Byesar (Fava Bean Puree)

December 15, 2013
by Jack McNulty
Byesar (Fava Bean Puree)

Paula Wolfert’s wonderful book, Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco, describes Byesar as the North African cousin to the Middle Eastern hummus made of chickpeas.  This is high praise indeed as hummus is one of the world’s greatest food contributions. So I was…well, slightly skeptical. But after tasting one spoonful of the freshly made warm fava bean puree, I was more than convinced. This recipe is one of the most exciting finds I have found this year!

I grew up eating many special foods from Morocco, but I never had the opportunity to taste this beloved dish. It is made with split fava beans (broad beans for those of you who are more familiar with this name), fruity olive oil, a hint of garlic, cumin and lemon. That’s it – just some humble ingredients put together in your food processor.

Byesar Photo
My adaptation of Wolfert’s wonderful recipe uses a pressure cooker instead of the traditional enamel pot. My method takes about 25 minutes to cook and another 10 minutes of preparation/finishing time. The more traditional method requires 2+ hours  (not including the overnight soaking necessary to soften the beans). I also decided to flavor the finished product with za’atar, which can be made by combining dried thyme, sesame seeds and ground sumac. The flavor is richer than hummus, although it has far less fat because of the absence of tahini. I enjoy it the same way as I would eat the more traditional hummus…which means I require a lot of Arab-style bread.

The finished puree continues to thicken when cooled or refrigerated. It’s easy to blend a bit more water into the puree and warm it for about one minute in the microwave. I also think Byesar makes a fantastic spread in a wrap or sandwich.

Paula Wolfert also mentions a version from Tangier made with green split peas and scallions…something I will be trying next week with my pressure cooker!

makes about 4-6 servings

250 gr. dried split fava beans
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp. cumin seeds, lightly toasted
water to cover (about 3,5 dl.)
lemon juice to taste
olive oil
za’atar to season (dried thyme, sesame seeds, sumac)

Mix together in the base of a pressure cooker the fava beans, peeled garlic cloves, toasted cumin seeds and enough water to cover the fava beans (about 3,5 dl.). Seal the top and bring to high pressure over high heat. Reduce the temperature to maintain the pressure and cook for 24 minutes. Remove from the stove top and allow the pressure to naturally release – this will take about 10 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid, then place all of the contents in a blender or food processor. Puree with the juice of one lemon and enough olive oil to reach the consistency you want – remember, the puree will thicken after cooling…but you can always add more oil or water later on. Serve warm on crusty bread with a good sprinkle of za’atar over the puree.