Cairo, El-Tahrir Square, 12 February 2011.
Egyptian Dip made of broad beans and coriander – a recipe related to Peter Polters Episoda 110212 Cairo Tahrir Square
There are various dishes that are served under the title of Bessara. In Morocco Bessara is a soup, while in Egypt it is a dip. But the transition between the two dishes is fluid. Here, we talk about Bessara as it is served in Egypt. Of course, there are a maddening number of recipes for Bessara on the Internet and in cookbooks, but most authors are of the opinion that Bessara is a dip made of crushed beans and coriander. And, by coriander, they do not mean the dried coriander seeds but fresh coriander leaves. As a rule, the dish is made from broadbeans – whether one uses dried pulses that are first soaked in water and then cooked soft, or one uses canned beans, makes no great difference to the aroma of the final product. More important is the question of when the coriander is added to the beans: Is it, as many recipes say, cooked together with the beans for a certain length of time? Or, is it only added towards the end, i.e. crushed in uncooked form with the beans?
Cooked coriander emits an aroma that is quite different from that of the raw herb. We carried out an experiment in this regard: we prepared Bessara using the same recipe, but with one difference: in one case, we cooked the coriander leaves with the beans for ten minutes, and in the other case, we used the herb in its raw form. Both preparations were very tasty, but the cooked version was more moist and rounded, while the uncooked version was fresher, more tangy and more herbaceous in flavour. Here, we have opted to provide the recipe with raw coriander.
On our travels we had the best Bessara in Cairo, in a restaurant called «Abou El Sid» in Zamalek (known also as «Charmerie»). Its aroma was at once fresh and herbaceous and somewhat curious, almost as if the coriander contained a hint of mint. Our recipe is modelled on this example. One can make this dip with dried beans that have been soaked in water overnight and then cooked to a soft consistency (more about here). Or, one can use canned beans. If one distrusts the slimy liquid in which the canned beans float, one can drain it out, rinse and briefly boil the beans in fresh water, and proceed to use them as instructed in the recipe.
250 g cooked broadbeans
5 tablespoons (or somewhat more) of the water in which beans are boiled
40 g coriander leaves, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons peppermint leaves, finely chopped
Juice of ½ lemon (or a bit less)
½ teaspoon salt
In Egypt, the custom is to sprinkle deep-fried onion slivers over the dip. That makes the dish slightly oily and, in our opinion, more aromatic.
First Publication: 4-2-2012
Modifications: 8-2-2012, 16-9-2012