Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Moroccan Rfissa with Rezzat El Qadi

R'fissa or Rfissa is a concept of dish found across the Arab world. The dish generally comes in the form of a built dish where the base is shredded pancake or bread that is generously soaked with a slow-cooked broth and topped with meat (chicken, meat....). However, each country has their own recipe(s).

In its meaty and spiced up form, this regional specialty is often prepared after a woman gives birth as it is believed to help the mother regain her strength and even help the breast milk flow. When you know that it needs a grass-fed farm hen, lentils and a mix of warm herbs and spices called msakhen (see notes) then you can relate.

Rfissa is also a family dish which is the essence of comfort food. It is also a proper winter dish in its full version (with Msakhen mix, with pulses such as dried fava beans and lentils..)

A family-size Rfissa with rezzat el qadi

Rfissa is not to be confused with Algerian or Tunisian Rfiss which is more of a sweet preparation.

Depending on the regions, Moroccan Rfissa can be prepared with a special harcha (Rfissa ziyatiya), stale bread (Rfissa el 'Amya), Msemmen or Trid or Rezzat el Qadi which is a regional pancake specialty consisting of a threaded M'semmen.

As I write quite often about the Fassi Cuisine (from Fez), Rfissa is definitely not something you should look for in Fez. My mother learned to make it from her colleagues and I had it a few times at my friends houses.

This is how It has become an important dish in our family. Because let's be honest about it, the best Rfissa has to come from the Chaouia region (most of its people end up in Casablanca) is just as much as one of the best couscous comes from Abda region and the best pigeon bastilla  pr Moroccan almond sweets come from Fez.

I have previously posted a Rfissa recipe with Msemmen base, it's almost the same thing as today's recipe but written in French. So for those who are comfortable with the language, please head there.

Serves 4 - 6
Prep: 10 min (not incl. the time for rezzat el qadi) - Cooking: 1 hour
For the chicken 
  • 1 chicken of 1.2 to 1.5 kg, cleaned the Moroccan way (check this post) and divided into 4 to 6 pieces
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp of salt 
  • 1 tsp of Ras el hanout
  • 1 tsp of Msakhen (optional, see notes)
  • 1 tsp of smen (cured preserved clarified butter)
For the broth
  • 3 medium-size onions, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp of mace
  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp of salt 
  • 1/2 tsp of Ras el hanout
  • 1 tsp of smen (cured preserved clarified butter)
  • A good pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 tbsp of fenugreek seeds, pre-soaked for 3 hours in hot water (optional, see notes
  • 3 tbsps of olive oil 
  • 1 1/2 cup brown lentils, pre-soaked (not from a tin)


Mix half of the spices along with smen and a tablespoon of water. Massage the chicken in every possible bit of it especially the cavity. Cover and place it back in the fridge for 2 hours, preferably overnight.

In a deep cooking pot, place 3 tablespoons of water, onions, spices and smen. Stir.
Place over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the chicken, the bouquet of herb and the oil. Stir again.
Pour about 1.5 l of hot water but not directly on the chicken (you don't want to wash down the spices). Do it rather from the sides.

Cover and let simmer for 40 minutes until the chicken is tender. You need to have enough broth left to cook the lentils and also to soak Rf'issa base later.

Reserve about 2 to 3 cups of broth. If you don't have enough, add water to the chicken broth after you fish out the chicken in a separate dish and cover it.

Stir the drained pre-soaked lentils in the reserved broth and cook them along with fenugreek until soft.

Assembling and presenting Rfissa

While the rezzat el qadi is steaming, heat the pot with broth and chicken as well as the lentils.

Fluff up the Rezzat el qadi with your hands. Place it on the top side of a couscoussier or rice steamer fitted with a steamer tray. Do not cover.

Put boiling water and the bottom and wait for the first steam to come through.

Spread the rezzat el qadi threads in a serving dish.

Drizzle more sauce and add more topping as you go in order to cover the rezza base
Next, place the chicken in the middle, generously drizzle the broth and onions. Delicately spread around evenly to soak the rezza base. You don't want to turn it to a pool either.

Spread the lentils on top.

Serve hot, along with bowls of extra broth on the sides for those who want more of it.


Msakhen vs Ras el Hanout

While Ras el Hanout is a specific mix of spices, Msakhen are about spices and herbs as well and the word derives from "heating up" or "warming up". Just like Ras el Hanout (translated as top of the shop), there is no specific recipe as they depend on who mixed them.

Some Msakhen have more herbs in them while others have more seeds and spices in them.

While Ras el Hanout is roughly used across Morocco (with differences in the mix), Msakhen are used in a few regions only and mostly in winter dishes (special soups, couscous, Rfissa).

Msakhen can be a mix of common and wild herbs I'm not able to translate here, which is why, it's advisable that a pregnant woman does not add them to the food, especially when the mix is still fresh and new. They're meant to be very "warm" and can cause a miscarriage. That's at least what those who prepare them have always believed in.

