Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Mahlabas, an icon of Moroccan street food on a low budget

Mahlaba literally means"dairy shop" but actually it goes beyond that. Mahlabas are our "Mcdonald's" only with healthier options. They're our saviours in hungry moments.  If you have a working mother, you can grab a breakfast formula (juice or yoghurt and sandwich), or a snack for snack time.


A modern Mahlaba with seats and tables

There is a sacred relationship between Moroccans and their Mahlabas. And these shops keep us addicted to them that they even get designed according to new trends, to accommodate more people. They extended their menus in the last 20 years..Some of them even make tagines and soups.


A Mahlaba with a funny name found in Larache

But how did it all start?

Mahlabas were famous with their dairy products such as milk (sometimes farm milk), traditional Moroccan yoghurt (Raib), Moroccan soft white cheese (jben) and farm butter.



They moved on to make sweet and savoury snacks such as Moroccan flabreads and Msemmens, harcha and sweet galettes and cakes but also cheap croissants and slices of cakes with cream.

Some products founds in Mahlabas, ask for a fresh juice
and a sandwich and they'll make it for you right there

We always loved and still love Mahlabas because that's where you will always have a fresh
panaché (a mixed fruit juice) or juice. On the less healthy option you could get cold sodas. Nowadays, you can even get hot drinks such as Moroccan tea, coffee and a few other hot drinks.

Moroccan yoghurt, sold with or without fruit topping

The traditional humble Moroccan sandwiches found in a Mahlaba would be: bread with cheese, Barley bread with cheese and boiled eggs. bread with tuna, olives and harissa or bread with cheese and cold cuts (casher).

Mahlabas got creative in presenting many basic products, this is yoghurt with a coulis


Again, the list of sandwiches has gone bigger and there are more options especially in Mahlabas located close to schools or offices.

More Moroccan yoghurt (Raib)

Mahlabas are found in all Moroccan cities and they cater for all ages and all spheres of the society. On their own, the Mahlabas represent a version of Moroccan street food.

Some sweet pastries usually found in Mahlabas

So, do you know where to look for the Moroccan avocado juice or just a standard fruit juice? Head to a Mahlabas..You will always be well fed on a ridiculously low budget. Do not forget to grab a cold
panaché for a multivitamins punch..It's always tasty because it will be made with fresh fruits. 



Eggs and khlii on a bed of pepper, tomatoes and olives

Brunch on Eggs, khlii, olives over a bed of tomatoes and peppers. A nicely spiced up combination which will fill you in and make you feel good!

Traditionally, khlii is the meat to use in this recipe but you can use spicy sausages such as merguez or Turkish sujuk. Alternatively, you can make this meat-free.


This variation of eggs with khlii was my father's favourite and although he was requested to follow a strict diet during his last 18 years, he never listed and he was big on khlii and its fat. I tend to omit most of that fatty bit but in this case, you want to keep some to fry the peppers and tomatoes.. I have to say that most of the goodness comes from there.

Anyway, in his time, this dish was served around 10 am after he was back form the Saturday morning Market. He used to wake up as early as 5 am so the stomach is ready for this after 5 hours..

I feel like this combo of Khlii, eggs including the spoon or two of fat used in it is way lighter than a standard English breakfast. It even has vegetables in it. It's a complete meal. And since it's only prepared once a week, It's well deserved.

This recipe which is more of a guideline, see why:

1- Khlii, put more or less or replace them with spicy sausage.

2- Eggs: scramble them or poach them, add more or less eggs.

3- Olives: add more or less olives. If you don't have Meslalla olives, use pitted green olives.





Ingredients
Serves 4
Prep: 7 min - cooking: 9 min


  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of khlii, cut into 3 cm cubes (replace with spicy sausage)
  • 1 tbsp of khlii fat with sediments (replace with 1 tbsp of olive oil)
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1/3 cup of green peppers, chopped (you could use other peppers but green is the favourite)
  • 1/3 of fresh tomatoes, chopped (skin and seeds off)
  • 1/4 cup of marinated or cured olives Meslalla (replace with pitted green olives)
  • 1 chili (optional)
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves
  • A good pinch of cumin
  • A good pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp of sweet paprika
  • A pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • 1 tbsp of coriander
  • 1 tbsp of parsley
  • 1 tbsp of lemon juice

Garnish

  • Parsley
  • Cumin
  • Cayenne or sweet paprika


A scrambled version of this dish with yellow and red pepper
(we ran out of green ones)

Preparation

On a medium heat, heat the fat in a pan or a tagine (use diffuser if using direct heat and wait for the tagine to heat). Fry in the chopped peppers and the chili for 3 minutes, Add in the tomatoes and garlic, the spices, the olives. If you are using sausages. Add them at this stage, whole or sliced. Cook for another 3 minutes. Help smashing the tomatoes with a spatula.

It's even better to use previsouly marinated meslalla for even more flavour

Add the bits of khlii, the herbs and the lemon juice. Stir

Crack in the eggs one next to the other and cover. Poach them or scramble them. We usually fish out the chili before adding the eggs and decorate the dish with it later on.

