A Bowlful of Moroccan Memories

I just spent a very memorable few weeks road tripping around Morocco.

It’s truly a beautiful country from its undulating sand dunes in the Sahara, striking mountains and dramatic gorges studded with Berber villages, and coastlines dotted with sardine fishing boats...

...to its endless groves of olive, pomegranate and orange trees, lush valleys lined with date palms and deep-red kasbahs, and imperial cities with their ancient medinas and ornate riads.

Sunset Camel trek in the sahara desert

Sunset Camel trek in the sahara desert

Local Food Scene
One of my favorite things about traveling is learning about the local food scene, from what’s growing in the fields to what’s cooking in the kitchen. I love talking to locals about what they eat and how they make it (and they love to tell me!).

In Morocco, I was really struck by the simplicity of their breakfast (compared to, say, a green smoothie loaded with a dozen different ingredients).

Numerous Moroccans shared that their typical morning meal consists of tearing pieces off a flat, round, crusty loaf of wheat bread then dipping them in olive oil. This is accompanied by the country’s most beloved beverage, mint tea.

They might also eat bissara, a hearty yet simple soup made with dried fava beans or sometimes green split peas. It’s often topped with a heavy drizzle of olive oil and spices, like cumin, paprika or cayenne.

Bissara was one of my favorite Moroccan dishes. I bought it from a street vendor for around 50 cents. It was deeply nourishing and satisfying.

My first bowl of bissara made by a street vendor in fez.

My first bowl of bissara made by a street vendor in fez.

Soup for Breakfast
I love the idea of a belly-warming soup for breakfast, especially on cold mornings (which occur pretty much year-round in San Francisco!).

While not common in the U.S., many countries eat soup for breakfast, from miso soup in Japan and pho in Vietnam to mohinga in Myanmar.

Eating soup for breakfast is actually something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while. I’ve perused recipes, but nothing tempted my early morning taste buds—until now.

Super Simple, Super Healthy
What I love about bissara is that it’s super simple (and dirt cheap) to make—the recipes my Moroccan friends shared contained only three or four ingredients. Plus, it’s packed with healthy protein, fat and fiber, which will keep you going all morning long.

Now that I’ve recovered from my jetlag, I’m going to cook up a big pot this weekend.

I’ve found a variety of bissara (or bessara) recipes online, some more elaborate than others. I’m planning to start with this one. It includes more seasoning than the basic recipes I learned in Morocco, however, I’m a fan of bold flavors.

Not only will bissara be a hearty, healthy start to my day, it will also be a delicious reminder of my time spent in Morocco.

Are You Making This Breakfast Mistake?

For years my breakfast was either dry cereal or toast with jam. As I always ate whole grains, I thought I was starting my day off on a healthy note. I was utterly oblivious to how nutritionally lopsided my morning meal was.

Void of much protein or fat, my carb-laden breakfasts launched my body on a wicked blood sugar roller-coaster ride. The result: one cranky girl with brain fog, sporadic energy, constant hunger and mad carb cravings.
 
Can you relate? If so, it's time to power up your breakfast plate.
 
4 Reasons to Eat a Protein-Rich Breakfast

  1. Elevate Your Energy and Mind
    Protein is the only food source of amino acids. Amino acids produce mood-enhancing chemicals including dopamine, our natural energizer and mental focuser. A protein-rich breakfast will give you clear, sharp mental focus and lasting energy. Skip protein and you will feel slow, dull and scattered.
     
  2. Boost Your Mood
    Protein's amino acids also create serotonin, a feel-good chemical that promotes happiness and well-being. Without a protein-packed breakfast, you may feel irritable, anxious or blue.
     
  3. Curb Hunger, Eat Less
    A breakfast with high-quality protein and healthy fats can keep you full for 4 to 5 hours. Eat just a bagel, muffin or cereal and you'll soon be clamoring for a snack. If you're often hungry an hour after breakfast, you're most likely skimping on protein.
     
  4. Tame Your Sweet Tooth
    Protein helps stabilize blood sugar. A hearty dose of a.m. protein will help zap your 3 p.m. candy jar raids and nighttime ice cream binges. 

Balanced Breakfast Ideas
Start your day off right with a breakfast containing 20 to 25 grams of protein, plus some healthy fats and fiber-rich carbs. Here are five high-protein foods with approximate grams per portion and serving suggestions:

  1. 3 eggs (18-24 grams depending upon size)
    Make a veggie omelet, a veggie frittata, or a scrambled egg burrito with a whole-grain tortilla, avocado and salsa. Hard boil eggs or freeze mini quiches for easy workday breakfasts and enjoy with fruit and/or veggies.
     
  2. 4 ounces (about the size of your palm) of lean organic meat, organic poultry or wild fish (20 g)
    Yes, you can eat lunch for breakfast! Layer turkey, chicken, salmon or sardines on whole-grain bread or a sprouted-grain wrap with avocado, tomato, cucumber, sprouts, arugula, spinach--whatever sounds tasty.
     
  3. 1 cup cottage cheese (27 g) or plain Greek yogurt (23 g) - not fat free!
    Stir in fresh or frozen fruit, cinnamon, flaxseed meal or chia seeds, and chopped raw nuts.
     
  4. High-quality protein powder (1-2 scoops depending upon type and serving size)
    Mix into a green smoothie (recipe here) or warm porridge made with protein-rich whole grains (e.g., quinoa, millet, amaranth), nuts, seeds and fruit (or make it savory with sweet potato, Swiss chard, etc.).
     
  5. 2 tablespoons organic nut butter, such as almond, cashew, walnut or hazelnut (7 g)
    Spread on a Food for Life Ezekiel sprouted-grain English muffin (8 g) and follow with protein powder (10-15 g) mixed with water and a green powder or low-sugar veggie juice.

Breakfast Reboot
Experiment with different dishes to find the right combination for your body; one that provides long-lasting physical and mental energy.
 
Don't Forget the Kids!
A protein-deficient breakfast impacts kids too. Sugary cereals and yogurts, refined-flour breads, pastries and fruit drinks will nose dive their mood, energy and concentration. Make sure their brains and bodies are well fueled with a balanced meal of lean protein (amount needed varies by age), healthy fats, fruits and veggies, and whole grains.