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Recipes: An out of the (cereal) box breakfast

Although creamy fava beans and a thick yogurt cheese are staples of this Middle Eastern breakfast, you can still get eggs on the side.

Photograph by anthony tieuli; food styling by Sheila jarnes/Ennis inc.

Many American breakfasts — sweet cereals, muffins, bagels, pancakes, and the like — are carb-heavy and not ideal nutritional choices. For a healthy upgrade, I occasionally look to other cultures. Middle Eastern breakfasts, though not without carbs and sugars, often include fiber-rich beans in the form of ful mudammas, as well as labneh, a thick, fresh yogurt cheese, and raw fresh vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes. Add some eggs if you like, and fuel yourself for a great day.

BREAKFAST FAVA BEANS (FUL MUDAMMAS)

Makes about 3½ cups

Egyptian in origin but found throughout the Middle East, ful mudammas is a simple, filling dish of garlicky, lemony fava beans.

Round, brown fava beans (as opposed to the light green lima bean-shaped type) are typical for this recipe, and canned beans are ideal. I found them at Whole Foods, but Middle Eastern specialty markets carry them as well.

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Garnish ful mudammas with any combination of hot sauce, tomato sauce, or tahini; pickled vegetables; chopped fresh chili peppers or onions; slices of fresh cucumber or thin wedges of fresh tomato; sliced radishes or scallions; or quartered or chopped hard-cooked eggs.

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¼      cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1         tablespoon pressed or grated garlic

1         teaspoon ground cumin

3        (15-ounce) cans fava beans, drained and rinsed, 2/3  cup of packing liquid reserved

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Salt and pepper

2        tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more, to taste, plus lemon wedges for serving

1/3        cup chopped fresh parsley

Garnishes, as desired (see note above)

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the oil, 2½ teaspoons of the garlic, and the cumin, stirring occasionally, until mixture is fragrant and the garlic darkens a little, about 5 minutes.

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Meanwhile, in a food processor, puree about 1½ cups of the beans with the reserved packing liquid until very smooth. Add the pureed and remaining whole beans, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste to the saucepan, adjust the heat to medium, and cook, stirring and folding constantly with a heatproof spatula, until beans are heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice, parsley, and remaining garlic and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes longer. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, or lemon juice if necessary. Drizzle with oil and serve at once with the lemon wedges, garnished as desired.

LABNEH

Makes about 1 1/3 cups

If you don’t own a dedicated yogurt strainer (and the recipe assumes that you don’t), note that you’ll need a fine-mesh strainer and a few paper coffee filters.

At breakfast, labneh is commonly served with some combination of pita or other Arabic flatbread, sliced fresh cucumbers, olives, wedges of fresh tomato, dried or chopped fresh mint, za’atar, or jam or preserves — whatever types you love.

3        cups plain yogurt (not nonfat)

Salt

Accompaniments, as desired (see note above)

Line a fine-mesh strainer with paper coffee filters (tear them to fit, as necessary) and set the strainer over a bowl. In another bowl, whisk the yogurt and ½ teaspoon salt together, scrape the mixture into the prepared strainer, cover loosely, and refrigerate to drain for 24 hours. Turn the labneh onto a plate and replace the wet coffee filters with fresh ones. Return the labneh to the strainer with the moist bottom surface now facing up, cover loosely, and return to the refrigerator for an additional 24 hours. Empty the labneh into a bowl and serve with accompaniments as desired or refrigerate, covered, for up to 4 days.

FRIED EGGS AND CHEESE WITH ZA’ATAR

Serves 2 (2 eggs and 2 pieces of cheese per serving)

Because the skillet is hot from cooking the cheese, I find that the eggs cook a little faster than usual. Since evenly frying more than 4 eggs at once can be dicey, to cook more, use multiple batches, or get a second skillet going.

If you’re looking for a garnish, I think a few fresh tomato wedges go nicely with this dish. Also, don’t salt the eggs, because both the za’atar and the cheese bring plenty of salt to the dish.

