Monday, 2 March 2015

Moroccan fried and honeyed pancakes with sesame seeds and almond: Rghaifs Ma'assline del Eid

R'ghaifs, Msemmens and Malouis fall under the category of flabread for some, galettes for the others and fried or baked pancakes for the third category.

Unlike in India, we do not serve them along with main meals and we do not scoop gravies with them. They're eaten on their own or stuffed with something.

A brunch/breakfast table during eid with a large plate of fried
 and honeyed sesame R'ghaifs
In today's recipe, these R'ghaifs are fried and soaked in honey, they're essentially served as a sweet treat, part of Eid Al Fitr's breakfast/brunch (The feast marking the end of Ramadan for Muslims).

A blend of crunchiness and chewiness from the outside and softness from the inside, all wrapped with warm flavours, these Moroccan R'ghaifs with sesame seeds are fried and then left to soak in some mastic gum-flavoured honey for everyone's pleasure. It's a good start to each Feast.

Now these Eid's R'ghaifs (Eid means Feastare done differently throughout Morocco. While some make a simple Msemmen dough, shape it in squares, fry it and soak it in honey, some regions go beyond that and add more ingredients to the dough itself.  Actually, adding saffron, gum arabic and sesame seeds paste to the dough is the secret to this recipe.

Some keep these R'ghaifs unstuffed but to add more goodness to the goodness, another version is all about fillinf each square with a fragrant homemade almond paste.In this case, they will be then called R'ghaifs bel louz (with almonds).

All Moroccans traditionally shape them in squares and even after frying and soaking, they will never go beyond 15 cm hight/width.

Meknes (next city after Fez) area happens to be the place where these festive R'ghaifs bellouz (with almonds) are famous and the tradition seems to run deep in that area.

You really have to try them out to feel all the dimensions of textures and flavours they have to offer. The good thing is that you can keep them in an airtight container for a few days. I still like them the first couple of days thought and to be honest, we've never been beyond that. They never last beyond that point.

The layers of a honeyed sesame r'ghifa (single of R'ghaifs).
This one comes without almond paste inside.

Since my sister is married to a Meknassi man, she's got her recipe from her in-laws decades ago, and then lost it. We adapted the recipe Rachida Amhaouche (a famous cookbook writer in Morocco) which delivers the results we were after.

Makes about 30
Prep: 30 min - Cooking: about 3-4 min per batch

The dough
  • 300 g of white flour
  • 200 g of fine semolina flour
  • 50 g of unhulled sesame seeds, toasted and cooled
  • 1 tsp of aniseed
  • 1 small of mastic gum, well pound with a good pinch of caster sugar
  • A good pinch of salt
  • A good pinch of saffron threads
  • 3 tbsps of orange blossom water
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 220-230 ml of water, lukewarm

For layering the dough
  • 150 ml of vegetable oil

The filling (optional)
  • 250g of almonds, blanched and peeled
  • 50 g of fine sugar
  • 1 pinch of mastic gum (pounded with a pinch of caster sugar) 
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 tbps of melted butter

Frying and finishing
  • About 1 kg of clear honey
  • A pinch of mastic gum (pounded with a pinch of caster sugar)
  • About 2 l of neutral vegetable frying oil
  • Sesame seeds for decoration


In a deep pan, cover the almonds with water and bring to a boil for 3 mins. Drain and peel off the skin. Wash, drain and pat-dry.

At this stage, you could:

1- Grind them to a paste with the other ingredients
2- Bake them at 180 for 20 min (toss them a couple of times) or fry the almonds  (then drain) until golden then grind them with the rest of the ingredients.

Prepare the dough

Finely grind the sesame seeds and aniseeds to a fine powder, Sift all dry ingredients together.

Place the saffron threads in orange blossom water for 10 mins.

Mix all ingredients except water which you add gradually. Work the dough for 10 to 15 mins by hand and about 7-8 minutes using a KitchenAid or equivalent.

The dough should be well combined, smooth, not runny nor sticky. Cover tight with a plastic paper or cling-film. Set aside for 15 min to 30 min.

The dough is yellow-ish. That's due to the saffron but sometimes
 with add a bit of  turmeric too

Have the vegetable oil handy in a bowl next to you. You will need it to grease your hands, the dough balls and the surface.

