Sunday, 5 July 2015

Street food Morocco: Giant Moroccan spiced onion Msemmens

During these hot summer days, I can only salute these people who work so hard, outside in the heat, to earn a living, especially our superwomen who are the pillars of their families!

I remember the day I took these photos, we've just finished our late lunch after visiting the clay and pottery making shops in Safi. It was just too hot out there and these women, after clearing up the little shop from all things related to lunch, they had to get on the things to be done for snacking time, namely msemmen and harcha.

The grandma was in charge of chopping while the daughter was in charge of cleaning the little shop/restaurant/joint. Finally, the grand-daughter who was on summer break was in charge of making the giant msemmens (stuffed and plain) and the mega-harcha. It was all about teamwork!

Usually, these mega creations get sold by weight so one can only ask for 1 Moroccan Dirham and get an individual slice (cut like a wedge). That's a snack on the go.

This spiced msemmen is not far from the one posted previously. It's done the same way only on a larger scale but instead of fresh tomatoes, tomato paste is added to the mix. It may not be the case for some other vendors..

The main spices remain paprika, cumin and a discreet chili powder addition hardy noticeable.

The main herb used is usually parsley (a great deal) but a bit of coriander could be added to.

These giant squares are for plain msemmen, prepared next to the spiced msemmens

You will find the spiced onion msemmen sold in most of the cities. Just look for it around 4 -5 pm..Whoever prepares it and sell it always sell Moroccan tea with it. They're a marriage made in Heaven.

My portion..eating it while strolling the Safi old market

Stuffed Msemmen with onions and tomatoes

Hopefully by now, you know how to make Msemmens. If not, please check the previous posts here and there about it and make sure you do.

For the others who just landed on this page without being a blog followers, Msemmen is a wonderful North African pancake which can be enjoyed plain, served with honey or filled with different mixtures. 

We love Msemmen so much that we can have it any time of the day along with a glass of Moroccan tea or any hot drink. You actually can't say you know about Moroccan food if you don't know about Msemmen.

Today's stuffed Msemmen recipe comes from a wonderful old family neighbour nicknamed "Tanjaouia". Her bright smiling face and name always brings back so many sweet memories. Thankfully, she's still alive and it's always a pleasure to see her whenever I'm back home as she comes to visit when she knows I'm around.

Tanjaouia must have been such a beautiful woman in her youth, her old wrinkled face can tell. It can also tell that she's been through a lot in her life. I vaguely remember that she's lost her husband when I was still little and she went on to raise 6 children, most of them succeeded in their lives and started their own families.

She also managed to keep her little villa neat and looking good all these 30 years after her husband passed away..

The weirdest thing is that I really don't know her real name. Tanjaouia just refers to her city of origin "Tangiers". However, everyone called her so since I was little. I do know that she had the best green oranges in her garden and the best backyard where a variety of herbs grow with care. She also had a fig tree, a grape "dahlia" and a few other fruit trees. Most of all, she always had home baked sweets on the table.

I paid her a visit a couple of years ago and it brought me 30 years back down the memory lane. The garden is almost the same. So is the kindness of this woman.

Tanjaouia's stuffed Msemmen recipe is very simple as the filling does not need precooking or cooling time. It just needs some care when flattening the pancake so you don't end up with many holes.

It's actually not much of a recipe since I will only give you guidelines. Each msemmen is different in size and the filling depends on that really..

Onions and tomatoes msemmen recipe is not far from the stuffed ones we usually find sold across Moroccan cities for snack time (around 5 pm). Some omit the tomatoes and some add chopped long green peppers.

These stuffed Msemmens can be frozen and heated back in a hot oven or a hot frying pan. 

Makes 3 msemmens (about 20 * 20 cm squares)
Prep: 30 min - Cooking: about 5 min/Msemmen

Msemmen dough
  • 250 g of strong white bread flour
  • 150 g of fine semolina flour or durum flour
  • 1/4 tsp of dried instant yeast 
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 200-230 ml of water, lukewarm 
For the filling (adjust if needed)
  • 3 medium-size yellow or white onions, chopped or finely sliced (count 1/2 onion/msemmen)
  • 3 medium-size tomatoes, deseeded, chopped or finely sliced (count 1/2 tomato/ msemmen)
  • A cup of chopped parsley (about 2 to 3 tbsps/msemmen)
  • 3 tbsps of sweet paprika (count 1 tsp/ msemmen)
  • 1 tbsp of ground cumin 
  • Chili powder or cayenne to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional ingredients: chopped green or black olives, chopped green peppers
For shaping and laminating
  • 100 ml of vegetable oil
  • 100 g of fine semolina flour


Make the msemmen dough following the guidelines described here. For this recipe, we are going to insert a filled msemmen square into another layer and make a bigger square.

Once you get to the level where you flatten the dough thin, ready for shaping, spread the filling in the center and shape the square. In this recipe, you don't need to use butter during the lamination process, unlike a plain msemmen. You will only need oil and fine semolina flour. You can use a mix of olive oil and vegetable oil.

Flatten another dough ball paper thin, scatter some filling and place one previously filled square in the center. Fold to form a bigger square. Set aside to rest and follow the same logic with the rest of the dough.

Fry the pancakes

Heat a non stick frying pan over medium-heat.

Go back to the first square you made as it would have had time to rest. Flatten it delicately and transfer it to a hot frying pan. Give it 2 minutes per side then start flipping over to make sure it's all cooked through. The dough changes colour and the layers split. 

Usually, when one filled msemmen is cooking, we flatten the next one and so on...

Serve warm with a good glass of tea or a mint infusion.


If for some reason you are worried to pock them with many holes during the flattening process, shape them into small squares and bake them at 190 degrees C for about 20 minutes. The first day I made them, I chopped the onions and tomatoes fairly big, so I decided to bake the msemmens (which have become rghaifs). They turned out really good.

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.


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