1½    tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8        ounces halloumi or other frying cheese, cut lengthwise into 3/8 -inch-thick slices and dried well with paper towels

4        large eggs

Za’atar, for sprinkling

Lemon wedges, for serving

Slices or thin wedges of fresh tomato, to garnish, optional

With the rack in the lower-middle position, heat the oven to 200 degrees. In a medium (10-inch) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 teaspoons oil until shimmering. Add the halloumi and cook, undisturbed, until deeply browned on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and repeat to brown the second side, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the cheese to a heatproof plate and place it in the oven to keep the cheese warm.

Meanwhile, break 2 of the eggs into each of 2 small bowls. Return the skillet to medium-high heat, add the remaining oil, allow it to heat for a moment, and swirl to coat the cooking surface. Add the eggs all at once and cook, undisturbed, about 2½ minutes for runny yolks or 3 to 3½ minutes for yolks that are a little thicker and firm on the bottom.

On each of 2 plates, place 2 eggs and 2 pieces of halloumi. Sprinkle the eggs and cheese with za’atar to taste. Serve at once with the lemon wedges, and garnish with tomato, if using.

TIP: SPACE SAVER

 If you love making your own labneh (as I do), a very fine mesh strainer designed specifically for yogurt will save you the fridge-space-hogging issue of a filter-lined kitchen strainer.
anthony tieuli
If you love making your own labneh (as I do), a very fine mesh strainer designed specifically for yogurt will save you the fridge-space-hogging issue of a filter-lined kitchen strainer.

VARIATION: EVEN FIRMER LABNEH

Makes 2 roughly 3-inch-by-1½ inch rounds

The final size of your rounds will depend on the size of the ramekins or containers into which you pack the labneh. Make sure to pack in the labneh all the way to the rim (depending on the ramekins again, you may need a little more than the 1‚ cups from the recipe above), and that the weights you place on the ramekins sits on the labneh, not the ramekin rims.

A simple serving variation is to roll the labneh into small balls the size of large cherries, pack them in a container, and cover them with extra-virgin olive oil.

1 1/3 cups labneh, from recipe above, plus a little extra, if necessary

Line two small ramekins (measuring approximately 3¼ inches across by 1¾ inches deep) with a paper coffee filters and pack the lined ramekins to the rim with labneh. Place the ramekins on a tray to catch exuded whey and cover the tops with coffee filters. Position the inserts from small Mason jar lids (or similar flat disk with a diameter just smaller than that of the ramekins) on the covered labneh, place a weight, such as a heavy can of food, on the disks (make sure the weight isn’t resting on the ramekins’ rims), and refrigerate until firm, about 24 hours. Remove the weight, disks, and top papers from the labneh. Transfer the labneh rounds to a plate, peel off the remaining filter paper, blot them dry with paper towels, and smooth the surfaces if desired. Serve with accompaniments (see labneh note) as desired or refrigerate, covered, for up to 4 days.

ZA’ATAR

Makes about ¾ cup

In the Middle East, za’atar is both the name of a specific herb and a ubiquitous herb blend that’s used as an ingredient, condiment, dip, or topping, commonly for olive oil-dunked pita or flatbread. Of course exact formulas of the blend vary with the cook, but thyme, sesame seeds, sumac, salt and pepper are the constants, with oregano, marjoram, cumin and/or chiles appearing on occasion.

In my experience, sesame seeds don’t break down well in a standard food processor. Either a small processor, mini chopper, or a spice grinder is more effective.

1/3 cup sesame seeds, lightly toasted and cooled

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh thyme (1 ounce)

2 teaspoons dried oregano or marjoram

1½ tablespoons ground sumac

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

In a spice grinder or mini chopper, pulse the sesame seeds, thyme, and oregano (about 4 2-second pulses). Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl, add the sumac, 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, stir to mix, and serve. (The mixture will keep in a covered, airtight container for about 1 week).

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.” Send comments to cooking@globe.com