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Moroccan Bessara (or bissara) is a delicious, satisfying pureed fava bean dip or soup that’s popular street food as well as humble family fare.
Although it’s enjoyed throughout the country, it’s especially popular in the north of Morocco, where it might be served as a standalone dish or as a side to fish.
How to Make Bessara
Bessara is prepared by soaking dried, peeled split fava beans overnight, simmering the soaked beans with garlic, olive oil, paprika, and cumin, then pureeing the mixture to the desired consistency.
Traditionally the soaked split fava beans are cooked for several hours until they have broken down on their own. They are then passed through a sieve or food mill.
However, in modern kitchens we’re more likely to use a blender or immersion blender, so the beans need to be cooked only about an hour before they’re ready to be pureed. It’s so much quicker and easier, and also yields a smoother texture to the fava bean puree.
If made as a thicker puree, bessara is likely to be served as a dip from a communal plate, usually with crusty Moroccan bread on the side.
If thinner, bessara is ladled into individual bowls as a soup. That’s how it’s enjoyed as street food, and it’s also how I serve it at home.
The puree’s consistency can also be made somewhere in between — thin enough to eat with a spoon, yet thick enough to scoop up with bread.
Another version, Split Pea Bessara, is made in a similar fashion, except that the split peas don’t require an overnight soak. For that variation, I like to add onions and and use stock or broth when cooking the beans.
The Condiments for Bessara
Both Fava Bean Bessara and the split pea variation are traditionally a bit bland out of the pot, relying on generous garnishes of extra virgin olive oil, cumin, cayenne pepper (or harissa) for kicks of flavor.
Be sure to offer them as condiments because they quickly transform the Moroccan dried bean puree into memorable, satisfying comfort food.
Since I like most bean dishes on the zesty side, my recipe below uses a bit more seasoning than you might find in a typical street food version. Notch the spices up or down according to your own preferences, keeping in mind that condiments will add lots of flavor at the table.
Moroccan Bessara Recipe - Dried Fava Bean Dip or Soup
For the Bessara Dip or Soup
Ahead of Time
- Place the dried split fava beans in a bowl and cover with several inches of cold water. Leave to soak at least 8 hours or overnight.
Make the Bessara
- Drain the soaked beans and remove skins, if any.
- Place the beans in a pot and add the water, olive oil, garlic, and spices.
- Bring the beans to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender, about an hour.
- Drain the beans in a strainer set over a bowl. Reserve the cooking liquids.
- Puree the beans until smooth with an immersion blender, blender, or food processor, using as much reserved broth as needed to reach your desired consistency.
- Stir in the lemon juice. Taste and adjust salt, keeping in mind that condiments will add flavor at the table.
- At serving time, reheat the puree gently over medium-low heat. Serve the bessara as a dip or soup with olive oil, cumin, salt, and cayenne or harissa on the side as condiments.
- Don't skimp on the condiments at the table — they're important to bessara's delicious flavor! Choose a good quality olive oil and consider using freshly ground cumin seeds for a more robust flavor.
- Be careful not to scorch the bessara when reheating. It's best done over medium-low heat with frequent stirring.
- It's not traditional, but you can replace some of the cooking water with broth or stock.
Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is only an estimate obtained from online calculators. Optional ingredients may not be included in the nutritional information.REVIEW THIS RECIPE
Christine Benlafquih is Founding Editor at Taste of Maroc and owner of Taste of Casablanca, a food tour and culinary activity business in Casablanca. A long time resident of Morocco, she’s written extensively about Moroccan cuisine and culture. She was the Moroccan Food Expert for The Spruce Eats (formerly About.com) from 2008 to 2016.