Bissara | Moroccan Split Pea + Fava Bean Soup
There is some strange relationship between me and the taxis in Tangier. It is rare that I have a normal, uneventful ride- usually there is some happening or detail about it that is worthy of a humorous retelling. At least half of my Morocco-related stories start with the phrase, “so I was in a taxi the other day…”
I should mention, before anyone starts to get the idea that I am this ritzy lady taking taxis everywhere, that taxis are standard public transport over here. I can get from home to the conservatory for just 7 dirham- the equivalent of 70 cents- and it’s a 15 minute ride. I should also mention, for the story’s sake, that there are two kinds of taxis, petit and grand. The petit taxis can take up to three passengers, but the first person to get in always gets the first say in the final destination; other people are only picked up if they are going in the same direction. The grand taxis, on the other hand, squish two people in the front seat and 4 in back, like a pack of anchovies, and they have a flat-rate fare and a set route, similar to public buses.
One of my recent favorites of my taxi sagas involves a petit taxi, a failed pick up, bissara and a very gregarious and opinionated driver.
So I was in a taxi the other day…
And as soon as I got in and stated my destination, the other passenger in the front seat turned and said, “Oh, do you speak English?” Since he looked Moroccan and my default has become to speak Arabic no matter what, in order to keep up the practice I said (in Darija) “Yes, and Arabic.” Ah, we Arabia. Well, the driver next to this man was just thrilled. In this loud, deep yet sing-song voice that took up the whole space of the car, he exclaimed, “Oh-ho, look at this Tanjawia! Mash'allah, a foreigner who speaks Darija!” The passenger, however, continued on in English saying that in fact his Arabic was not that great because although he is Moroccan, he had lived his whole life in London and was just here for a visit and so on. The driver skeptically watched him talking to me until the passenger signaled that he had reached his destination. Just before hopping out of the taxi, he said to me in Darija, “Maybe we will meet again, I’ll treat you to a bowl of bissara sometime.” Not wanting to be rude, but also not wanting to lead anything on, of course, I automatically answered the standard “yes-but-actually-no” Moroccan reply- Insh'allah. God willing.
Immediately once the other man had disembarked, the driver turned around in his seat and said with an even louder register, “OUSTADA!” (a respectful term, similar to madam) “Did you hear that?! BISSARA? Did this guy really just ask you out for BISSARA?! What is with these cheap men these days?! Bissara only costs 6 or 7 dirham a bowl! You came all the way from America just for someone to buy you a bowl of BISSARA? He should at least offer COUSCOUS.”
The rant went on. I, meanwhile, couldn’t get a word in since I was cracking up in the back seat the whole time. Once he calmed down a little, we got into an in-depth discussion about where to buy the best cheap bowl of bissara in the city.
My true verdict? Homemade is always best.
Bissara may be one of the cheapest meals you will find in Morocco, but it has been among my favorite things to eat since moving here. I figured because it is so easy to make and it falls into that cozy-but-healthy-ish meal category, it is the perfect first dish to share in 2018. Let’s start simple.
This is the absolute perfect comfort food- it is satisfying, filling, and can help to kick any colds you may have coming on since it contains an entire head of garlic. Traditionally, people even eat it for breakfast to start their day with a hearty, energizing meal. Bissara is a rich, warming soup made up of either split peas, dried fava beans, or both, garlic, olive oil, salt and cumin. Truly, that is it. In restaurants it is usually served with an extra drizzle of beldi (farm-produced) olive oil on top, a giant basket of baguette chunks at your table that leaves you wondering who could possibly eat that much bread (you can), a side of olives, and cumin and hot paprika shakers to add some extra spice if you like.
The recipe I am sharing is one I learned from M himself, who I believe learned from his mom. We love to use half fava beans and half split peas, creating a lovely light green color and more depth of flavor. So, even though my taxi driver had strong feelings on bissara being a strictly non-date food, I think it is perfectly acceptable for you to make some for yourself and your loved ones this season.
-You can easily make this soup with all dried split green peas or all dried fava beans, depending on what you have on hand- just use 250g total of whichever you choose.
-If you use water instead of stock, it adds even more flavor if you add a chicken or vegetable bouillon cube once the water is simmering.
-It is best eaten by dipping in bread chunks, but you can of course use a spoon if that's not really your style.
-This soup can be saved in the fridge for up to 3-4 days, but it gets quite thick when it chills. To reheat, always add a little extra water until it thins out to your liking.
Bissara (Moroccan Split Pea + Fava Bean Soup)
vegan/vegetarian option, makes about 4 serving
- 125g dried split green peas
- 125g dried fava beans
- 1 whole head of garlic, peeled and smashed
- 7 cups water or chicken/vegetable stock (see notes above)
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- salt + pepper to taste
In a large pot, bring the water or stock to simmer over a medium flame. Once bubbling, add everything- split peas, beans, garlic cloves, cumin, olive oil, salt + pepper. Give it a mix, cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally, or until the peas and fava beans are completely soft and falling apart. Either use an immersion blender or carefully transfer to a stand blender to mix until totally smooth. If it's too thick, you can reheat with a bit more water and if it's too thin, continue to cook it down a little longer until it reaches your desired consistency. Serve with an extra sprinkling of cumin and a drizzle of good olive oil. Dip your bread, toss some olives in a bowl on the side, get cozy + enjoy!