Thursday, 30 October 2014

Moroccan Bissara with dried fava beans purée (or dip if affinities)

Bissara is a humble dish, it's the hillsmen'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. 

A 100% dried fava beans bissara

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.

Dried fava beans and green split peas bissara

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 medamess 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.

Left: dried shelled fava beans. Right: instant bissara (obviously nothing like the real thing)

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.

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)
Bissara with 100% dried fava beans 


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 homogenize 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.

Note: 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.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Moroccan Chicken M'qualli with its sweet butternut paste: M'derbel of pumpkin

At this time of the year, pumpkin, butternut squash and co seem to be everywhere here in London. It was the same thing in Germany where I lived before. I've seen different shapes and form which I have never seen before in my life.

Being from Morocco, I'm more accustomed to the giant pumpkin and a another weird version mostly found in El Oualidia (a small coastal town in Morocco).

The other thing is that I always literally hated this vegetable along with its family and cousins. But never say never!

Having a little one in the house, I'm trying to be a good mother and get him to try every vegetable I can get hold of. Being Moroccan, we mostly like vegetables. Most of our Tagines, couscous and stews come with vegetables and we love them when they're in season. It won't go down well if my boy is not a big vegetable eater. So far so good.

Despite the fact that the recipe I'm posting today is usually topped with a pumpkin paste, I have used 100% butternut and another time 50% - 50% butternut-pumpkin. The only difference is in the colour and the level of natural sweetness but other than that, It won't hurt alternating or mixing the two (or any other similar sort).

This is another sweet-savoury tagine that you would want to add to your Moroccan cooking repertoire because it's a winner. It's initially served during Eid Al Mawlid in Fes, Meknes and the region, but we can have a feast whenever we want, can't we?

Although this recipe does not initially have Ras el hanout in it but you could add a good pinch in the stew but besides that, please do not add anything else if you intend to cook an authentic dish.

The other thing I would like to mention about this subtitle marriage of flavours is that the people of Fes and region who are famous with the sweet-savoury combos do not usually add garlic in a tagine or stew for which the topping tend to be sweetened. However, in this case, the 1 clove of garlic is ok since the pumpkin is not as sweet as a prune or a caramelized apricot.

Here are the ingredients for about 4 hungry people. However, as we usually do back home, we use our eyes and senses to measure.

Serves 4 to 6  

For the chicken M'qualli
  • 1 medium free range chicken cut in 6 pieces (or use tender lamb cuts) 
  • 2 larges yellow onions, finely chopped 
  • 2 tbsp of oil
  • 1 tsp of smen (Moroccan cured aged salted butter), optional
  • 1 tbsp of ground ginger
  • 1 tsp of turmeric
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated or finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp of black or white pepper
  • A good pinch of saffron threads 
For the pumpkin or/and butternut paste
  • 600 g of pumpkin flesh cut into chuncks  
  • 6 tbsp of plain vegetable oil 
  • 1/2 tsp of salt 
  • 1 to 2 tsps of ground cinnamon 
  • 2 to 4 tbsps of honey (or half-half honey-sugar for a better caramelization)
  • A pinch of gum arabic (optional)
To decorate
  • 1 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds 


Chicken M'qualli

Follow the directions of a normal chicken M'qualli as previously mentioned here but with today's ingredients.

This step should take about 60 minutes. Make sure the sauce is well reduced. In case the chicken (or meat) is cooked but you still have a significant amount of liquid, take it out and cover it while you reduce the sauce or Marka as we call it.

The chicken pieces can be served without roasting them but we prefer them roasted for 10 minutes at maximum temperature (use the grill/broiler), just for a nice colour.

Pumpkin/squash paste (can be made ahead and frozen)

This puree can be served in today's sweet and savoury tagine but it can also be served as a cooked salad, either cold or at room temperature.

Steam the chuncks, scrape off the flesh and mash it (discard the peeled stuff). You can make this ahead of time, I have some mashed butternut in my freezer as we speak (flattened in a ziploc bag).

To fry/caramelize the paste, you will need to dedicate a good 20 minutes to this task without leaving the pan unattended.

Over medium-high heat, keep stiring the mash until it's almost dry.

Add the rest of the ingredients and fry/caramelize at the same time for about 8 to 10 min or until you are satisfied with taste and texture of the paste.

The colour of the paste depends on the type of pumpkin family used but also on
 how much honey and sugar you add to it


Pour a few spoons of the onion sauce in the middle of the serving plate (or make a small thick puddle). Place the chicken/meat on top and then top with the pumpkin paste.

Sprinkle the dish with toasted sesame seeds. Serve any extra pumpkin/squash puree in a side dish.

