, basting with the marinade. Cover with aluminum foil and cook in the middle of the oven 30 to 40 minutes. Do not overcook. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes to obtain a pinkish color.
Garnish with sliced hard-cooked eggs, sweet red peppers, tomatoes, black olives, shrimp, parsley or lemon rings. Serve with tahina and rice. FIFI'S FOOL DIP
(Makes 2 cups) 2 cups cooked fool (see Fool Midammis) or a 20 ounce can prepared small fava beans, drained 1 tomato, peeled 1 green pepper, quartered 1 small red onion, quartered Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste Salt to taste White pepper to taste 1/2 teaspoon cumin or to taste
Whirl the ingredients in a food processor or blender. Test for seasoning. Add more lemon juice and cumin, if desired.
Cover and refrigerate overnight so flavors can meld. Serve as a dip with toasted pita or vegetable sticks. FOOL WITH TOMATO SAUCE
(6 to 8 servings) 1 large onion, diced 6 cloves garlic, or to taste, minced 1 tablespoon margarine or butter 4 cups cooked fool (see Fool Midammis) or 2 cans (20 ounces each) prepared small fava beans, drained Salt and pepper to taste 2 cups tomato juice or sauce
Saute the onion and garlic in margarine or butter over a low heat until the onion is transparent.
Add the cooked beans, salt and pepper to taste and stir for a minute or 2. Then add the tomato juice. Cover and simmer 1/2 hour.
Serve as a vegetarian main course with a green salad. Tahina can be served as a side dish.