As a foreigner living in Algeria, there is alot to appreciate here in Algeria ... the beautiful natural landscapes, the weather, the cultural traditions, the easy laid-back lifestyle but of course the mirad of tasty delights. One such delight one of my favourite comes to mind is Maârek. Called M'semen, Ensemna, Semniyette, Msamam, Moufleta or R'ghaif in other regions. Maârek is a special treat. The name M'semen means "fat" and yes, this isn't a skinny recipe; but it is reminiscence of home, childhood and of times lost. Maârek is to Algerians ... no to all to North Africans I think what palacsinta (crêpes) are to Hungarians, madeleines are to the French and maybe what chocolate chip cookies are to Americans ... a treasured souvenir from the childhood right from the hands and heart of Mama!
A specialty of all the Maghreb countries: Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Maârek are squares of dough very thinly spread out, folded in on themselves like an envelope then cooked to give the appearance of layered, flaky and tender parcel. They are like a cross between a pancake and a tortilla using the rough technique of making puff pastry.
Maârek, which means fattened really is fattening .... and addicting! Believe me, it is just that and much much more. If you ever had Maârek before, then you know what I mean ... it’s tender, flaky, messy, moist, chewy ... the kind of food you can pull apart and eat with your hands ... so so hard to resist.
It’s made with fine semolina, salt, a bit of butter/ oil and warm water. After that, everything is mixed into a smooth dough and kneaded until soft and elastic. The concept of Maârek is an ingenious one I think. Like puff pastry, a fat is folded inside the dough to build up thin butter layers when the dough hits a high temperature. But unlike puff pastry, it is cooked on the stove on a medium heat, and not baked in the oven.
Maârek making is fairly lengthly process that I usually reserve for lazy weekends when I have my children right in the kitchen kneading, stretching and folding the Maârek. It is excellent treat for the children and cook alike... straight from the pan, tearing it off while flipping the remaining Maârek. And due to the fact that Maârek is lenghtly detailed process to prepare I have chosen to share each step of the method.
I was taught how to make Maârek by my husband's cousin Yamina. (Thank you Yamina)But I just could never get it right as she made it. So I kept working at it. Some cooks (like Yamina) will say use only semolina while others say a mixture is better. I personally think using a mixture is easier to work with. The flour makes the dough tender and easier to stretch out, while the semolina gives that chewiness you want in each bite. And don't tell Yamina, but I now add alittle bit of yeast to the dough. It is a real cheat and no-fail trick for making this pastry. It aids in obtaining an elastic dough that does not tear. And the addition of semolina between the folds helping the layering. Alternatively, if you cannot find fine semolina flour in your area, use all flour. After a few years of tweaking here today I present my method for easier, successfully and deliciously tender Maârek.
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