Moroccan Bissara with fava beans and split peas

Bissara is a humble dish, it’s the hillsman’s purée (Jebli, in Moroccan), the poor’s hearthy meal. It’s one of those comforting dishes we’re after in the cold days. It’s a vegetarian/vegan dish which packs a lot of goodness. 

With a pinch of saffron, the dish becomes Tamarraqt as know in the mountainous Rif area
 
Moroccan Bissara with fava beans and split peas
Moroccan Bissara with fava beans and split peas. Credit @Nada Kiffa

Bissara is a Moroccan street food fix

Initially a poor’s man dish, Bissara found its way to the high-end restaurants and to all classes. It’s also one of the top 10 Moroccan street-food recipes you can’t miss.
In his book of “North African cookery”, Arto der Haroutunian wrote this:
“One day a town dweller met a peasant hillsman and asked, ” What would you do , my good man, if you were to become a Sultan?”. The Jebli (hillsman) replied: ‘If I were a Sultan, I would eat every day Bissara’.
I believe Bissara is also found in Algeria. However, this is not to confuse with Egyptian Foul medames although it bears some resemblances in the garnishing, the type of dried fava bean used is not the same.
In Morocco, Bissara can either be made with dried fava/broad beans or with split green peas (pois cassés). The most common version in the streets is made with 100% fava bean and is served from breakfast to dinner time. Hard-working people start their day with Bissara, which keeps them going for a few hours before the next meal.
In our family, we do make the 2 common versions but we also mix both in one. The other unusual family bissara which is still as old as me is where my family adds carrots (and other vegetables) to the mix. I admit I was a bit difficult as a child and my parents had to work out a few tricks to feed me properly.

An instant bissara?

I found instant bissara sold in a grocery shop catering for North Africans here in London. I was offered to try it. I have to say that It ended up in the bin. I stick to my made-from-scratch version which is not complicated at all anyway.

The best bissara is the one made over charcoal and left to break down for hours until it’s ready for the morning (ask the hill’s men). But we’re not doing this. I’m afraid we have to settle for the second best: the pot and the hob for a faster approach but yet still great.
To make a 100% green split peas bissara, you won’t need to pre-soak them for long hours. But other than that, you may follow the same recipe, just make sure to adjust the quantity of water as needed to cook it.

Ingredients

Serves 4 to 6
Prep:2 min - Pre-soaking time: 8 hours- Cooking: 60 min 
  • 200 g of dried shelled fava beans (replace by 1/3 of green split peas and 2/3 of fava beans)
  • 3 to 4 whole cloves of garlic
  • 1 mediun-size yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tsp of salt, adjust to taste
  • Hot water (1 part of beans = at least 4 parts of water)
Serve with
  • A good quality Extra virgin olive oil (unfiltered and cold pressed)
  • Lemon juice
  • A generous dash of paprika
  • A generous dash of ground cumin
  • Cayenne to taste (soudaniya or piment d’Espelette)

Preparation

If you are buying the beans in vrac, make sure to get rid of any stone or skin in them. Wash them until water is clear. Pre-soak overnight.
Over medium heat, add all the ingredients into a saucepan. Let simmer for a few minutes. You will see some foam on top, just spoon it out. Cover the pot and watch the level of water from time to time.
After 30 minutes of simmering, stir and check the level of water. The beans should be easy to break by now.
Cook for one hour over medium heat while stirring and breaking the beans.
Feel free to add more water if necessary and in this case season.
Once all the beans (and peas) are tender and almost naturally puréed, give them a 3 seconds wizz with a hand blender to homogenise the purée. We do like to keep tiny bits in it though.

Bissara should be neither too thin nor too thick, if it needs more simmering just put it back over low heat to thicken.

Serve warm with a generous drizzle of olive oil, ground cumin, chili to taste, lemon juice and a good bread.

Notes

1- Bissara is served as a starter or as a main dish. Like mentioned earlier, it is also be served as a breakfast. Bissara as a dip in a gathering is another option.

2- Some terminology for you: Tamarakt is the name of the bissara made of split green peas in the Rif mountain. It’s served with more garnishing than anywhere else in Morocco (except in Taza); beside the spices, olive oil and lemon juice, they add freshly chopped chili and onions. Talakhcha is the other name for the fava beans bissara in the South.

Author: Nada

Nada Kiffa is an Expert in Moroccan cooking and her recipes are coming from a lineage of Moroccan home and professional cooks. Cooking classes and posted articles are inspired by her family life in Morocco and elsewhere. You will learn what makes a dish Moroccan before learning how to execute it. You will also learn how to work around recipes and cut corners without missing on the flavour.

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