Monday, 25 May 2015

Moroccan barley soup with agriche

Barley is widely used in Morocco to make soups, bread, couscous and galettes. Its deep flavour is appreciated across North Africa and people also believe in its health attributes.

Barley soup comes in a white version with milk, a yellow version with less paprika/tomato addition and a red version with a bit of tomato paste or grated tomatoes. The last version gets the Khlii treatment in the city of Fez, which makes it even tastier. It's a soup that hardly needs spices.

Ramadan lasts 29 to 30 days and soups are served at Iftar/Ftour (the time we break the fast). In our family, we usually have 2 soups of the day because not everyone likes the same thing, but also because there is always leftover soup from the previous day. Barley soup is one of the Moroccan soups that will be served when someone fancies it.

Tchicha with khlii and agriche and less tomato paste

If you don't have khlii or khlii sediments, use a smokey ingredient such as bacon. It won't be similar but at least it will lift it a bit.

Khlii can be made using an express method. Its sediments are widely used in Fassi kitchen to flavour many dishes. It's a condiment on its own.

If you can't have khlii for whatever reason, make a seafood version of this dish by adding fresh prawns (shell on for more flavour) and chopped squids. I won't suggest supermarket-frozen packets for this recipe.

Tunisian-inspired version with prawns, it takes a bit more tomato paste 

I also make tchicha soup with the meat from Merguez or mini Moroccan spiced meatballs (with cumin, paprika, parsley and coriander). This could be another option to explore in case you can't get hold of khlii.

Version with meatballs: I added meatballs in the last minutes, along with the coriander


Ingredients
Serves 4 to 6
Prep: 5 min - Cooking: 35 min


  • 1/2 cup of barley grits, small caliber
  • 1 medium-size onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of dried broad beans, or 1/2 cup of fresh broad beans (see note)
  • 2 liters of water
  • 1 cube of bouillon
  • 2 tbsp of tomato paste or 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp of ground black pepper
  • A good pinch of cayenne or a tsp of mild Harissa
  • 1/4 cup of coriander, chopped
  • 1 strip of khlii
  • 1 tbsp of khlii's sediments (agriche)
  • 2 tbsps of olive oil (if you are not using khlii)
  • Salt to taste 

Khlii and its sediments
Preparation

Rince the barley grits until water comes out clear.

In a deep saucepan, place water/bouillon, chopped onions and the broad/fava beans. Cook covered until soft.

Add the rest of the ingredients except the coriander and khlii. Stir frequently.

Passed 15 minutes, the barley grits should have become soft. Correct the seasoning, add the chopped coriander and khii. Add water if you think that the soup is too thick.

Serve warm.



Notes


  • Dried broad/fava beans need pre-soaking from 30 minutes to 1 hour. 


  • Fresh broad/fava beans can be parboiled for a few minutes before adding them, which comes in handy so you can peel them before you add them to the soup.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Moroccan Griouech/Mkharqa with almonds paste

Griouech or M'kharka/Mkharqa is a fried Moroccan sweet which gets soaked in honey. It's served throughout Ramadan along with the soup of the day which is Harira in most cases.

And since Harira is also served for breakfast after a long night wedding ceremony, this sweet is also served. They go hand in hand.



Moroccans themselves confuse chebbakia with griouech. It's an accepted mistake. I've been there too.

Chebbakia is a descendant of zellabia or jalebi. It's made of a runny dough which is then poured into hot oil using a funnel. We mostly buy it since only expert get its texture right (it's also a men's job).

Chebbakia is the one on top (with a funnel), Griouech or Mkharqa
is the one at the bottom (hand-shaped)

I have posted a recipe for Griouech or Mkharqa which is a keeper and it is usually the recipe I work around to make a standard version. But there was a version that only my senses could remember: a chewy fried and honeyned griouech with the taste of meska (mastic gum) coming through and soaked in a honey that seemed so deep in flavour you would always remember it.

