Why This Recipe Works
- Soaking the split fava beans in cold water overnight before cooking softens the beans and reduces the cooking time.
- Cooking the split fava beans in vegetable broth and seasoning the bissara with shallot-infused oil lends the dip a unique depth of flavor.
- Starting the shallots in warm-to-touch oil and frying low-and-slow ensures that each ring is crisp and golden brown without risk of burning.
Egyptian Bissara is a creamy dip of split fava beans blended with fresh cilantro, parsley, mint, and dill. Topped with heaps of crispy fried shallots and served with toasted pita, bissara is widely prepared in Egypt, where it is also known as bosara or besara depending on the region you’re in. The dip is eaten by Copts—Egypt’s indigenous and Christian ethnic minority who represent 10% of the population—when they observe Lent or their nativity fast.
Copts fast for over 250 days a year, during which they abstain from dairy and meat. They commit to a plant-based diet and rely on beans and legumes as their primary source of protein. This tradition gave rise to the creation of many hearty legume recipes—there's a whole world of traditional vegan and vegetarian Egyptian recipes that are hardly known outside Egypt
Eager to learn more about the history of bissara, I spoke with Mennat-Allah El Dory, an Egyptologist who specializes in archaeobotany (the study of ancient plants). El Dory suggests that the word bissara likely originated from the Coptic word (peese-owor), which means cooked and mashed beans. However, while the Copts can trace their ancestry back to ancient Egypt, there is no evidence that bissara existed in the ancient Egyptian diet. (Worth noting: A similar dish with the same name and ingredients exists in Morocco, though it is served as a soup.)
Though Bissara requires some planning—as you have to soak the beans overnight—the dip is as easy as it gets. You simply have to place all the ingredients—the fava beans, onion, garlic, spices, fresh herbs, and vegetable broth—into a large pot and wait for the magic to happen. As the beans simmer and soften, they’ll begin to pick up the deep flavor of the broth.
When the beans are cooked and have had a chance to cool slightly, it's time to transform the contents of the pot into a creamy dip by blitzing everything together in a food processor. Like hummus, bissara should be thick and smooth. To give bissara an extra pop of fresh green color, you can add some fresh cilantro to beans before puréeing in the food processor.
The Perfect Fried Shallots
A big part of bissara’s allure is the tower of crisp, golden shallots piled high on top of the bissara—so it's important to get them right. One key step is to add the shallots to the oil before it's too hot. This helps cook them evenly and prevents the kind of scorching that can happen when thinly sliced vegetables get added to a hot pot of oil. As soon as they're light golden brown, it's time to take them out. They'll continue to darken and crisp up once strained, and won't end up over-fried and bitter, which is the risk of leaving them in the oil too long.
When I make bissara, I like to fry the shallots that are used to garnish the dip before doing anything else, then reserve the shallot-infused oil for cooking the dip. Typically, bissara is prepared with vegetable oil and not one infused with shallots, but this small additional step adds even more flavor.
Egyptian Bissara (Split Fava Bean Dip)
Blend fava beans with cilantro, parsley, mint, and dill for a creamy, vibrant green dip, then top it with crispy fried shallots.
For the Shallot-Infused Oil and Fried Shallots:
1 cup (237ml) neutral frying oil, such as canola
10 medium shallots (14 ounces; 397g), thinly sliced
For the Bissara:
2 cups dried split fava beans (12.7 ounces; 360g), rinsed
2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems (2 ounces; 57g), divided
1 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves (1 ounce; 30g)
1 medium yellow onion (8 ounces; 227g), peeled, root end trimmed, and quartered lengthwise
1/4 cup (10g) packed fresh dill
3 medium cloves garlic (12g), peeled
1 green chile pepper (15g), such as serrano, stemmed, seeded, and chopped (about 1 tablespoon), or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
5 fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dry mint
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
4 cups (946ml) vegetable broth
2 tablespoons (30ml) shallot-infused oil (recipe above)
1 tablespoon (15ml) shallot-infused oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Store-bought pita chips
For the Shallot-Infused Oil and Fried Shallots: In an 8-inch skillet, combine oil and shallots over medium-low heat, and cook, stirring often, until shallots are golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes.
Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a heatproof bowl. Transfer shallots to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and season with salt. Set shallot-infused oil aside to cool.
Store the fried shallots in an airtight container until you are ready to garnish the bissara. Store the shallot-infused oil in a clean jar.
For the Bissara: Add the rinsed split fava beans to a large bowl; cover with cold water by at least 2 inches. Cover and set aside to soak overnight (at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours) at room temperature. The second day, transfer the beans to a colander and rinse well under cold water; drain.
In a 7-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, combine the fava beans, 1 cup cilantro, parsley, quartered onion, dill, whole garlic cloves, green chili pepper, mint, cumin, coriander, dry mint, paprika, pepper, and salt. Stir in broth and shallot-infused oil (the beans will not be fully submerged in liquid; that’s okay). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let the beans simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. (Your beans may finish cooking in less than an hour; continue simmering to reduce the liquid until to a thick porridge-like consistency.) The beans should be soft and easy to crush with a fork. Make sure to stir every now and then so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely to room temperature, 60 to 90 minutes (mixture will thicken as it cools).
Transfer cooled mixture to a food processor, add the remaining 1 cup fresh cilantro and process until you reach a creamy consistency similar to hummus, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. In case the dip is anything less than vibrant green, just add some more fresh parsley or cilantro herbs to punch up the color. Taste the bissara and adjust the seasoning.
Transfer the bissara back to the pot to reheat gently over low heat until just warm or serve at room temperature.
To Serve: Transfer the bissara to a serving bowl and drizzle with shallot-infused oil, garnish with a flutter of paprika, and top with the fried shallots. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with pita chips and/or vegetable sticks.
8-inch skillet; 7-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot; food processor; colander; strainer or fine-mesh sieve
The consistency of Bissara should be more or less like hummus, thick enough not to be runny, but still soft and spreadable.
You can halve or double this recipe.
Make-Ahead and Storage
You can fry the shallots a day in advance. Refrigerate the shallot-infused oil, and store the fried shallots at room temperature in an airtight container.
The bissara can be kept in the fridge in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days. To prevent the dip from oxidizing, press plastic wrap against the surface of the dip.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 10 to 12|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 4g||5%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||1%|
|Total Carbohydrate 11g||4%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||9%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 8mg||42%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|