I had already crossed the path of m’hadjebs and maareks several times in my life before seeing them cooked before my eyes at the Délice de la Casbah in January 2011, during my training in Algerian pastry (for pleasure only because it is not my job). It is a kind of flaky bread with fine durum wheat semolina. Without filling it is the “maareks” and with, it is the “m’hadjebs”. Most of the time, the m’hadjebs are garnished with tomatoes and onions simmered in olive oil, but it can also be sweet. I give you here the basic technique with the famous filling of the m’hadjebs. I find it very pleasant to prepare m’hadjebs and maareks, because it is fast, simple, traditional and delicious…
-500g of fine durum wheat semolina (this is not couscous semolina)
-3-4 tablespoons of oil
-2 teaspoons of salt
Garnishing of the m’hadjebs
-3 tablespoons of olive oil
-1 bell pepper (red or green)
-4 cloves of garlic
-1 tablespoon of tomato paste
-1/2 teaspoon harissa
Gather the ingredients for the m’hadjebs (with filling). If you do the maareks, you can skip this step.
Plunge tomatoes into boiling water for 20 seconds.
This way, you can peel the tomatoes very easily!
Peel them and remove the base where the stem is.
Put the olive oil in a high pan and add the tomatoes.
Add the peeled and sliced onions (more or less fine).
Let cook on moderate heat and add the harissa (the dose depends on the taste of each!).
Add crushed garlic.
As well as the tomato paste and the bell pepper (without the seeds) cut into small pieces.
Let cook for a good hour, adding a little water if necessary (which will evaporate but allow the cooking).
Let the filling of the m’hadjebs cool.
Preparation of the maarek/m’hadjeb dough:
Put the fine durum wheat semolina in a large bowl (or the bowl of the food processor).
Add salt and oil.
Add water while blending with the hook of a kenwood or kitchenaid food processor.
Add as much water as necessary, as for a bread dough. Anyway, if there is not enough water, the dough will be too strong and if there is too much water, the dough will be too sticky. It is enough to adjust with either water or fine semolina.
The dough should be soft but not sticky. It should be worked with a robot or by hand on a clean surface. Knead the dough for at least 10 minutes.
The dough should be silky and soft to the touch. Let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes (or while you prepare a filling). Cut into 10 equal sized balls.
Put oil on the work surface and put a ball of dough in it.
Spread the ball in the oil and flatten it with your hands. The ball is very elastic, especially in oil. So it’s really easy to make a very thin sheet of dough.
Simply pull the edges by lifting the dough outward. It will become as thin as cigarette paper.
You can see the difference in size between an original ball and the dough rolled out this way!
Fold the dough more or less in three in one direction.
Then again in three. We then obtain a square that we can cook in a frying pan or on a professional crepe maker (I use my bilig, at 230°C like at the Délice de la Casbah).
Cook on both sides. The hadjeb is cooked for at least 4-5 minutes on each side. (You need to cook a little more than on the picture!).
You can make a simple cake by filling it before cooking it (m’hadjeb) or make a double puff pastry by putting an already cooked m’hadjeb in the center of the rolled out dough before folding the whole as before. It is enough to cook normally, the center of m’hadjeb having cooked a first time. It is then the maarek!
For the m’hadjebs, put the tomato filling on the rolled out pastry sheet.
Fold into quarters and bake as before.
It’s delicious hot with just the right amount of spice on top!
To summarize, you get a kind of flaky and crispy bread that is really delicious hot for maareks, or a filled turnover for m’hadjebs. You can also put a sweet topping like honey or caramel or even nutella (I ate some in Cairo!!).