In my last summer trip to Morocco, I found some griouech in my mother's freezer. I tried one, then I went for another. Then I asked her where she did get that wonder from. One of my aunties did send it to her from Fez. It was exactly what I was after, that old memory of a good fragrant and chewy griouech came to punch me in the face, but this time, with a potential recipe in the end of the tunnel.

So here is my auntie's recipe.

Since this dough has yeast in it, remember to shape the dough fast or get a second pair of hand to help out. The dough has to be rolled thin and should not stay long after shaping in a warm environment so it remains aesthetically nice after it is fried.




Ingredients
Makes 60 +
Prep: 45 min- Resting time: 4 hours minimum or overnight- Frying: 3-4 min /batch- Soaking: 1 - 2 hours


  • 500 g of all purpose flour (not strong bread bread flour)
  • 100 g of golden unhulled sesame seeds
  • 150 g of fine almond paste ( 120g blanched almonds ground to paste with 30 g of icing sugar)
  • 3 g of baking powder
  • 1 good pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 1 good pinch of saffron threads, mixed with 1 tbsp of warm water for at least 10 min
  • 1 tsp of ground aniseed 
  • 3/4 tsp of mastic gum (ground with about 1 tsp of caster sugar)
  • 160 ml of fat mix (1/3 melted butter, 1/3 olive oil, 1/3 vegetable oil)
  • About 70 ml of orange blossom water (don't add it in one go)
  • 5 g of instant dried yeast
  • 3 tbps of white vinegar (neutral taste)
For frying
  • 1.5 liter of vegetable oil (for a 22-25 cm pan)
For the honey
  • 1.5 kg of honey ( I mixed clear honey + mountain honey + acacia honey)
  • 1 tbsp of orange blossom water
  • A pinch of ground mastic gum (meska)
For decoration
  • Toasted sesame seeds or chopped blanched and fried almonds for decoration 




Preparation

The dough

If you are buying unhulled sesame seeds "en vrac", make sure you clean them from any stone or bad sesame seeds. You may need to wash them and dry them thoroughly.  The last step will be to toast them for about 5 min while stirring until it smells "sesame seeds". Grind them very finely.

Mix all dried ingredients (finely ground sesame seeds, finely ground aniseed, cinnamon, salt, flour, crushed mastic gum). Pass them through a fine sieve to make sure the mix is smooth and not grainy. You may need to repeat this twice.



Add the almond paste, fat and the saffron water and work with your hands (or in a food processor) as if you are making a shortcrust dough: the idea is to make sure that every grain of flour absorbs the fat. So rub with fingers, give it some "fraisage"...Cover and set aside for at least 2 hours (better overnight).


Passed that time, mix in the baking powder (make sure there are no lumps), the yeast, the vinegar and the egg then the orange blossom water to bind the dough. Knead the dough for a few minutes to get a smooth texture. The dough should hard and not sticky. Actually, the dough should be harder than a regular bread dough as it will relax later on. This is one of the tricks to achieve a good texture which will last for days.

Divide the dough into 4 and cover tight. Set aside for 30 min.

Shaping griouech

Take 1 ball at a time while keeping the others covered.

Have a small bowl of flour on the side in case you need it to roll the dough.

Roll it maximum 1 mm thick. Make sure you lift to aerate beneath it before going further.

Use a cutting wheel to cut long strips of dough of 10 cm width.

The one on the left is a tradional Moroccan cutting wheel fit for
the job, but you could use another dented wheel
Follow the directions in the pictures to see where you should cut the smaller strips to form the flower and how to define the square or rectangle for each flower. Today I'll give you the heart form and the traditional 5 strands griouech.
How to make a 5 strands griouech


5 strands griouech:

Roll the dough thin then fold it in three on itself (picture 1). Roll it again (picture 2) maximun 2mm thin. Release the dough from the work surface.

Cut long dough strips of 10-11 cm large. Then pass the cutting wheel from top bottom to top, leaving about 8 mm between each strip as well as the edges (picture 3).

Lift one strand and drop the other, you will have 2 versus 3 (pictures 4 to 6).