An idea on how we form the balls after oiling hands and dough itself.
 (the photo is from previous plain Msemmens)

Form little balls of 3-4 cm diameter. Should your hands, the surface or the dough becomes dry, slightly grease them.

Generously oil a big tray or plate and place the dough balls slightly far from each others. Cover and set aside for another 15 min. Basically, if you have made a lot, you could cover the dough balls from any contact with air and start layering the first set of balls you shaped.

OIl your hands again as well as the work surface which should be smooth and clean from any spots (crumbs, bits etc..)

Flatten each ball as thin as possible and in a big rectangle. You should see the work surface through. Make sure you get on with this step delicately without creating holes in the dough.

Shape into mini squares of dough and set aside for another 10 min. Make sure the dough is always oiled from all sides and covered with plastic or cling film. (See Notes on how to shape Msemmens in general).

Should you wish to fill the inside with the almond paste, place it in the middle and then carry in with the folding.

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a deep frying pan and then fry both sides of rghaif until they're nicely golden.

Drain any excess of oil by shaking them then delicately soak a few minutes in slightly warmed honey (mixed with the ground mastic gum). Toss them a couple of time and make sure they're fully dipped in the honey

Drain the R'ghaifs from any excess honey, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

Serve at room temperature.

Store any leftovers in an airtight container for a couple of days.

Notes on how to shape a Msemmen square in general

In this shaping step, you should always remember these rules:

  • The thinner and even the first rectangle of dough is the better.
  • Always remember the rule of thirds (see below). 
  • After you shape a square of folded layers, you need to leave the dough to rest for at least 10 min. It helps getting on with the next flattening step.

1- Once the dough ball is flattened to a rectangle of thin and transparent layer, sprinkle some drops of oil and visually divide this rectangle into 3 thirds from top to bottom and from right to left. All will surrounding thirds will have to be brought back to the third located in the centre. That's pretty much the logic of shaping a Msemmen square.

2- Bring the top third to the middle and fold it equally on it by stretching any edge. Bring the bottom third on top of the two and make sure it's covering the first 2 thirds.

This is a Msemmen filled with vegetables. I have folded the first top third
and bottom third on the middle third. The edges can be stretched with fingers
 to form a perfect tall rectangle where all layers are covering each others neatly

3- Sprinkle a few drops of oil again and bring the third bit of dough from the right into the middle then the left third to the middle to close the square.

Bring the right third then left third on top of the middle third.
5- Set aside for a few minutes, slightly oiled from the surface and covered with cling film.

The square of dough which should be left to rest for a few minutes.

6- Flatten each formed square again so the layers become even thinner. Make sure you never create holes in the square of dough while giving it extra centimetres.

7- The Msemmen pr R'ghaif squares are ready to be oil-fried, baked or pan-fried.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Moroccan chicken with Meslalla cooked M'chermel way

We're still on Meslalla olives topic and this time with another traditional dish in the Moroccan cooking repertoire cooked M'chermel way.

Chicken with meslalla and chermoula is quite a favourite family dish and I don't think restaurants serve it back home. It's a typical homemade dish with homemade cured olives. 

If you can't get hold of meslalla olives, your next option in line would be those bitter green olives which I easily find at Turkish grocery shops (here in London). You will need to crack them with a pestle and parboil them for 5 min. They will have to be pitted after that.

The other option is to look for purple olives which I guess are usually found in North African grocery shops.

The chicken which hasn't been marinated will look clearer like so.
This dish was prepared in a hurry.

On a very traditional ground, this dish would be a bit oily but oh how it tastes good. 

A seriously traditional chicken with meslalla olives, the sauce (marka),
although looking oily,  is incredibly packed with flavours

Unlike the traditional and unbeatable way of cooking which involved being generous with oil (sometimes, this would be the secret), I like to cut on fat. That's how I've seen my mother doing to keep us on track. You still enjoy the dish without feeling remorse about it.

There are to ways to make this dish. I'll start with the traditional version and I'll put my favourite version in a note at the bottom (which requires you make the recipe posted previously but it delivers).

