Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Homemade Moroccan ouarka (or warka) sheets

Ouarka/warka sheets are to Moroccan cuisine what filo/phyllo is to the Balkan/Levant Cuisine. It's so important to have it around or at least to know where to buy it when needed.


Yes you could get hold of Brik sheets from supermarkets (a Tunisian sister of ouarka) but just like filo, a properly made sheet can't be compared with a shop-bought version which has been made industrially.

In Morocco, we are lucky to pop out to the market and buy freshly made ouarka by weight. The connoisseurs buy the one made on steam instead of the one directly cooked over heat. The first one last longer and happens to be more freezer-friendly while the second one is not always up to the mark.


Since I left Morocco years ago, I had to find a way to wrap my briouates (triangle/samosas), sbiaates (rolls) and bastillas (sort of Moroccan pies). Yes I used rice wrappers, filo and brik sheets. But there is something about ouarka I couldn't find in any of them, especially when the wrapped food goes cold and you want to heat it again..

Sellers in Moroccan Markets making ouarka the traditional way

Then, like most of us, I browsed the internet to find an answer. Turned out that someone has discovered the brushing method which anyone can do as opposed to the highly skilled old method which hardly any of us can follow. That was about 8 years ago!

Now this method is no secret, bloggers, youtubers, cookbook writers copied it and made it their own.

So it's time I post it here, for those who still don't know about it/scared to tackle it.

My auntie told me to use fine semolina flour in my batter while the famous cookbook writer Paula Wolfert advised me to keep it for a few hours to rest before using the batter. She also suggested we add vinegar and a tiny bit of oil.

So I go by the improved recipe of Paula Wolfert which she has developped with the famous Moroccan Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza.

So here is Paula's recipe which I have adapted. The lazy and efficient method to make ouarka should encourage you to make it without even giving it a second thought. You won't believe how easy this is.


And to the woman who started this method in the first place which no one remembers: We love you!



Ingredients
Makes about 18 round ouarkas of 24 cm 
Prep: 7 min - Resting time: at least 4 hours- Cooking: 18 min

  • 200 g of strong white flour
  • 60 g  of fine semolina flour
  • 1 3/4 of water
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of vinegar
  • 1 tsp of oil
In addition
  • 3 tbsps of vegetable oil to brush the pan and the cooked ouarkas.





Preparation



Prepare the batter:

In a liquidizer or food processor, add 1 cup of water followed by the flours and salt. 

Process the dough for 30 seconds. With the machine still running, slowly pour in the remaining water, vinegar and oil and process another 30 to 45 seconds, or until you have a smooth liquid batter. 

Sift the mix. Pour batter into a 1 quart container, cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least 4 hours).

Make the Warka

Set a deep pot of water on the stove and bring to a fast boil. Choose a non-stick skillet that sits snugly over the pot and secure with string. Before making the first pastry leaf, dip a piece of kitchen roll in oil and wipe the skillet/pan. Use another piece to get rid of any oily drop. For best results, trap the steam by using some batter all around the edges in contact with the skillet/pan. You could also wrap a kitchen towel all around and make a knot to keep it fixed.

Stir up the batter before making each sheet.

Lift up the brush thick with batter and quickly brush the batter evenly over the skillet. Use a circular motion to create a thin film-like layer.
If necessary, repeat stirring and applying a thinner second layer across the circle in order to coat any empty spaces.  I personally found out that starting with the inner centre to the edges helps cooking the sheets evenly, the reason is by the time the centre cooks, the edges don't dry.


Cook the leaf for about 1 minute, or until it turns completely white, the edges begin to come off. 

We cook the ouarka sheets from one side so do not ever flip it to cook it from the other side

Use your fingertips to lift the pastry off the skillet from one of the sides, transfer to a paper towel, shiny and cooked side up, barely brush all over the shiny side with oil, cover with another paper towel and gently press to remove excess oil. Leave the paper on the pastry. Too much oil is not good as it will damage the sheets. Carry on until there is no batter left.



When all the batter is used, slide the stack (paper and leaves) into a plastic bag to keep them from drying out. The package can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days, or you can double wrap and freeze.


Note

If you are planning to make rolls, you don't need to make big sheets of ouarka, you can just brush rectangular strips which are just about enough for the job needed. Usually these strips are also sold in Moroccan markets and they're about 15 cm large and 30 cm tall.


Monday, 30 March 2015

Moroccan seafood bastilla/Pastilla: A posh Moroccan starter

Bastilla/Bestilla or Pastilla is as signature of Moroccan cooking. The most traditional remains the pigeons or chicken bestilla which comes mostly in a version from Fez and another one from Tetouan. The other old recipe of Bestilla is made of almonds all the way through and it is from Rabat.

