Dried broad bean purées abound in Mediterranean cuisines: Egyptian ful medames, Greek κουκιά, Sicilian maccu, Maltese bigilla, Turkish bakla, Moroccan byssara, to name a few. Many, in fact, claim it as an ancient food. And, they wouldn’t be wrong. Broad bean, Vicia faba, is an Old World bean that has been cultivated in the Mediterranean for at least ten thousand years.
Weither the dried broad bean purée is ful medames or maccu or any other variety, it is simply cooked and mashed with garlic, and served topped with lashings of good green olive oil. The only difference that I have been able to descern between the cultures is in the type of herbs or spices added – fennel in Sicily, with sautéed chicory in Puglia, oregano in Greece, dill in Turkey, parsley and hot pepper in Egypt and Malta, and cumin and paprika in Morocco. It is as if each of the cultures were putting their own individual stamp on this dish.
Naturally, a recipe for byssara appears in Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco, the book being reviewed by The Cookbook Guru for March and April. She labels this as a Berber recipe. In fact, a few other recipes in The Food of Morocco are also listed as Berber – without further explanation. According to Wikipedia (that quick source for everything, or so it seems), Berbers are, historically, indigenous peoples of North Africa with a shared language and cultural heritage. Multiple ethnic Berber groups can be found in Morocco, and similarly in other African countries. Berber cuisine is said to be different from region to region and from one ethnic group to another. But, from what I can tell, it is based on simplicity of ingredients, very much like this bean dish.
Dried broad beans are sold either with their dark chestnut-brown skins on, or they are called split beans that are already skinned.
- 300g dried broad beans
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 Tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 Tablespoon flaked sea salt
- juice from 1/2 to 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- extra virgin olive oil
Soak the broad beans in plenty of water – overnight for the split beans, up to 24 hours for the beans with skins. I have always found that with the skin-on variety, adding a pinch of bicarbonate of soda to the soaking water helps to soften the skin and makes it easier to remove.
Discard any beans that float to the top. If using beans that have skins, the skins will need to be removed. A few will probably not skin easily – these can be discarded. Rinse the beans.
In a large pot, bring 1.5 litres of water to a boil. Add the rinsed beans and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let them cook for about 1 hour and then add the whole peeled garlic cloves. These will cook and soften with the beans. Cook for another 1 to 2 hours (Wolfert says 2, but mine were very mushy after 1 hour). The beans should have disintegrated and have a mushy thick consistency. Remove from heat and cool before pressing through a sieve. It will thicken somewhat as it cools, so you may need to add some hot water to get the consistency of a thick dip or spread.
Meanwhile, toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan and grind them with the sea salt in a mortar. Add half the cumin/salt mixture to the bean purée and add the lemon juice to taste. To serve, spread the purée on a plate, take the remaining cumin/salt mixture and create lines on top, then sprinkle with pinches of paprika and cayenne pepper. Drizzle with good green extra virgin olive oil. Serve with crostini or little toasts.
Note: Make extra bean dip, thin it with hot water and serve it as a soup. Sicilians add little pastas, such as digitali to their maccu, which makes a more substantial soup. Sprinkle on more of the cumin-salt mixture and drizzle on a little hot paprika infused olive oil.
* * *
A similar purée or mash is made from the fresh broad beans, which I posted about last summer, broad bean crostini. Although, it has an entirely different flavour!