Thursday, 30 October 2014

How to make Moroccan Khlii (or Khlea), a family recipe

Khlii’ or Khlea’ is our Moroccan cured and preserved meat that is confit in fat to last for at least a year. I have previously posted a Khlii' recipe but without too much details. 

Today, I promise you plenty of details and pictures so you become an expert in how to make khlii.

Khlii' sold in R'cif, old Medina in Fes. Left: traditional khlii with animal fat,
Right, lighter version preserved in olive oil

It seems that this tradition of making khlii’ has started in Fes and then spread across Morocco and North Africa. This is maybe the reason why the Capital of Khlii’ in Morocco is Fes where this preserved meat is eaten throughout the year.

Seffarine, a place in the old Medina of Fes where you can find those massive pots
 to make huge batches of Khlii 

Khlii and its gueddid have to be made during hot summer days when meat dries outside during the day. We have a sort of ritual in the family and it must be done every year, at least once.

Nowadays, it seems that dehydrators and ovens can make up for this step but then the marination time is much longer.

Homemade Khlii', just out of the cooking pot

Every house used to make their khlii if they could afford buying the meat. Nowadays, I see many people dropping this very demanding task and settling for a store-bought pots from the old Medina. It usually costs more, and if one is not careful on the origin of that pot, It will likely develop a tiny film of mould unless it is frozen. No big deal since you can just scrap it off but like anything in food: homemade is better unless you trust the source.

The final stage of khlii' making: cooling before packing.
Note the grainy texture of the fat which is a sign of a perfect cooking method

Now, I have to say that khlii’ and gueddid are not to everyone’s liking, like any food. However, to my surprise, I saw some mistranslations here and there, which has led people to believe that khlii is a sort of meat gone bad and therefore the word "rancid" or "fermented" or "spoilt" is wrongly used (unless you really bought it from a questionable source). It’s none of that. Khlii is a sort of jerk meat or biltong with an extra stage: confit. Now this word and the savoury recipes under it sound good when Chefs talk about the French confit of duck or other meat. 

On a personal note, I just feel like we should have lured those new foodies and acclaimed Chefs in believing it was French or Italian rather than Moroccan, I suspect they would be more “receptive”. I feel that anything packaged that way is “sold” en “grandes pompes” and with less scrutiny, but that is my own opinion.

Curing and drying meat is a traditional way of preserving it for a longer period in many parts of the world. The meat reduces as it loses its water. Dried meat kept the travellers and nomads alive.
In Morocco, dried meat is called “gueddid”. It’s the main ingredient to make khlii. Both recipes go back in time where there was no fridge to keep the meat edible. The meat was covered in fat (the khlii’ stage) and stored in clay jars. Both gueddid and khlii would be used in many recipes especially in the cold days.

Drying the marinated meat during sunny days

Gueddid is the first stage of meat which has been marinated in spices, salt and vinegar, then left to dry in the sun for days. It will become dry and hard to the touch. It is used in many recipes (couscous, pulses stews etc.). I do not personally like its texture but I like the flavour it imparts in a stew. It acts as a sort of Soya sauce or a cube of bouillon in a sauce. The meat of choice could be beef of camel but we also use sheep’s meat after Eid El Adha.

Gueddid is ready

As far as the long process of making khlii’ goes, there are 2 ways:

1- We either confit (cook for hours) the gueddid in animal fat and follow meticulous stages to have a good result which would last for at least a year.

Sediments from the cooking process of khlii, used in different Moroccan recipes.

2- Some people choose to steam it first then preserve it in olive oil. This new and healthier way of making khlii does not render sediments called “agriche” or “agrisse” used in many incredibly tasty recipes. I can skip khlii but I need my agriche! Thank you! Not to mention the fat, which helps getting the crunchiest roast potatoes!

Agriche is what's at the bottom, fat is what is white on top after cooling down

You could of course make an express version of khlii which consist on skipping the drying step but it won't last longer. You may freeze it but I if you have the possibility to make the long traditional version, I suggest you go for it.

Khlii cut into pieces for easier use throughout the year.
In this picture, the fat is still hot to be solidified 
Although khlii is made in massive batches of more than 20 kgs of meat, making smaller batches increase your chances or success and you won't have to buy massive cooking pots. I know many people who adopted khlii and forgot about the bacon..My husband is one of them.

