What is the main ingredient of Algerian pastries

Mhadjeb - hearty snack from the Maghreb cuisine

The visit of an Algerian friend to Paris inspired me to go on a culinary excursion in the Maghreb. After I had already looked diligently into the saucepan of the French, it was now the turn of a classic from North Africa: Mhadjeb. These are wafer-thin flatbreads made from durum wheat semolina with many imaginative fillings that can be found on every street corner in Algeria. In this post I share with my friends in France and Maghreb my Recipe of my favorite mhadjeb in the form of illustrated step-by-step instructions.

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Mhadjebs are a hearty snack from Maghrebian cuisine that is perfect for the cold season, as it warms you from the inside thanks to ingredients such as cumin and chilli. In Paris, in Arab quarters like Belleville or Barbès, I saw numerous fast food shops and bakeries where you could buy Mhadjebs-to-go.

But the filled flat cakes are not only suitable for occasional hunger pangs. If they are served with a green salad, they can also replace a main meal. By the way: Mahdjouba means “covered” or “veiled” in Arabic.

Hearty or sweet? Mhadjeb is not the same as Mhadjeb

Keyword filling: What exactly do the flatbreads “cover”? Welcome to the diverse and imaginative oriental cuisine: vegetarians will prefer the original variant with an onion, tomato and pepper filling. If you don't want to do without meat, you can add minced meat, chicken or tuna to the pan with your vegetables. Sweet fillings are also offered.

What ultimately goes into a mhadjeb differs from region to region. In the oasis town of Ouargla, for example, you can get mhadjebs with tomatoes, onions, carrots and potatoes.

The flat cakes are also popular without any inner workings. As "Msemen" they are then dipped in humus or olive oil or enjoyed with honey and tea for breakfast.

The dough flatbread has different names in different regions:

• mtawi in eastern Algeria (Jijel, Skikda, Annaba)
• semniyette in Constantine
• Maarek in Algiers
• rghayef in Fez and Rabat in Morocco
• el mafrouq in Taourirt

Finely ground semolina - main component of the Orient classic

Before I could imitate the Orient classic, a suitable recipe first had to be found on the Internet. That was the biggest hurdle, as there seem to be countless preparation variants for the production of the flatbread: flatbreads with or without wheat flour, with or without yeast, flatbreads with different mixing ratios of flour and semolina, etc. Quantities based on the recipe on cuisineactuelle.fr.

A popular ingredient in many Algerian dishes is semolina. Semolina is ground wheat that is used in pastries and desserts, but also in savory dishes. Durum wheat semolina is the starting product for North Africa's national dish: couscous. For the preparation of mhadjebs, the semolina should be (very) finely ground. It will be difficult to find it in the supermarket around the corner, but you can find it in Arab or Turkish grocery stores, for example. The French name for finely ground durum wheat semolina is “semoule fine”. I got my semolina at a deli in the Belleville area of ​​Paris.

Knead, knead, knead - this is how the perfect Mhadjeb dough succeeds

But now it's finally time to prepare. Around 6-7 Mhadjebs medium size (good enough for 3 persons), the following ingredients are required for the dough:

- 250 g durum wheat semolina (finely ground!)
- 125 g of wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Water
- oil

First I prepared the batter for the flatbreads. To do this, mix semolina, flour and salt in a mixing bowl.

The dough can also only consist of durum wheat semolina, but the addition of wheat flour makes kneading a little easier, as I have read. Then you gradually add a little water and either knead the dough with your hands or let a dough kneading machine help you. At first I mixed the ingredients with the water by machine, as it was quite crumbly. The more water I added, however, the easier it was to work the dough and it became soft and supple.

I kneaded the dough with the balls of my hands on the oiled work surface until it was nice and smooth and could be pulled apart. Important: Do not knead the dough too briefly. Most recipes recommend a kneading time of 15-20 minutes. More tips for making the perfect mhadjeb dough can be found in this video (in French):

The ball of dough must then rest covered for around 20 minutes.

Mhadjeb filling: flat dough with a Mediterranean interior

While the dough was resting, I took care of the hearty filling. The following ingredients are prepared for this:

- 4 tomatoes
- 3 large onions
- 200 g of minced meat
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- garlic
- Pepper
- Salt
- Ras el-Hanout (spice mix made from many different ingredients such as cumin, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, allspice, chili peppers, etc.)
- Harissa (hot chili paste)

First halve the onions and cut into thin rings, then dice the tomatoes.

Sauté the onions in a pan in olive oil, add the tomatoes, minced meat and 1 teaspoon tomato paste, season with salt and pepper.

Spices such as Ras el-Hanout and Harissa should not be missing so that the filled flat cakes become a refined oriental dish. These can be bought in every major supermarket in this country and are one of the basics of Maghrebian cuisine. Carefully season the filling to the desired degree of spiciness. Finally, reduce the meat-vegetable mixture until it has a slightly mushy consistency (see picture).

Then let the mixture cool down briefly before adding it to the dough. Important: The filling must no longer contain any liquid, otherwise the thinly rolled out dough would tear.

From the large ball of dough, which I let rest for a good quarter of an hour, I made seven small balls of dough and coated them with a little oil.

I pulled it apart with my hands and then rolled it out very thinly with a rolling pin and shaped it into a square shape. I could see the work surface through the dough. There are basically two ways to serve mhadjebs: either you flip the four sides inwards or you roll them up like pancakes. I decided on the first variant.

Part of the cooled minced meat and vegetable filling was distributed in the middle of the rolled-out square of dough ...

... and carefully folded in the four sides towards the middle so that they overlap. The finished folded dough then looks like in the following picture. Well, maybe I wouldn't win a beauty award with it. But it is well known that only the inner values ​​count - and they are delicious. 😉

Then I seared the Mediterranean flatbreads in the oiled pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side until golden brown.

Finally it could be served. As mentioned above, mhadjebs in combination with a salad are more than just a snack for me.

By the way: the dumplings still taste good the next day when they have been warmed up (in the microwave or in a pan) if they are kept covered in the refrigerator overnight.

Mhadjebs do have a lot of calories and require a certain preparation time, but they are the perfect soul food for cold and uncomfortable days.

Bon appetit and have fun doing it yourself!

You are welcome to ask me questions about the preparation of the mhadjebs in the comments section after this post. I would be happy if you share your experiences with copying the filled dough cakes with me in the comments. Maybe you will try a different filling or change the mixing ratio for the dough?

Hello, my name is Martin Stänke and I work in online marketing. France has been my passion since my youth. I love the sound of the French language, word games, French patisserie & more. On this blog I would like to share my experiences with this wonderful country with other Francophiles. Bonne lecture! :)

4th March 2018

Categories Culture FanTags Dinner, Cooking, Paris, Recipes