The version of Msakhen I'll post in this recipe is only one example from my spice shop in Casablanca. This version has rather some common spices with Ras el Hanout but it gets interesting in the end.

If you are in Morocco and trying to buy Msakhen, your best bet is to look for them in Casablanca at the spice shops located in traditional markets. It's not something you come buy at supermarket or across the cities for that matter.

So here is the list of Msakhen ingredients used by my spice shop (some names of seeds are missing though but it's already complicated as it is): Galangal, oregano, penny-royal, rosemary, amber, saffron, cinnamon, turmeric, mace, cardamom, long pepper, Sedge, maniguette, allspice, nutmeg, aniseed, cumin seeds, white pepper, castor. coriander seed, nigella seeds, fenugreek, fennel seed, cresson alénois (in French), chamomile, clove, star anise, caraway, lavender, thyme, applemint, onion seeds, carrot seeds and a few other seeds and herbs I'm personally not familiar with.


This is not a common spice in Moroccan cooking and not everyone like it. Although we use it a lot in traditional medicine, it's hardly used in the dishes and some regions don't even get to it.

Some versions of Rfissa such as as the one posted here call for fenugreek seeds. Moroccan women found a solution to please everyone: they cook the seeds in a bit of broth and serve it in a bowl on the side of the Rfissa dish. If someone is into it, they can just spoon some of that broth and add it to their serving and everyone is happy!

Although I'm not big fan of fenugreek, I find that adding a pinch of it to the main pot is really not that bad!

The different faces of Moroccan Rfissa

Like mentioned earlier, there are different types of Rfissa in Morocco.

Rfissa with Msemmen: Mostly topped with chicken and pulses (fava beans, chickpeas, lentils). You can also make a vegetarian Rfissa by omitting the chicken. Not common but doable.

Rfissa with Rezzat el qadi: rather a version from the western part of Morocco, namely Sidi Hejjaj and its region. Women go through the trouble of manually preparing these threaded pancakes and serve this dish for important family ceremonies and religious feasts. The recipe is almost the same as the Rfissa with Msemmen.

Rfissa el 'Amia (blind Rfissa): The base is stale bread in small pieces and steamed. The broth can also have pulses and practically the same spices as the one above. However, Dried cured meat (used to make khlii) or other sorts of meat can be used. It's a 100% winter dish and it could come very garlicky. It's belly-warming and ideal for a cold.

Rfissa Zeyadiya from Benslimane: The base is a thin harcha which is broken to small bits and steamed. The broth is almost the same apart from the addition of cinnamon stick and the use of game. Lentils are also called for here. There is a version which is rather presented differently in Taliouine, the capital of Moroccan saffron, it's called Taachat and it comes with meat instead of hens. It also calls for a generous amount of smen and saffron.

Vegetarian and fuss-free Rfissa from Hyayna:  In the cities near Hyayna, it's also called "Khoubza we lebza".

Now the key to this dish is the farm butter, prepared and rolled by hands in our countryside. I had the chance to taste this harcha-based dish when I was about 12 years old and It brings back nice memories now that I remember it.

Hyayna is a village near Fez and they have the reputation to make one of the best harcha galettes in Morocco. They top it with a big ball of good farm-butter made by them (each family makes their own) then break the harcha to small bits and grits. That's about it, simple but out of this world!

The sweet version of this harcha is drizzled with mountain honey such as in Debdou.

Mini-tartlets with onion and khlii

Those mini-tartlets with naturally caramelized onions and bits of Khlii (which you can replace with smoky bacon) are really irresistible, especially if you serve them along with pickles. 

I use this magical lactose-free and fuss-free dough as a base to make them but you can use a savoury shortcrust dough.

This recipe is freezer-friendly at any stage: either when you make the dough or shape it in its moulds, or fill it or even bake it all.

Makes 50 + mini tartlets
Prep: 20 min - Baking: 30 min (filled)

The lactose-free quiche base
  • 300g flour (more or less)
  • 90 ml of boiling water
  • 10 ml of vinegar
  • 100 ml of oil (50%-50% olive oil/veg oil for me)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 5 g of baking powder
  • Black pepper, tarragon or oregano or thyme (optional)
For the onion filling
  • 2 medium-size yellow/white onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tsp of butter
  • Salt and black pepper to taste 
  • About 3 bits of sun-dried tomatoes in oil,  chopped (or cherry tomatoes)
  • 100 g of khlii strips, chopped (discard the fat/suet around them)
  • 100 g of grated cheese (Gruyere, Edam, Provolone...)
  • A few parsley leaves


Start preparing the filling that needs cooking to allow time for it to cool.

Onion filling

Let the onions sweat in olive oil for a minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Add 1/2 cup of water and cover. Onions need to become tender and water must evaporate. This step should take about 20 minutes.

