Berber Beans

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.

byssara

Byssara
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.

broad_beans_soaking

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.

broad_beans_skinned

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.

broad_beans_pureed

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!

broad_bean_crostini_feature

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20 comments

  1. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    If, like me, you’ve always wondered what to make with broad beans, then this might be a wonderful opportunity to try a wonderful recipe shared with us by The Kitchen Witch. Make sure you check out Berber Beans.

    Happy Reading and Happy Cooking,

    Leah

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  2. KW, I always learn something new from your posts. I have never cooked with dried broad beans before, these look great. I have eaten ful Medames before but never actually made them. I need to hunt me down some dried broad beans.

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    • My beans came from Crete. Though I have never tried tracking them down here in the UK, I did notice recently that they are not something stocked by most supermarkets. I think I may have to go to our local Turkish market (or go to Greece – whatever comes first) to stock up supplies! The family LOVED this dip. Also made it for friends and, if it had been polite, they would have licked the plate clean.

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  3. We grow beans on a field scale – they’re allowed to dry on the stalk and then harvested – and many of ours are exported to the Middle East. At last I have something new to cook with the ones I keep back. I’ll also now add a pinch of bicarb every time I soak the beans; thanks for the tip.

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    • Interesting that you let them dry on the stalk. I will have to pass this info on to some of our archeobotanical friends. In Greece, they simply let the picked and podded beans dry in the sun, very much like sun dried tomatoes. Also, VERY interesting that you export to the Middle East! Over the years, I’ve eaten gallons of broad bean dip in Greece, but this Moroccan version is by far the best!

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  4. You are a wealth of information Deb, I learn something new every time you post! Sadly legumes are off the diet, I’ll just have to imagine how good this tasted.

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  5. This is the first time I have come across Byssara. It looks absolutely delicious, not unlike hummus, but with dried fave. I do make ful mesdames, always with skin on, and mashed or crushed gently, topped with all sorts of things, including hard boiled eggs.

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    • I’ve had κουκιά (the Greek version of this) coarsely mashed, but never with the skins on. The skins of the dried beans are quite tough, aren’t they? Although with cooking they would soften, I would expect. The addition of the spices – cumin, paprika and cayenne (along with a healthy dose of lemon juice) – really add to the flavour of the byssara (bessara). It is now my favourite way of making dried broad bean dip, which I prefer smoothly puréed. It would also make an excellent humous with a bit of tahini added, although most people tend to make broad bean humous with the fresh beans. Why this is so, I have no idea.

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      • Ful Mesdames is quite commonly served slightly mashed, some left whole, with skins on, and served with lots of condiments. I love them this way- Egyptian I think, but common enough amongst the Lebanese community here too,The cooked skins are not tough. Nothing like a bit of fibre! I am looking forward to this smooth version.

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  6. Debi, I’ve never heard of this dish, but then I’m not really up on Berber foods! This sounds perfectly delicious, but it’s not something my husband will appreciate at all so I’ll make it when he’s out of town!

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    • Jean, I can sympathise with your husband as dried bean dishes are not to everyone’s taste. Not to mention the long prep time with the soaking. However, I am now so used to Mediterranean food – particularly from Greece – where dried beans of all varieties are used quite frequently. They are a great and inexpensive source of protein. If you get a chance, please try the byssara. I think you will be surprised at how good it tastes. Your husband might even like it!

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    • Hi Glenda, I served the beans with crostini made with my sourdough baguettes. However, it was part of more meze offerings on the table that included olives, zucchini fritters and Wolfert’s tomato, pepper and caper salad. At the moment, I can’t remember what else, but it was certainly delicious. Our guests nearly licked the plate clean – or at least scraped up every last bit. It was a hit with guests and family alike.

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    • Definitely delicious! It is deceptive, but cooking with dried beans is not difficult or labour-intensive, but it does take a lot of time soaking and slowly cooking. Much of that time, you can go away and do something else!

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