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Passport & Plate - Maghlouga - Algerian meat pancakes

Algeria | Thursday, 13 March 2014 | 5 photos


Ingredients
For the dough:
- Two cups of semolina flour
- One cup of wheat flour
- A large pinch of salt
- Lots of olive oil
- Water

For the filling:
- 500 grams of beef mince
- A large onion
- Coriander
- Parsley
- A tablespoon of olive oil
- One large teaspoon of cumin
- One large teaspoon of paprika
- Salt
- Pepper

 

How to prepare this recipe
Let’s start with the easy bit. First take a large onion and chop as finely as you can. Fry gently in a small amount of olive oil until soft and glowing, then add the meat and spices. Brown the meat as you fold it around the onion, making sure to get the seasoning right at this stage. Once browned, cook the meat mixture over a low heat until tender, adding a little water here and there if necessary. Finally, finely chop generous fistfuls of coriander and parsley, mix with the meat and leave to cool. For the dough, take two cups of semolina flour and mix with one cup of wheat flour. Add a pinch of salt, a large tablespoon of olive oil and then start adding water. You want to add a little at a time, working it through the flours until it begins to come together. Keep adding water. Then knead the dough. Add a little more water. Then knead. Eventually, you’ll have your maghlouga dough, soft and stretchy like gum. Squeeze off a small nub and set aside the rest. Slather the worktop with olive oil, slather your hands too for good measure, and begin to press the dough out into a square. If you’re doing it right, the dough will fight back and try to shrink into a little ball, but keep smoothing and stretching with your oily hands and eventually you’ll come out on top. You’ll know it’s thin enough when you can see the worktop through the dough and it begins to blister with the trapped air. Once it’s stretched to breaking point but not beyond, arrange a diamond of meat filling within it, then fold each corner to the middle like you’re making a cootie catcher. Give the little package a final careful squish to seal the edges. Roll the delicate parcel onto your hand and then roll down onto a well-oiled pan at a medium heat. Fry for three to four minutes until the underside is golden brown and mottled, then flip and repeat on the other side. Carry on until you’re out of dough and filling, then serve with an exciting salad and lemon juice and yet more olive oil for dressing.

 

The story behind this recipe
Yasmina welcomes me to her kitchen and instantly I feel at home. Algiers can be alienating at times. There are few tourists in these parts and even fewer who stand out quite as much as I do. But kitchens the world over are my native land and this culinarian is a sister soul. This evening, Yasmina is sharing maghlouga with me. Maghlouga are meat pancakes from her distant hometown in the Mzab valley, on the edge of the Sahara Desert. It turns out we’re both strangers to this crumbling concrete jungle. “There are lots of different kinds of maghlouga” she says “each region, each town, each family has its own recipe. But this is mine. And now it’s yours”.

Her cupboards are filled with mile upon mile of spice racks that range far beyond the walls of this modest city flat. Twisting alleyways with towering shelves like a giant flavour library. Aniseed, alum, angelica. Basil, bayleaf, black pepper. