Sunday, 26 July 2015

Moroccan fekkas (biscuits) with chermoula paste

The aniseed version of these spicy fekkas was part of my morning breakfast during my childhood as it used to be the Moroccan "cereal" to dunk in milk. 

The name fekkas is quite funny and expresses how demanding those little nibbles were. Imagine women having to make big batches of dough, turn them to rods (between 5 mm to 4 cm, depending on the recipe), then send to a public oven, get the tray back, cut the rods in tiny pieces and send back for a second baking time. It was such a painful process (especially the cutting part) that they got called "Fekkas", from f'qaiss (something heartbreaking, that brings pain to the heart or nerve-racking).



The only thing that changed in the last 50 years is that more people acquired a home/domestic oven and that families have shrank in size, so we get to bake less volumes..






This combination I'm posting today is again one one my favourites and it's actually one of the firsts we've seen in the market (along with the previous one) since they started making savoury fekkas in Casablanca. It also gets better in the next days..

We usually make these and place different sorts in the middle of tables during wedding ceremonies, along with roasted salted almonds, to keep the guests busy before the big ceremony starts..

The variety of fekkas I'm proposing today requires double baking. Rods of dough are baked for a short time then left to cool to be cut thin and small the next day and baked again (just like the old ways).


Part of my to-go lunch


IngredientsServes 10 persons 
Prep: 20 min - Chilling: 2 hrs or freezing: 1 hour - Baking: 12-15 min + 12 -15 min
  • 250 g of all purpose flour
  • 60 g of butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 tsbps of olive oil
  • 30 g of cream cheese ( Kirri, La vache qui rit or philadelphia)
  • 3 tbsps of chermoula paste (without lemon juice or preserved)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp of harissa paste or chilli powder or flakes (optional, unless you have it already added to your chermoula paste)
  • 1/2 tsp of instant dried yeast
  • 3 g of baking powder
  • 20-40 ml of water (depending on the texture of your chermoula paste)

Today's chermoula fekkas is on the left, the one on the right is posted here

Preparation

Mix all ingredients except the water which you should add depending on the absorption of the dough. A food processor can be used to cover this step. Form a well combined dough ball and divide it into 4 smaller dough balls.


Preheat the oven at 170 degrees C. Cover a baking sheet with baking paper.

Shape rods of dough anywhere between 5 mm and 1 cm thick and long enough to fit in the baking sheet. It's ok if you make then shorter too.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until the rods start moving easily from the baking sheet if you push them with your finger. Also, the dough tend to become paler. Place the baking sheet in the middle rack.


Cover with a couple of kitchen towels to all the dough rods so they don't dry. Set aside for 4 hours or overnight.

Use a sharp flat and uniform knife (a serrated knife will only give you more breakage) to cut 2 to 3 mm thick fekkas (slightly incline the knife for a diagonal cut). Ideally, you line up 2 rods in parallel next to each other and cut. It goes faster and limit the breakage.

Delicately transfer all these fekkas into a baking sheet (no greasing or baking paper needed this time). Bake at 160 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until they turn nicely golden. Pick up those which are browning faster. 

Once I see the inside of each fekkas paler and looking baked. I turn off the oven and leave them there for a few minutes. This is in case you bake a big batch and you are worried some of it might get over-baked.

Once completely cooled, store in an airtight containers or in plastic bags for 3 to 5 weeks.




Notes 

1 / To make make a quick chermoula, you need coriander and parsley, cumin, paprika, salt and garlic. Add a bit of water and olive oil to allow these ingredients to turn to a paste while you blend them (you could use a pestle and mortar). See the full recipe here.

Chermoula is freezer-friendly and can stay in the fridge (covered with olive oil) for up to a week. Very handy for salads, fish, grills and bbqs.

2 / What to do with breakage:
-  Eat them
- Use them to thicken sauces, as crumble on top of fish and vegetables or salads

3 / You could use these fekkas instead of croutons over soups and salads. It really lifts up the recipe.



Friday, 24 July 2015

Savoury Moroccan fekkas (biscuits) with spicy salami and cheese

Every time I make these savoury biscuits I end up eating more than a handful in one serving. That's how they are addictive. They can perfectly replace a bowl of salty nuts, chips or pretzels on the table.


The last 25 to 30 years have seen these savoury bites starting in Casablanca as a good idea for nibbles among a few families only to become a national treat in many other cities and with various flavouring ingredients and shapes..


This combination I'm posting today is one one my favourites and it's actually one of the firsts we've seen in the market one they started making savoury fekkas in Casablanca. It also gets better in the next days..

We usually make these and place different sorts in the middle of tables during wedding ceremonies, along with roasted salted almonds, to keep the guests busy before the big ceremony starts..

The variety of fekkas I'm proposing today is coin-shaped and is usually between 1 and 2 cm. However, I do personally shape it using small cookie-cutters and serve as it is or as mini-crackers.

When I don't feel cutting the whole batch, I properly wrap the rods of unbaked dough and leave them for another time. It takes 15 minutes to bring them to a decent texture and cut them and another 10 minutes to bake them. Then you end up with another fresh batch of nibbles.





Ingredients
Serves 20 persons 
Prep: 20 min - Chilling: 2 hrs- freezing: 1 hour - Baking: 10 -12 min
  • 1 kg of all purpose flour
  • 250g of butter, soft or in cubes, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp of ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp of harissa paste or chilli powder or flakes (optional)
  • 2 tbsps of Dijon mustard
  • 120 g of soft cheese (kirri, la vache qui rit or philadelphia)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 80 ml of vegetable oil (substitute half with olive oil)
  • 1 clove garlic (pressedor 1/2 tsp of garlic powder
  • 200 g of grated cheese (cheddar or Edam will do)
  • 200g of grated cooked spicy salami or spicy cacher/kacher (Moroccan cold cuts)
  • 1 tbsp of dried thyme or oregano
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup of water (add as needed to get a dough)

2 varieties of savoury Fekkas


Preparation

Mix all ingredients except the water, spicy salami and thyme. You should get a sort of sandy texture. A food processor can be used to cover this step.

Follow the process described here to shape dough rods and freeze them so you can produce even "coins" of dough at a faster pace.

Preheat the oven at 170 degrees C.

Line the coins of dough next to each others over a baking tray covered with baking sheet.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until golden and baked from the center. 

You may find some of the fekkas which may have been cut thicker then the others a bit soft from the center; just leave those in the hot oven but with the heat turned off. They'll be perfect after a few minutes.

Store in an airtight containers or in plastic bags for up to 2 weeks.

Like mentioned before, you can freeze unbaked rods of dough for at least a month and pop them out for a few minutes before cutting and baking a new batch of fekkas.

I like these fekkas the next day after they've been baked, they get better by the day and the spicy salami/cacher infuses the flavour even better.



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


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