Salma's Foul Shami: A Damascene meal made in Vancouver, with love and memories of home
Syrian-Canadian author Danny Ramadan explains the origins of his recipe and book for kids
For Syrians, there’s soul to the food we make. It registers our gatherings like a sonogram, and expresses our love like a poem. There’s a great beauty in the memory of Fridays, our weekly holiday, when the family comes together in the mornings with a harmonious rhythm to break bread and onions. At the centre of that table, surrounded by many other breakfast dishes, sits the Foul Shami. A king amongst foods, the dish is named after the city of Damascus and, when prepared there, is garnished with her seasonal herbs and finished with a squeeze from the lemon trees in her streets.
Foul Shami, a warm salad of sorts, is the most common breakfast item you’d find in Damascus. There are restaurants specialized in nothing else but making the meal, presented in brown handmade ceramic dishes for people to dip their baladi bread into. These restaurants open specifically in the morning hours, and rarely stay open past noon. They compare their Foul Shami recipes, compete for the best mix of lemon and spices to present, and offer a fresh stem of mint leaves or three grilled garlic heads alongside it.
My job as a kid was to wake up early and go buy the fava beans from a nearby restaurant. I was instructed by my father to go to one in a souk called Shikh Saad, and to bring pickled cucumbers and tiny onions along.
I’d return, triumphant, presenting the best fava beans, already soaked and boiled and spiced, to my mother chopping parsley and tomatoes, and my father setting the table. We’d gather, the four of us. My mother held my baby sister in her lap, and fed her small bits of lemon, which made the baby sneeze.
Years later, my family and I aren’t on speaking terms, and I live across the world in Vancouver, B.C.. I crave the taste of home, the poems of our foods, and the music of the clinking dishes and bubbling fava beans. So, I decided on a Sunday morning — the Canadian equivalent, of sorts, to our Friday — to make the meal for my husband and some of my best friends.
That made for a half-day search through many Middle Eastern delis across Vancouver; the Sumac came from the Persian store in North Vancouver, the chickpeas came in a can from Jasmin, and finally, I found the fava beans with the Shami spices I craved so much.
That night, with a tummy filled with Foul Shami, I woke up just after midnight and wrote my children’s book: Salma the Syrian Chef. Salma, a child arriving in Canada with her mother, is challenged by the many obstacles facing newcomers. She brings a warm smile to her mother’s face when, with the help of her new community in Canada, she cooks her mother a Syrian meal. The book is truly the product of my own childhood in Damascus and my own identity, as it’s morphed to include my Canadian nationality in the mix of the Syrian, queer, Brown man that I am.
I hope when you make this meal, it will inspire you the way it inspires me. I hope you make it with all the love you have for those you want to share it with, and I hope that with every drop of olive oil, you find smoothness, connection and calm in this world.
Salma’s Foul Shami
Learn to cook like Salma and make a historical Middle Eastern recipe from ancient times — foul shami made with fava beans, olive oil, onion, garlic, and sumac.
- 2 cups/16 oz cooked or canned fava beans
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ onion minced
- 2 cloves garlic, raw and minced
- 1 tsp sumac
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Juice from 2 fresh lemons or more to taste
- Diced ripe red tomato
- Fresh minced parsley
Pour the fava beans, with their liquid, into a pot, add a glass of water, and heat on the stove for 20-30 minutes on medium heat until hot and soft. Pour them into a colander to drain.
While the beans are heating, mix the diced tomato, the minced parsley, the minced onion and the minced garlic in a bowl on the side.
When the fava beans are drained, add them to the mixing bowl.
Pour the juice of the lemons and the olive oil into the bowl. Add the sumac, and salt and pepper to taste.
Mix well and serve warm. You can eat the foul shami with a spoon or pita bread.
Recipe reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher, Annick Press. All rights reserved.
Danny Ramadan is a Syrian-Canadian author, public speaker and LGBTQ-Refugee activist.