For 4 kgs of meat
Prep: 15 min - Marination: overnight- Drying process: 3 hot days min. - Cooking: 3h

For the meat and its marinade
  • 4 kgs of boneless lamb or beef shoulder meat cut into long strips of at least 30 cm length and 4 cm width
  • 150 g of salt
  • 4  heads of garlic, unpeeled and crushed
  • 160g of coriander seeds, roughly ground
  • 50 g of cumin seeds, roughly ground
  • 50 g of caraway seeds (optional but my auntie loves it)
  • 80 ml of vinegar
  • 80 ml of olive oil
To cook Khlii'
  • 4 l of water
  • 1.5 kg of suet (animal fat mostly located around the kidney)
  • 2 tbsps of salt 
  • 50 g of garlic in paste
  • 50 g of freshly ground coriander seeds
  • 20g of freshly ground cumin seeds
  • 2 l of olive oil

Bottom: khlii. Top: agrich, both covered with solidified fat.


Prepare Gueddid

Use a food processor or a pestle and mortar to make the spice rub paste.

One by one, crush the coriander seeds and the cumin seeds. Set aside.

Good garlic from Morocco. I personally like this variety.

Crush the garlic, unpeeled. Mix with the spices, salt and vinegar. Mix all ingredients and rub the meat with this paste. Be generous. Cover and place in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

Generously and thoroughly rub the strips of meat and place in the fridge 
Get your strips of meat out and make sure to give them a last massage. Hopefully this is the beginning of a sunny day so you can hang the meat on a clothesline and dry it in the sun or under a covered window. It takes 4 to 6 hot days minimum to have a dry gueddid, depending on the temperature/humidity. Alternatively, you can use a dehydrator or a low heat oven to dry the meat (at 40/50 degrees C for at least 17 hours).

How to proceed?

We actually leave the meat outside for the first 2 days but we cover it from sunset until the next day just after dawn (see picture below, make sure the strips are not overlapping and that there is enough space between them).

Past the first 2 days, WE MUST bring it inside before sunset until the next day after dawn. We repeat this until the meat has dried through.

Gueddid is ready with the shrank meat has become dark stiff and seem to have separated its fibres. 
This step is vital for its preservation and for a good khlii.

Cooking khlii

It is important that the area where the khlii is being made is pet/children free to avoid any accident.

In a big cooking pot, mix garlic, ground coriander seeds and cumin seeds, water, fat and simmer on a medium heat until it starts bubbling.

Pre-order minced kidney beef fat for khlii with more cumin and coriander
seeds in powder (before adding other ingredients)
Slowly add in the strips of meat.

Cover the fat with enough water before putting the mix over a heat source.
Stir to cover the meat with the liquid.

Cover and let simmer on low heat for at least 2 1/2 hours. Use a large wooden spoon to stir occasionally while scrapping the bottom of the pot.

Uncover the pot and add the olive oil. Let simmer further more until water has totally evaporated (another 1 hour).

Khlii is ready when:

1- By now, meat should be swimming in a pool of fat only and you can tell.

2- Sediments start sticking to the bottom of the pot, which is why you should keep stirring at these bits are precious.

3- If you cut through a strip of meat, it looks like this:

If you pull the meat with your fingers, you could see dry fibers.

4- This is the ultimate test that water has evaporated: dip a piece of hard paper or cloth and try to light fire in it (we call it "ftila") If it works, there is no water left. If not, you still have a way to go.

If, for some reason, the meat is ready before the water has totally evaporated, pull it out and save it on the side while you carry on simmering the liquid. This should not happen if you have cooked the khlii on low heat.

Now, a sign of a khlii done right is to have a grainy solidified fat once it has cooled. The way to get to that texture is to sprinkle the fat with cold water when the khlii is cooked through (see the picture above showing how the meat should be at that stage).

I know that sprinkling water at this stage seems like doing things backwards, but for some reason, this action is required and is beneficial to its conservation as well as the general texture.

Storing the layers of khlii

Like mentioned earlier, Khlii is the cooked meat which comes with a layer of fat (cooked animal fat or olive oil) and a layer of sediment which we keep dearly.

First of all, we get the strips of meat out of the hot pot and set aside for a couple of minutes. With scissors, we cut cubes of 2 cm each and place them in containers/jars. We do this now rather than later when we need it because khlii is difficult to fiddle with once set. This way, you are a step ahead.

We cover the meat with fat and set aside to cool until the fat has solidified.

Different stages of khlii cooling.
Now this is how the fat will look like once almost cool.

Right, the fast is still runny, unlike the pot on the left where it seems almost set

Leave uncover until it's completely cool and looking like this:

Taking care of Agriche (sediments)

Usually, once the meat has been picked out of the fat, we bring the pot back to simmer again but since we have used minced fat and not chunky chopped fat, there is no need to do that. The sediments should be water-free and good to go.

After the pool of fat has cooled a bit, we will be left with sediments at the bottom of the cooking pot. Transfer these precious bits in a different jar/container and set aside to settle, uncovered.

Once all the jars and containers seem to have set, cover and seal (if needed). Place in a dark place (a cupboard).