Bring together the two corners of the rectangle located at the bottom. Pinch to stick them together (picture 7).

Use the other hand and try to delicately open the griouech from its middle (picture 8), push the pinched corners towards the top (picture 9). The previous bottom part will now be popping out of the middle of griouech.

Place the flower/griouech in a tray and pinch the 2 corners.

Cover all these creations with a cling film or another kitchen towel.

The honey

Mix all ingredients and warm it for about 5 to 7 min. slightly warm it, Set aside. It shouldn't it be used cold while we dip the griouech in.

Frying and honeying griouech

These cookies are usually deep-fried (see introduction with note about baking). So you need a deep pot. For 1 liter of oil, I use a 22-25 cm large pot. You need to fry these cookies and bare in mind you need space to turn them. They also tend to expand a bit.

Once the oil is medium hot (not too hot), start dropping the flowers one by one. They usually land at the bottom but will float in the process. Fry from each side until nicely golden brown from both side. Each batch usually takes up to 3 minutes.

You know the oil is hot enough when you drop the uncooked griouech and it
makes these air bubbles which will disappear in a few seconds

Use a spider to fish the flowers carefully. Place them in the honey which shouldn't be hot at this stage. Delicately push each one and make sure it's fully soaked. Keep them in the honey for about 1 hour until they are completely cooled and they have soaked enough honey.

Decoration and storage

Once the griouech had time to get coated with honey, use a slotted spoon to fish them and place them in a strainer to get rid of excess honey.

You can:

1- store the cookies at room temperature but they're at their best only within 2 to 3 weeks depending on the weather.

2-  freeze them and thaw them about 20 min before you serve them.

In both cases, griouech should be stored in an airtight containers with layers or plastic or cling-film between each layer of the honeyed cookies. This will keep them intact and easy to pick without breakage.


Well I hope you give them a try, they could daunting in the beginning but usually you get the hang of it after the first 3 or 4 mis-shaped flowers. They're worth the effort.



Friday, 22 May 2015

Smokey and nutty Mtabbal Badinjan (or eggplant's Mutabbal)


How you prepare your eggplants will make all the difference in this famous Levantine mezze/starter.

Before we get on with the recipe, what looks like Mutabbal for some is considered Baba ghanouj for others. The two have many ingredients in common.

So the confusion is on a worldwide scale. However, if you go to a Syrian restaurant, they will be clear on which is which (on a general note), while some other Middle Eastern countries will call this Baba ghanouj (- the yogurt)

Roasting the eggplants in a oven would not give you an authentic smokey taste. Your best bet is charcoal or over an open flame of a gas knob  and you just rotate every 4 minutes until it's done.


Now the seasoning of the mashed eggplants is also a matter of personal preference. Some like more tahini, some like more lemon..You just have to adjust it to your own taste.


Ingredients
Serves 4
Prep: 5 min - Cooking: 20-30 min

  • 1 medium-size eggplant/aubergine, roasted (char-grill or over a gas knob is the best option)
  • 1 tbsp of tahini
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup of thick natural yogurt
  • 2 tbsps of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp of vinegar
  • 1 raw garlic clove , grated (or less, depending on the garlic used)
  • Salt to taste
For garnish
  • Good extra virgin olive oil
  • Paprika
  • Parsley, chopped


Preparation

Prick the eggplant in different places. Roast it until it looks withered and charred from outside. Place in a plastic bag for a couple of minutes then remove the skin.



Scoop the flesh and transfer it to a strainer. Press the eggplant against it and discard the liquid. 

If you have used a type of eggplant which has a lot of seeds inside, discard them. Some are bitter.



Add the rest of the ingredients and mash the mix with a fork or chop them transfer to a pestle and mortar. Using a food processor for this is not my thing. I like a rough texture with tiny bits of eggplant.

Garnish it and dress it with the best extra virgin olive you can get hold of, Sprinkle some paprika and chopped parsley.

Serve chilled with pita bread or crackers...



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