Tunisia’s version of a hearty breakfast is a bowl of bsissa, a simple, delicious and nutritious dish.
It’s hard to put your finger on what b’sissa tastes like; it is both sweet and bitter. The texture is a bit like liquid sandpaper — in a pleasant way.
To prepare this traditional dish, various grains and dried vegetables are ground together into a powder. The bsissa powder is then mixed with sugar and either water or olive oil. I personally like it with olive oil. The watery-method mix is runny and can be served as a drink. The liquid version is better during summer; bsissa with cold water and ice cubes quenches thirst and boosts energy levels to fight the heat. The olive oil-blend is gummy and eaten with a spoon.
Bsissa is typically eaten in the morning to kickstart the day, but can be a dessert.
It is humanly impossible to eat more than one bowl of olive oil bsissa because of its richness.
Bsissa is prepared casually as breakfast or for special occasions. Often, the dish is served to new mothers who just gave birth or to grooms-to-be for its nutritious qualities. Guests visiting a newborn are also usually presented with bsissa. And for me, it is a Ramadan must have.
Although preparing bsissa power takes some patience, once done it can be stored somewhere dry for a long time. If you’re in Tunisia, your local spice grinder (tahouna) can grind your ingredients into a powder for you. If you’re making it at home, use a blender and give yourself plenty of time.
3 kilograms wheat grains
3 kilograms dry chickpeas
1 kilogram dry lentils
1 kilogram dry fava beans
100 grams fennel grains
100 grams green anise grains
A pinch of salt
One tablespoon dried orange peels (optional)
Two tablespoons fenugreek (optional)
From the large pile of wheat, chickpeas, lentils, and beans, take out anything that you don’t want to eat. Sometimes small pebbles or other undesirables sneak in. Then, rinse everything under water thoroughly.
Once clean, lightly toast the dry material over a stove top in a pot.
Once you’ve toasted all the dry material, use a blender to grind.
Now, take your powder and mix with sugar and water or olive oil. For water, add to taste. Some prefer to drink their watery bsissa, others like it a little thicker. For olive oil, add until you get a gummy, thick consistency. Garnish the later with nuts and Tahini-based halva (Chamiya).