The word bessara refers not only to this Moroccan Split Pea Soup or Dip recipe, but also to a tasty Moroccan dried fava bean dip that’s prepared in similar fashion. For the split pea bessara, the dried split peas are simmered in water and broth with onions, garlic, paprika and cumin before being pureed. Add cayenne pepper to taste.
Use vegetable broth for a vegetarian version. The dish can also be prepared with dried chick peas, but you’ll need to allow time to soak them overnight. The split peas don’t need to be soaked.
The consistency of the final dish can vary from a soup to a thicker puree which is eaten as a dip. The latter is likely to be served in the north of Morocco as a popular accompaniment to fish. Moroccan bread (khobz) is usually offered on the side.
Garnish the bessara the traditional way with cumin and olive oil and perhaps a little cayenne pepper. If you’ve made it extra spicy, consider adding a bit of fresh cilantro and a swirl of creme fraiche or plain yogurt.
For a change, you can reduce the olive oil in the recipe and garnish the bessara with a drizzle of argan oil for a light, nutty flavor that complements the split peas’ natural flavor.
Moroccan Split Pea Bessara - Vegetarian Split Pea Soup or Dip
- 1 lb. dried split peas (about 2 cups
- 4 cups broth (chicken, beef or vegetable)
- 2 cups water
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 to 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped (optional)
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/4 tsp black pepper, or to taste
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)
For Garnish and Serving
- cumin, salt and cayenne pepper
- olive oil
- In a large pot, cook the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium-low heat for just a few minutes, or until fragrant and softened. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 50 to 60 minutes, until the peas are tender. Stir occasionally while cooking.
- Use an immersion blender, food processor or blender to puree the soup. (If the soup is quite hot when you puree it, use caution. Fill a blender or processor only one-third to halfway and use a towel to hold the lid firmly in place because pressure from steam can cause hot liquids to splash forcefully upward.)
- If desired, thin the puree to a soup-like consistency with additional water. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Serve warm, garnished as desired with olive oil, cumin and cayenne pepper. (All may be offered on the side as condiments.) Thinner bessara is eaten with a spoon, but thicker versions are scooped up like a dip with pieces of Moroccan bread.
- Water is traditionally the only liquid used to make bessara, but I like to use some broth for added flavor. You can replace all or some of the broth with water, but adjust seasoning accordingly.
- If you've made bessara as a dip, the leftovers can be thinned with water and served as soup for breakfast or dinner.