In the last 40 years or so, other Bestillas made it to our culinary repertoire only to enrich it and to confirm that Moroccan cooking has always been on constant evolution while keeping the recipes of the past still alive.


As much as the previously mentioned bestillas have defined recipes one has to stick to, the seafood or fish bestilla is exactly the opposite. It's done in different ways from a household to another and people really use what they can get from the fishmonger.

As an example, some like to poach the fish, some like to fry it, some bake it and some pan-fry it. Some like it loaded with seafood when others can't afford it and rather fill it with rice vermicelli.

Some basics are still to be observed and I'll explain them in the recipe I'm about to post today, but when it comes to the choice of fish, one can be free..

However, whichever choice you are making, a seafood bastilla is a balance between these flavours and textures:
  • Soft from the inside and crispy for the outside,
  • It should have the taste of the sea with a punch: slightly hot, acidic and zingy,
  • Never soggy,
  • Filling without being heavy, it's served as a starter so people shouldn't feel full at the beginning of the meal.

If you think that making a big pie-style is not your thing, shape it into mini-bestillas, into rolls (sbiaates) or triangles (briouates). You can serve it rectangular as well.



In our family, our bestilla never take many sheets of ouarka/warqa (use a very good phyllo as a substitute). We like to keep a delicate balance of textures and we use just about enough to wrap this must-try Moroccan pie.

The time of cooking depend on the thickness of the bestilla as well as the size, so mine will be as an indication only.

The seafood and fish quantities are also a matter of choice. Well loaded bestillas are usually served in important family events as they tend to come out quite expensive due to the price of the seafood used. So there too is a matter of possibilities and availability.

In Morocco, when the seafood is cheaper in some seasons, we buy a few kilos, peel and clean what needs to be cleaned and we freeze them uncooked. It can be handy for such recipes.



You can make a seafood bestilla ahead of time and freeze it, which makes it a perfect dish for your important events when you want to enjoy your time with your guests.

Ingredients
Serve 10
Prep: 1 h - Baking: 35 - 40 min 

For the filling

  • 700 g of white fish (cod, whiting..), whole or into chunky bits
  • 700 g shrimp or prawns, raw and peeled
  • 500 g squid or calamari, cut into small cubes
  • 1 1/2 cup of fresh coriander and parsley, finely chopped
  • 350 g of white mushrooms, sliced (you could use other mushrooms)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely grated 
  • 250 g of fine rice vermicelli noodles
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 1 tbsp of paprika
  • 5 tbsps of soy sauce 
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp of harissa or chili paste (to taste)
  • 3 tbsps of olive oil
  • 1 preserved lemon, chopped into small bits, discard seeds
  • 1/2 cup of green olives, pitted and chopped 
  • Carrots and cornichon pickles/gherkins, chopped (optional)
  • 4 tbsps of butter
  • 4 tbsps of lemon juice
  • 200 g of grated cheese (such as Edam)

For wrapping and finishing

  • 100 g of butter, melted
  • About 7-8 large sheets of warka/ouarka sheets (use phyllo or equivalent)
  • 2 egg yolks ( 1 for egg wash and one for gluing the end of the sheets)

Preparation

Prepare the filling in steps

Chermoula: mix herbs, spices, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tbsps of olive oil and 2 tbsps of lemon juice. Use a pestle and mortar or a blender to get a paste.

Vermicelli: Drop the vermicelli in boiling water and keep it for 4 min. Drain and set aside to cool. Use a knife of scissors to cut it into no more than 5 cm long bits. Mix with a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce. Ideally, when you peel your own shrimps, you could use their shell and boil it in water. The same water will be used to cook the vermicelli, which adds more seafood depth to them.

White fish: Smear the fish with chermoula, make incisions and fill them with the paste. Place some inside the fish as well. You could also use chunky bits of white fish or thick filets. Just marinate them and pan-fry them. Set aside to cool. If you are using a fish with skin on, discard it and make sure no bone is left inside.

Calamari and mushroomsauté these two in olive oil. Add a grated clove of garlic, a tablespoon of chermoula. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Shrimp/Prawnsauté in butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you are using big prawns, make sure you chop them or cut them into small pieces.

Mix all ingredients (see ingredients list as well) with your hands except the cheese and the white fish. Use a colander to make sure there is no excess liquid in the mix.

Set aside for a couple of hours so the flavours "talk to each others".

Line up all the mixes and front of you and get ready to shape the bastilla.


How to shape bastilla/Pastilla

It's always a good idea to use a round baking tray with high edges to help shaping the bastilla properly. Even if you decide to shape it square or rectangle, the same logic applies.

Grease the baking tray, overlap a few ouarka/warka sheets and drizzle them with melted clarified butter. These leaves must have half to third outside the tray, for now.

