We’re back with the MENA cooking club after taking a break for the Summer. We actually completed the entire MENA country list at the beginning of the Summer, and was not sure how to proceed, but we’ve decided that we wanted to stay true to the Middle East and North African regions and continue cooking up recipes only from them. We’re starting out normally and with our first country Algeria, but after this month we’ll be trying something new and exciting, I can’t wait to see how it goes. Of course we would love for any of you all to join us, all you need to do is email me your full name and blog link and I’ll send over the information to get you started.
Algeria is a beautiful country in Northern Africa. It’s funny how small the world seems when you’re small, and how broad it feels as you grow up. Most Americans think Africa is just a country filled with one culture, but in reality its filled with Africans, South Africans and of course North Africans and each one of them couldn’t be further from one another in looks or traditions. Most North African Arabs that I’ve met speak a ton of languages, most all of them Algerian Arab dialect, English and French. The country itself is beautiful and the culture deep.
This month we had 3 recipes to choose from, I chose the famous Mahjouba, which is a lot like the mutabbaq we have here in Saudi. The only difference is the way the dough and fillings are made, but the techniques are the same. I’ve wanted to try this recipe for some time, but I’ve never made such a thin dough using semolina and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get it right. From what I’ve read online (in French) all Algerians seem to have a different way of making this dough, some use only semolina, and others prefer mixing some all purpose in.
You can fill these with pretty much anything, but I decided to use cream cheese, I made half with the Arabic kind, and the other two with the American cream cheese. This past year when we went to the Janadriyah festival they had something similar that they make in Jeddah and it was served with cheese, it was pretty much the best thing ever so that’s why I made mine with cheese.
One thing that I figured out along the way is that you need to make sure the folds overlap a bit, the first one I made I just lined them up and the filling ended up coming out, so make sure you overlap the folds and your filling will stay in tact. Also, semolina is not that easy to work with when it comes to rolling a dough so you have to really roll hard to get it thin.
3/4 cup fine semolina powder
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup water
Arabic or American cream cheese
1. In a mixing bowl, add semolina, flour, baking powder and sugar, mix and carefully add a little bit of the water at a time until a smooth dough has formed. Divide the dough into 4 even balls.
2. Add an iron skillet on medium heat and allow to get hot, as time goes on you you will need to lower the heat so you don’t overcook anything.
3. On a non-stick baking mat roll each ball into thin circles, roll the dough as thin as you can get it with a rolling pin, you should be able to see through the dough almost. Then, with a butter knife smear cream cheese all over the middle area, about 2-3 heaping tablespoonfuls.
4. Carefully fold sides, overlap a bit and then do the same with the top, so that you have a square. With another butter knife smear butter all over both sides and lay the smooth area face down. Allow to cook until golden, then flip and cook on the other side until golden.