Add the butter and herbs and stir. The onions should start turning from creamy to nicely golden.

Set aside to cool. Fold in sun-dried tomatoes and bits of khlii.

The dough

Mix all ingredients together except flour and baking powder which you need to add just afterward.
Combine to a dough.

Roll over a floured surface as thin as you can (about 1 mm). Do not over-flour the surface so the dough keeps a good texture after it's baked.

Cut shapes that will fit into your moulds, press the bottom to expel air and the edges firmly.

Prick as much as you can.

You can either freeze this at this stage or fill it and freeze it or bake it black and freeze it.

I freeze the dough in the moulds for 15 minutes, by the time the oven is well preheated.

Assembly and baking

Preheat the oven at 180 degrees C. Place all the mini-moulds in a baking sheet. Blank bake the dough for about 12 - 15 min.

Place the onions mixed with sun-dried tomatoes and khlii bits on top. Sprinkle some grated cheese.

Bake for about 5-7 minutes.Serve at room temperature.

Moroccan goat cheese rolls (sbiaats)

If there are a Moroccan cheese I really enjoy, it has to be Jben Saiss. Jben is the name of the white cheese in Moroccan while Saiss is a geographical area.

You will find this Jben anywhere from Fez to the North. Jben can be prepared using cow's milk but the one I'm all about today is prepared with goat cheese. 

Jben Saiss comes in different textures, from soft to hard. It also comes with different saltiness. 

Some like it slightly aged and some like it as fresh as it gets. So when I'm in front of it, I just pick a bit of everything.

While some of the cheeses might have rennet in them, you can come buy a vegetarian version of Jben Saiss using herbs and fig extract to bring it to that texture. 

We happen to have our trusted cheese man located in the old part of the city and his cheese has no rennet. When I'm in Fez, I buy a decent amount and freeze it for future use, especially for these goat cheese rolls.

Now these cheese rolls can be on the savoury side, using mint or parsley or just plain. But they can also be served slightly sweet by adding a hint of sugar and orange blossom to the cheese mix then drizzling them with honey once fried.

If you choose to shallow- fry these cheese rolls, make sure you start with an oil just about warm. I tend to bake them but the picture used in this post is one of fried rolls (prepared by my auntie), hence the uniform colour.

To make these Moroccan cheese rolls, you don't have to go to Fez or Northern Morocco to get the cheese. You can use anything between ricotta to a crumbled feta to a goat cheese buche (without the rind). You can also use cream cheese Philadelphia or Kirri. You can mix different type of fresh cheeses provided that you strain the watery ones.

Depending on the texture of the cheese, some prefer to add an egg (to 250g cheese) to ensure a creamy texture but I never do. 

Serves 8
Prep: 15 min - Baking: 15- 20 min - frying: 2 min/batch
  • About 8 large ouarka sheets or phyllo (each sheet makes 2)
  • 250g of white cheese (Ricotta, Feta, hard or soft Jben, Kirri, cottage cheese).
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A few fresh mint or parsley leaves, chopped (optional)
  • 1 egg (optional, depending on the cheese texture).
For frying
  • 500 ml of oil  
For baking
  • 100 g of butter, melted 
Flour paste
  • 2 tbsps of flour
  • 1 tbps of water (+/-)

Jben Saiss is a fresh goat cheese that comes in different textures.


In a large bowl, mix the egg with a fork, crumble the cheese in and add the rest of the ingredients. You can make this step ahead and leave it in the fridge for a few hours.

Shaping the rolls or the triangles

If you are using large sheets or ouarka or phyllo, think about cutting them in half (at least) to shape the triangles or in large strips to make the rolls.

Place the ouarka sheet on your work surface shiny side down. If you are going to fry it, you don't need to brush with butter. If rolls or triangles are going to the oven, then brushing the ouarka sheets with butter is important.

Put a little filling in the bottom of the sheet, a few centimeters from the edge, fold the sides of the sheet over the filling lengthwise making sure the sides are neat and even at all time. (see how to shape the rolls).

Fold the strip on itself as you go. Make sure the cheese is trapped inside the wrapping as you don't want it to overflows during frying or baking.

You could seal the last bit of the roll by smearing a bit of flour paste.

Place the rolls in the fridge, covered with a cling film until you are ready to fry or bake them.

Frying vs baking the cheese rolls:

To fry the rolls, make sure the oil is just about warm in the beginning. Flip the rolls or triangles a couple of times making sure it's nicely golden from both sides.

To bake the rolls, preheat the oven at 180 degrees C. Grease a baking sheet with a tiny bit of oil. Place the rolls in and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, making sure to flip them halfway.

Serve at room temperature within the hour.


You can grate cold cuts, shop some olives and add to the cheese mix. You could use ouarka or  a shortcrust dough to make mini-turnovers..Egg wash and bake for about 20 minutes at 180 degree C.


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