Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Homemade Moroccan ouarka (or warka) sheets

Ouarka/warka/warqa 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! But I also downloaded a file with a set of Moroccan recipes, about 10 years ago and where the same method was described. Obviously the YouTube video encouraged me rather than a word file.

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 cup of water
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of vinegar (optional)
  • 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/warqa/ouarqa

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.


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