Place another ouarka sheet in the centre.

Spread the vermicelli mix, followed by the seafood mix, the flaked fish mix and finally the grated cheese. Drizzle some clarified butter all around.

Bring the edges of ouarka left outside the baking tray in the very beginning and cover the filling in a circular way.

Cover the pie with a large sheet of ouarka and try to tuck it in around the edges. Drizzle or brush with clarified butter

Flip the bastilla in a similar baking tray or just a round tray for now. Cover the bottom which as become a top with another large sheet of ouarka. Smear the edges from inside with egg yolk and tuck them around the edges. Flip the bastilla back to the baking tray. Brush with clarified butter.

If you choose to freeze it at this stage, you don't need to egg wash it. If you choose to bake it the same day, then you will need to do so.


Layering and wrapping a traditional Moroccan bastilla/pastilla

In small mini-bastillas, it's always helpful to use a recipient or a kitchen ring to help shaping it right.

Mini-bestillas in the making. They will be frozen after this (unbaked)

Bake and serve

Preheat the oven 180 degrees. Bake until golden from the top but also the bottom of the bestilla (VERY IMPORTANT). The time varies based on the thickness, the size of the bestilla and the size of the oven. However, a large one with 4 cm thickness can take approx 35 min in a large oven.



Decorate with unshelled prawns, pan-fried or poached, or with grated cheese, chopped herbs or lemon slices..

A smart way to cut bestilla is to separate the centre from the rest then cut it
 pieces all around first and serve as you go

Serve hot to your guests but you can still eat it at room temperature (never serve it to guests like that though).



Friday, 27 March 2015

Moroccan shrimp and vegetable triangles (briouates)

These light briouats are just good for a quick savoury bite, as a starter to a lunch or dinner, as an afternoon snack. They're also perfect for buffets and gathering.

Like I explained in my previous post about Moroccan rolls with pickles, there are some Chinese ingredients which have found their way to the Moroccan pantry for years now. I'm thinking rice vermicelli, fish sauce and soy sauce. So do not be surprised if you find these in some Moroccan recipes.


As for briouats which means (small letters/envelops), they're triangular bites looking like samosas. We usually use Moroccan warqa/ouarka (thin sheets which you can replace with brik or phyllo) to wrap a filling. They were/are usually fried but, having had a father who always suffered from staggering levels of cholesterol, we've been baking anything briouats or sbiaats (rolls) since I can ever remember.

Baking briouats and sbiaats preserve the flavours and is better for your health, which makes these little bites very healthy.

Now you may have seen these pictures posted more than 2 years in the blog's facebook page. I just get to post the recipe which is more of a guideline.

Ingredients
Serves 8 as a starter
Prep: 20 min- baking: 13-15 min

Filling
  • 300 g of uncooked shrimp/prawn, shelled and finely chopped or ground (replace with chicken breast if you don't like shrimps)
  • 200 g of white filet of fish (cod, whiting..)
  • 1/2 cup of green peppers, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of onions or shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 cup of zucchini/courgette, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of button mushroom or anything available, chopped
  • 1 cup of carrots, grated
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tbps of coriander, chopped 
  • 1 tsp of chives, chopped 
  • 1/4 cup of grated cheese (Edam, cheddar..)
  • 1/2 tsp of ground ginger or 1 tsp freshly grated
  • 3 leaves of lettuce
  • 2 tbps of soy sauce
  • 1 hot chili, finely chopped (optional)
  • 3 tbps of olive oil
  • Black and white pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
For wrapping
  • A few ouarka/phyllo/brik sheets at room temperature
  • 70 g of clarified butter, melted

Serve with this mix
  • 3 tbsp of soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp of white vinegar or lemon juice
  • Harissa to taste




Preparation

In a fairly hot pan, add the oil followed by vegetables and garlic. Stir.

Add the spices, the shrimps and the fish filet into big pieces. Stir. Cook for a few minutes. Keep the vegetables al-dente and reduced from any excess liquid. Set aside to cool, preferably in a strainer



Squeeze the mix before using, mix the cheese, the soy sauce, the herbs and shredded or chopped lettuce in. Stir.

Take strips of warka/ouarka or phyllo, Brush with butter from one side. Form briouates (triangles) or sbiaates (rolls) or even mini-pies (bastilla) and seal.

The same recipe shaped as mini-bastillas (Moroccan pies)

You could use egg yolk for that if you really have to but I just place the end at the bottom so it seals itself while baking.



Preheat the oven at 180-190 degrees C. Cover a baking tray with parchment or just oil it.
Bake for 10-12 minutes. Flip them to make sure they're nicely golden from both sides.

Serve warm or at room temperature (maximum a couple of hours after baking them).


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