Be aware that opened jars need attention: never leave a container of khlii open for a long time. Ideally once you start using one of the jars, keep it in the fridge/freezer. That said, a khlii properly done should not develop mould or smell bad at any time.

Recipes with khlii and its agriche

Most straight forward recipe to use khlii is with fried eggs. It's usually served with Moroccan mint tea to wash down the fat.

My favourite recipe is quite old and we can only find it in old houses with deep traditions. It's fried egg and khlii with lemon, parsley and water to cut on fat.

Different recipes with khlii and egg to serve for a brunch, always with a glass of mint tea

Next in line, Rghaifs del ferrane (baked flaky pastry, stuffed with khlii/agrich and spicy onions). I can't resist it. It's a good thing that this recipe is freezer-friendly. It comes back to life after a stop in a hot oven.

My next favourite dish using khlii is Mezgueldi tagine, either with tomatoes or without, It just needs a few ingredients but mosly a lot of onions.

Next, comfort food at its best: beans, white beans in this case which get a kick with a spoon of agriche in them

Not to forget some seasonal vegetables which get enhanced with the addition of agriche in the broth

Bottle gourd served as a cooked salad. It suddenly becomes
incredibly tasty with the addition of agriche.
There are many more recipes using Khlii, agriche or their fat. It's just the right thing to have in your pantry!

Moroccan Bissara with dried fava beans purée (or dip if affinities)

Bissara is a humble dish, it's the hillsmen's purée (Jebli, in Moroccan), the poor's hearthy meal. It's one of those comforting dishes we're after in the cold days. It's a vegetarian/vegan dish which packs a lot of goodness. 

A 100% dried fava beans bissara

Initially a poor's man dish, Bissara found its way to the high-end restaurants and to all classes. It's also one of the top 10 Moroccan street-food recipes you can't miss.

Dried fava beans and green split peas bissara

In his book of "North African cookery", Arto der Haroutunian wrote this:

"One day a town dweller met a peasant hillsman and asked, " What would you do , my good man, if you were to become a Sultan?". The Jebli (hillsman) replied: 'If I were a Sultan, I would eat every day Bissara'.

I believe Bissara is also found in Algeria. However, this is not to confuse with Egyptian Foul medamess although it bears some resemblances in the garnishing, the type of dried fava bean used is not the same.

In Morocco, Bissara can either be made with dried fava/broad beans or with split green peas (pois cassés). The most common version in the streets is made with 100% fava bean and is served from breakfast to dinner time. Hard-working people start their day with Bissara, which keeps them going for a few hours before the next meal.

In our family, we do make the 2 common versions but we also mix both in one. The other unusual family bissara which is still as old as me is where my family adds carrots (and other vegetables) to the mix. I admit I was a bit difficult as a child and my parents had to work out a few tricks to feed me properly.

Left: dried shelled fava beans. Right: instant bissara (obviously nothing like the real thing)

I found instant bissara sold in a grocery shop catering for North Africans here in London. I was offered to try it. I have to say that It ended up in the bin. I stick to my made-from-scratch version which is not complicated at all anyway. 

The best bissara is the one made over charcoal and left to break down for hours until it's ready for the morning (ask the hill's men). But we're not doing this. I'm afraid we have to settle for the second best: the pot and the hob for a faster approach but yet still great.

To make a 100% green split peas bissara, you won't need to pre-soak them for long hours. But other than that, you may follow the same recipe, just make sure to adjust the quantity of water as needed to cook it.

Serves 4 to 6
Prep:2 min - Pre-soaking time: 8 hours- Cooking: 60 min
  • 200 g of dried shelled fava beans (replace by 1/3 of green split peas and 2/3 of fava beans)
  • 3 to 4 whole cloves of garlic 
  • 1 mediun-size yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tsp of salt, adjust to taste
  • Hot water (1 part of beans = at least 4 parts of water)
Serve with
  • A good quality Extra virgin olive oil (unfiltered and cold pressed)
  • Lemon juice
  • A generous dash of paprika
  • A generous dash of ground cumin
  • Cayenne to taste (soudaniya or piment d'Espelette)
Bissara with 100% dried fava beans 


If you are buying the beans in vrac, make sure to get rid of any stone or skin in them. Wash them until water is clear. Pre-soak overnight.

Over medium heat, add all the ingredients into a saucepan. Let simmer for a few minutes. You will see some foam on top, just spoon it out. Cover the pot and watch the level of water from time to time.

After 30 minutes of simmering, stir and check the level of water. The beans should be easy to break by now. 

Cook for one hour over medium heat while stirring and breaking the beans.

Feel free to add more water if necessary and in this case season. 

Once all the beans (and peas) are tender and almost naturally puréed, give them a 3 seconds wizz with a hand blender to homogenize the purée. We do like to keep tiny bits in it though.