Garnish with spices and parsley. Serve hot or warm, not cold, with a good bread on the side.


We like to serve it with a hot minty Moroccan tea on the side.





Gluten-free Moroccan walnut ghrouiba (Macarons)

Ghrouiba is a sort of round-shaped cookie which is usually compared to macaroons. They come in different varieties and range from soft to shortbread-like in term of texture.


In Morocco, we have wide array of Ghrouibas, which by the way can be gluten-free. Please check other recipes which I have posted before under "Sweet Moroccan biscuits and co". 

A standard size for walnut ghrouiba is about 7 cm diameter

One of my top favourites is this crackling walnut ghrouiba or ghrouiba bel guergua'. There is an indulging and rewarding chewiness trapped underneath that light crust that will make everyone happy. It's again a treat that goes well with coffee or tea besides the goodness from its ingredients. 

An interesting mini walnut ghrouiba (right), the size of 3 mm next to other
types of ghrouiba. See the inside with some bits of walnuts in which added a bit of texture.
This is at least a 40 years old family recipe. You will notice the special use of apricot jam and lemon zest in this version unlike the common version found everywhere. In our family, we tend to add these two in most of the nutty ghrouibas to maintain a chewiness and freshness for longer.
These ghrouibas are best consumed 48 hrs after being prepared because the flavours will have time to mature and complete each other.

This is a very easy recipe where you only need a bowl or two, a food processor and a baking tray.

It's freezer-friendly (you know I like that!). However, you really need to pick good walnut halves, not the rancid or bitter stuff. And like any nut, heat your oven at 170 degrees and give them a new life by roasting them for about 8 minutes without burning them.

To store, place a layer of plastic between each layer of ghrouibas

Ingredients
Makes  +30 ghrouibas
Prep: 12 min (active time) - Baking: 12- 15 min

  •  500 g ground almond (blanched and skined then slightly dried with a towel), see notes
  • 500 g ground walnuts (slightly coarse and not too fine)
  • 200 g powdered sugar, see notes
  • 40 g of melted butter
  • 3 tbsp of fine apricot jam
  • 5 g baking powder
  • 2 small eggs
  • About 3 to 4 drops of mastic gum, ground with a tsp of sugar (by using to bottom of a glass to crush it or a pestle & mortar)
  • 7 g vanilla sugar or equivalent
  • 1 tbsp of lemon zest
  • A good pinch of salt

To decorate

  • About 400 g of icing sugar layered in a tray/ plate to form a layer about 5 mm thick


Preparation

Make sure you slightly roast the walnuts as mentioned above. Set it aside to cool. Rub it with your hands to get rid of excess skin.

In a food processor, whizz up the walnut to have a coarse texture (not too fine). Place in a bowl.

Whizz up the almonds along with the sugar, the mastic gum, lemon zest. Try to bring the mix to a paste.

Combine all ingredients with your hands or using the same food processor.

Heat the oven at 170 degrees C.

Shaping the Ghrouibas

Form dough balls between 3 and 5 cm depending how you like it (small or medium size). The dough is somewhat sticky. We usually keep a bowl of orange blossom water on the side to dip in our fingers. You could also use the back of a knife to scrape off the sticky dough.

If orange blossom water is expensive in your area, use oil or water to lubricate/humidify your hands.

Take each ball with your fingers holding it from the edges bit towards the bottom, dip the top and edges in the icing sugar. Carry on with the rest of the dough.


Before getting these ghrouibas out of the icing sugar plate, make sure you slightly press them for 2 reasons:

1/ to slightly flatten them. 
2/ to get more icing sugar sticking at their surface. 

Baking and storing

Bake the ghrouibas until you see a bit of crust forming. I also pick one ghrouiba to check the texture: It should have a bit of a crust while the inside is bouncy and chewy but not runny.

Usually, it takes anywhere between 12 to 15 min depending on the size of the balls and the size of your oven. For old traditional ovens, we slightly open the door during the baking process to let the steam out. For convection oven, you could do it once or twice after 8 minutes of baking. 

Running a baking test in my auntie's old oven.

Once cool, store the Ghrouibas in a cookie box or freeze them. Thaw them before serving.

I like these ghrouibas 2 days after preparing them. Ideally, they'll be fine within 2 weeks if the weather is not too hot. Place any extra ghrouibas in the freezer and thaw them about 15 min before eating them.


Notes


1- You can use almonds with skin on for half of the almond quantity. The almonds are there as a base but not for their taste. So even if they don't taste very almond-y, do not be tempted to add almond extract. 

2- Traditionally, for all nutty ghrouibas, we usually bake a couple to test a few things. One of them is the consistency of the dough in case it needs a bit more liquid (via eggs) or more dry ingredients (which we then add by tablespoon). These two will tell us how the ghrouiba will spread in the oven and how it will crack. If it's to our satisfaction, we bake the whole batch as planned.

More Ghrouiba recipes can be found here.



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