A tribute to Maltese ful! Gululu celebrates the broad bean with 4 stunning dishes this April
The special menu features old favourites and new variations that put the seasonal bean in the spotlight.
Each spring, Gululu Kcina Maltija, a casual Maltese diner in St Julian’s, celebrates local ful (fava beans, also known as broad beans) through a special menu dedicated to the humble ingredient that’s abundant on the island at this time of year.
Always keen to sample the delicious fare our islands have to offer, I was delighted to have the opportunity to try the fabulous creations on Gululu’s newest seasonal menu and – of course – share them with you!
A little history
The broad bean, or ful, has been a staple of most Mediterranean diets for centuries. First recorded in the Pharaonic era of ancient Egypt, it has probably been cultivated in the Euphrates valley since Neolithic times. This bean has provided a reliable and cheap source of protein to hundreds of generations, more so the poorer working classes with little or no access to meat and fish. (It’s also rich in fibre and low in fat!)
The cultivation of ful is simple and does not require much attention. In Malta, it is traditionally planted during December simply by pressing a couple of dry beans a couple of inches down beneath the soil. Within a few weeks a sapling appears, and within a couple of months, this is a metre tall and full of pretty white flowers, all of which turn into bean pods! Initially, the beans within are soft and tender, and do not require peeling of their inner skin. To prepare, these should be sautéed lightly and served as a delicate plate.
As the season advances, the beans will need to be skinned twice and cooked more robustly – I’m told by the team at Gululu that they’re super with fresh garlic and a little chilli pepper, and lots of olive oil – until they begin to break up and look as though they’ve been bitten, which is why they’re called ful migdum in Maltese. A portion of the crop is put aside and left to dry until hard and brown in colour, not solely for planting later on in the year, but also to make local favourite bigilla. The dried beans are soaked overnight, boiled until soft and mashed with lots of garlic, red pepper, oil, vinegar and parsley to make Malta’s first street food.
Gululu’s Festa tal-Ful
Gululu presents a new menu of four ful based dishes each spring for its Festa tal-Ful, and this year, the first item on the seasonal menu is one locals are bound to be familiar with: Ful Imgiddem.
Served on toasted Maltese bread and cooked with garlic, mint, lemon juice and olive oil, this was a wonderful way to tickle our taste buds at the start of the meal, and was a great alternative to the Italian bruschetta, which is often favoured as a pre-meal snack. The taste of the broad beans is really celebrated in this dish, and not overpowered by any of the other ingredients, leaving a delicate and lingering flavour.
No menu celebrating ful is complete without the next dish on the menu: the hearty and traditional Kusksu bil-Ful, a thick soup with shelled ful, tomato concentrate and pasta beads with a little fresh gbejna (sheep cheeselet) to round off an all-time favourite. Being local, we’ve tasted a few different variations of kusksu in our time, and Gululu certainly did the dish – and the star ingredient – justice! Homely and reminiscent of the homemade version, this kusksu retains an incredibly delicate flavour, without succumbing to the tendency toward stodginess which some variations of the soup fall to. The individual flavours are allowed to shine and complement each other, all within a wonderfully flavourful and well-balanced dish!
Next came my personal favourite dish on the Festa tal-Ful menu: a ftira, Malta’s rustic answer to the Italian pizza, with a topping of ful and fresh ricotta flavoured with lemon zest, marjoram and roughly ground pepper, all baked in the restaurant’s wood burning oven, Il-Ftira Fulija. Here, despite the heaviness one would assume would come along with a traditional bread-like ftira, the flavours are so fresh and light that it all feels unexpectedly delicate. The lemon comes through beautifully, and elevates the flavours of the ricotta and broad beans to create a truly moreish delight.
To round things off, we also tasted the final dish on the special menu: Hamiema tal-Bahar, comprising of pan-fried skate served with a lemony bean and caper mash. Being unfamiliar with the fish, we tucked in with interest after being kindly shown the best way to remove the meat (hold down from one end and scrape down). The highly-flavoured fish was balanced out beautifully by an accompaniment of crushed broad beans, capers, lemon juice and olive oil, and served to bring the delicious festa to a very satisfying end!
Want to try these seasonal dishes for yourself? We don’t blame you! Be sure to book your table at Gululu to sample this special menu throughout April, or any of their other dishes for that matter – they’re a true celebration of Maltese cuisine if there ever was one!