Bissara should be neither too thin nor too thick, if it needs more simmering just put it back over low heat to thicken.

Serve warm with a generous drizzle of olive oil, ground cumin, chili to taste, lemon juice and a good bread.

Note: Bissara is served as a starter or as a main dish. Like mentioned earlier, it is also be served as a breakfast. Bissara as a dip in a gathering is another option.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Moroccan Chicken M'qualli with its sweet butternut paste: M'derbel of pumpkin

At this time of the year, pumpkin, butternut squash and co seem to be everywhere here in London. It was the same thing in Germany where I lived before. I've seen different shapes and form which I have never seen before in my life.

Being from Morocco, I'm more accustomed to the giant pumpkin and a another weird version mostly found in El Oualidia (a small coastal town in Morocco).

The other thing is that I always literally hated this vegetable along with its family and cousins. But never say never!

Having a little one in the house, I'm trying to be a good mother and get him to try every vegetable I can get hold of. Being Moroccan, we mostly like vegetables. Most of our Tagines, couscous and stews come with vegetables and we love them when they're in season. It won't go down well if my boy is not a big vegetable eater. So far so good.

Despite the fact that the recipe I'm posting today is usually topped with a pumpkin paste, I have used 100% butternut and another time 50% - 50% butternut-pumpkin. The only difference is in the colour and the level of natural sweetness but other than that, It won't hurt alternating or mixing the two (or any other similar sort).

This is another sweet-savoury tagine that you would want to add to your Moroccan cooking repertoire because it's a winner. It's initially served during Eid Al Mawlid in Fes, Meknes and the region, but we can have a feast whenever we want, can't we?

Although this recipe does not initially have Ras el hanout in it but you could add a good pinch in the stew but besides that, please do not add anything else if you intend to cook an authentic dish.

The other thing I would like to mention about this subtitle marriage of flavours is that the people of Fes and region who are famous with the sweet-savoury combos do not usually add garlic in a tagine or stew for which the topping tend to be sweetened. However, in this case, the 1 clove of garlic is ok since the pumpkin is not as sweet as a prune or a caramelized apricot.

Here are the ingredients for about 4 hungry people. However, as we usually do back home, we use our eyes and senses to measure.

Serves 4 to 6  

For the chicken M'qualli
  • 1 medium free range chicken cut in 6 pieces (or use tender lamb cuts) 
  • 2 larges yellow onions, finely chopped 
  • 2 tbsp of oil
  • 1 tsp of smen (Moroccan cured aged salted butter), optional
  • 1 tbsp of ground ginger
  • 1 tsp of turmeric
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated or finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp of black or white pepper
  • A good pinch of saffron threads 
For the pumpkin or/and butternut paste
  • 600 g of pumpkin flesh cut into chuncks  
  • 6 tbsp of plain vegetable oil 
  • 1/2 tsp of salt 
  • 1 to 2 tsps of ground cinnamon 
  • 2 to 4 tbsps of honey (or half-half honey-sugar for a better caramelization)
  • A pinch of gum arabic (optional)
To decorate
  • 1 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds 


Chicken M'qualli

Follow the directions of a normal chicken M'qualli as previously mentioned here but with today's ingredients.

This step should take about 60 minutes. Make sure the sauce is well reduced. In case the chicken (or meat) is cooked but you still have a significant amount of liquid, take it out and cover it while you reduce the sauce or Marka as we call it.

The chicken pieces can be served without roasting them but we prefer them roasted for 10 minutes at maximum temperature (use the grill/broiler), just for a nice colour.

Pumpkin/squash paste (can be made ahead and frozen)

This puree can be served in today's sweet and savoury tagine but it can also be served as a cooked salad, either cold or at room temperature.

Steam the chuncks, scrape off the flesh and mash it (discard the peeled stuff). You can make this ahead of time, I have some mashed butternut in my freezer as we speak (flattened in a ziploc bag).

To fry/caramelize the paste, you will need to dedicate a good 20 minutes to this task without leaving the pan unattended.

Over medium-high heat, keep stiring the mash until it's almost dry.

Add the rest of the ingredients and fry/caramelize at the same time for about 8 to 10 min or until you are satisfied with taste and texture of the paste.

The colour of the paste depends on the type of pumpkin family used but also on
 how much honey and sugar you add to it


Pour a few spoons of the onion sauce in the middle of the serving plate (or make a small thick puddle). Place the chicken/meat on top and then top with the pumpkin paste.

Sprinkle the dish with toasted sesame seeds. Serve any extra pumpkin/squash puree in a side dish.

Note: There is something special about the temperature of the layers served in this dish: while the chicken and its sauce should be served hot, the pumpkin/squash paste can be serve just about warm or at least at room temperature.


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