Bigilla is a traditional Maltese bean dip. Being so healthy Bigilla can be included in our daily diets in more ways than one. Bigilla can be used as a spread with Hobz biz-zejt or as an accompaniment to stuffed artichokes or simply as a dip served with warm ftira or some crudités.

I have gone back to making this dish from scratch after tasting some of the versions on sale. There is some good quality Bigilla on sale, however the home-made version always tastes better. 1 packet of 250g of beans will give you a large bowl of Bigilla to store in your fridge for a couple of days or to add to your summer buffet table.

No need for busy people to panic, I prepare this dish in a couple of minutes. The only thing you need to think about is to soak the beans in cold water, preferably from the night before.
Preparation (if you can call it that) actually takes longer than the actual process of cooking it. What you need to buy is the dried brown small beans known as Ful ta’ Girba.

Once you soak the beans, it is best to change the water as often as possible. This does not mean every 5 to 10 minutes but every 4 hours or when you notice the water turning a dirty brown.
Once the soaking is complete, drain the beans from their water and rinse under running water.

To cook the beans it is best to use a pressure cooker as this reduces the cooking time to 30minutes. Alternatively, you can boil the bean in a normal pot. In this case, the beans will need to be cooked for close to 1 hour. The duration of the boiling also varies according to your soaking process. If you have soaked them for less than 8 hours, then you will need to increase your cooking times. The best test to check if the beans are cooked is to squash a bean slightly with your fingers.

Cooking time is complete when the beans appear to start melting and the water would have taken the dark brownish colour. Should you be using a pressure cooker, stick to the exact cooking time given above.

Next, with the beans still warm, blend the beans in a food processor adding enough cooking water to have a liquid consistency. At this point, the Bigilla should look like the mixture of an un-cooked cake.

Add the following to the beans whilst you are blending. These amounts are correct for 1 packet of 250g dried beans.
1 heaped teaspoon of Maltese sea salt
1 whole garlic clove
1 red chilli pepper (or some dashes of Tobasco)
A large handful of parsley (about 1 cup)
About 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

Place the mixture into a tray or plate, spread it out evenly and allow it to cool. It is very important that the Bigilla is quite liquid when it is still warm as once it starts to cool the beans paste will harden up.

Now chop some more fresh garlic and parsley very finely and spread them over the dish. Drizzle a generous helping of olive oil and serve. This dish can be stored in the fridge of weeks if kept in an air tight container.

Bigilla can also be made with the large type of dried bean however the smaller ones are used in the original recipe. It is important to buy your dried beans in small amounts since the beans will double in size once soaked. Just as a rough indication, 200gr of dried beans will give you up to 6 portions of dip. Enjoy !

This recipe has been previously published in the Best Buy Supplement, out monthly with The Times.

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