Note: There is something special about the temperature of the layers served in this dish: while the chicken and its sauce should be served hot, the pumpkin/squash paste can be serve just about warm or at least at room temperature.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Indian-Pakistani inspired curry: a Tikka masala-meets-jalfrezi on a bed of basmati rice

Having missed the smell of Indian and Pakistani food in my flat and having my mother over for a month, I thought I'll introduce her to a food she thinks is over-spiced, hot and always containing fenugreek.

She was not happy that the folks in the Sub-Asian continent have something similar to our Mlaouis (in the form of parathas) and Tannourt bread ( in the form of Tandoori bread)..

Today's recipe is rather a combination of chicken tikka masala and jalfrezi curry on a bed of Basmati rice with Saffron, lemon, cumin seeds and green cardamom. All is layered and finished cooking in a dum biryani style. What's not to like? We were 2 hungry women and we didn't leave a single grain of rice behind.

This recipe looks too long but it's so easy to make. The result is just worth it. It's so comforting and very satisfying.

My mother loved it and she asked for another "sample" of Indian/Pakistani food..How is that for a result?

Oh, and for the record, I got her hooked to mango chutney and garlic naans. Pretty proud of myself!

Serves 3 to 4
Prep: 5 min – marination time: minimum 2 hrs- cooking: 30-45 min
  • About 500g of chicken cut into chuncks (bones in) and marinated for at least a couple of hours (see below)
For the chicken marinade
  • 1 tbsp of minced Ginger 
  • 1 tsp of crushed Garlic
  • ¼ tsp. of Red Chilli Powder
  • ¼ tsp. of Turmeric Powder 
  • 1 tbsp. of Lemon Juice 
  • 1 tbsp of Tandoori powder or good Garam Masala or 2 tbsp of a good Tikka paste
  • 2 tbsp. of Vegetable Oil
  • 2 tbps of plain yogurt
For the curry (in order of use)
  • 5 Tablespoons clarified butter
  • About 6 to 10 curry leaves
  • 1 tsp of black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 Tablespoon jeera (cumin seeds)
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • About 10 cm cinnamon stick broken into 3
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic and ginger paste (or grate them fresh)
  • 1 Tablespoon coriander powder - preferably home roasted and ground
  • 1 Tablespoon red chilli powder
  • About 10 cm cinnamon stick broken into 3
  • 1 tbsp of tikka paste (or use garam masala before the end of simmering)
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp of chopped hot chili

To add 2 minutes before the end of curry-cooking stage
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, cut lenthwise
  • 1/2 red and/or bell pepper, cut lengthwise
  • ½ medium onion cut in quarters then halves (which makes 8 chuncks)
  • 1 tomato roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp of garam masala (if you haven’t used the tikka paste in the curry)
  • For garnishing
  • 1 tsp of slivered fresh ginger
  • A handful of coriander leaves
For the rice (7 to 8 min cooking in boiling water)
  • 1 cup of basmati rice (soaked for 30 min and washed 3 until water is clear)
  • ½ tsp of cumin seeds
  • 3 or 4 green cardamoms
  • A pinch of saffron threads
  • Less than 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 cup of rice needs 1 ¾ of water to cook it
 For the yoghurt-harissa dip (Adapted from  Jamie Oliver)
  • 1 cup of yoghurt
  • 1 tbps of harissa 
  • 2 tbps of chopped cucumber
  • A sprinkle of salt
  • A sprinkle of cumin seeds
  • A hint of freshly grated ginger


The curry

Melt the ghee in a hot wok or large frying pan. Add the spices, curry leaves and onions and allow to sizzle for about 30 seconds.

Once the onions are translucid, add the ginger and garlic paste, add the tikka paste if using it and stir. 
Add tomatoes and about ¼ cup of water. Let simmer for about 10 mins.

Pick up the curry leaves and the cinnamon stick and liquidize the sauce with a mixer. Put them back and set aside.

In a another pan, shallow-fry the chicken (or bake it until halfway cooked).

Add the sauce on the top of the chicken and let simmer, covered.

A couple of minutes after the sauce has reduced, add the onion slices, bell pepper, green chillies and tomato. Set aside

The Spices-scented basmati rice

Cook the rice for 7 to 8 minutes in boiling water, covered.

Once the rice is dry and cooked through, transfer 1/3 to a pyrex dish (or similar), layer the reduced 
curry, cover with the rest of the rice. Bake in a preheated oven at maximum for 10 min. I usually 
cover the dish with aluminium foil to trap the steam and allow the rice to infuse, just like for a dum 

Garnish with slivered ginger and chopped coriander.

The yoghurt dip

Mix all ingredients and serve on the side.

Note: I used a decent store-bought tikka paste but you can use any other paste you like (Indian-inspired). If you can't get hold of any, here's Jamie Oliver's post of how to make some of them. The recipes cover Jalfrezi, Korma, Rogan josh, Tikka Masala paste ......


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