Serves 4-6
Prep: 15 min - Cooking: 60 min

  • 1 chicken of 1.5 kg, cut into big pieces
  • 500 g of Meslalla olives, ready to use
  • 1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium-size tomato, grated, seeds discarded
  • 3 gloves of garlic, chopped
  • 5 tbsps of parsley and coriander, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsps of oil (olive oil and vegetable oil)
  • 1/2 tsp of ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp of cumin
  • 1 tsp of turmeric
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tbsp of sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp of cayenne or 1 whole hot chili
  • 3 tbsps of lemon juice
For garnish
  • Preserved lemon


Preparing the chicken

Clean and leave the chicken in a salty and lemony brine for a few hours. Drain.

Like most of the dishes in Moroccan cooking, it's optional to marinate the chicken for a few hours, but if you have time, this will make this dish even more succulent. In this case, rub the chicken inside out in a paste made of all the spices and a tablespoon of water

Preparing the olives

Before using the olives, parboil them for 7-10 mins in water and lemon: add enough water to cover them and about 3 tbsps of lemon juice or 1 lemon cut in quarters. In case the olives are obviously bitter, repeat the process with a new fresh water. 

Drain and pit the olives. 

Using the lemon in the preservation step and boiling step keeps the
olives looking good

In a deep pot, add a couple of tablespoons of water and place over medium heat. Add the chicken, the finely chopped onion, the spices (except if you have already marinated it) and the oil. Stir and let simmer for 7 to 8 minutes while turning the chicken all around so it's well infused with all the flavours.

Cover with water to 2/3 and add the herbs, the garlic, the tomato. Cover and let simmer for about 40 min until the sauce is halfway reduced and the chicken is cooked.  

Add the olives. Let simmer for another 10-15 minutes. The sauce should be nicely reduced and thick.

Before you knock of the heat, mix in about 3 tbsps of lemon juice. Stir. .

Serving the dish

In a serving dish, place some of the sauce, then the chicken, then top with olives and more of the sauce. 

Garnish with preserved lemons and a preserved chili (or one you would have cooked in the pot from the beginning).

Serve hot with a good Moroccan bread, baguette or pita.


1- I like this method where we add the already marinated olives and prepared as shown here. In this case, you don't need to parboil them, you just add them as they are. The taste of the olives with all the spices in them bring the dish to another level of goodness.

2- You could follow the same recipe by substituting the chicken with a  whole big fish such as pandora or conger or cod.

Moroccan Meslalla olives in chermoula

Now that Meslalla has become edible after a few days of water treatment and care, Moroccan households usually marinate it with a lemony chermoula mix and serve it as a starter in every meal.

In my last trip to Morocco, my mother shared with me a new recipe she's come up with to make an even better marinated meslalla and I can't have enough since I discovered it.

This recipe keeps well in the fridge for a month. It can be served as a starter or can be used for cooking (recipes will follow).

On their own, these marinated olives make a good snack

For 750g of meslalla
Prep: 10 min - Cooking: 25 min

First Meslalla boiling stage

  • 750g of meslalla ready to use (see post for more details), pitted
  • 2 tbps of salt
  • 3 tbps of lemon juice or a few wedges of lemon

Ingredients for chermoula simmering stage
  • 1 cup of tomatoes, grated 
  • 1 medium-size onion, grated or finely chopped
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 tbps of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup of chopped coriander and parsley 
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 1 tbps of sweet paprika (optional)
  • 1 tbps of harissa or to taste
  • 2 tbps of lemon juice
  • 150 ml of water
  • 2 tbps of extra virgin olive oil

The olives have been marinated all the way through. They're almost all
 pitted without effort.


Boil the meslalla olives for 10 mins in water, salt and lemon. Drain.

This steps corrects any bitterness in the olive especially if you are using it in its early days of processing (see previous post).

Next, mix all ingredients mentioned in the second step, leaving the olive oil for the end. Cover and let simmer for 5 minutes over medium heat.

Add boiled and drained meslalla and stir. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes. The sauce should have reduced to nothing by now. If not, make sure you increase the heat and reduce it.

You could add the chopped herbs at the same time as the olives. I actually prefer it that way.

Add the olive oil and stir. Set aside to cool. Store in airtight containers in a cold place for up to a month.

Serve cold.


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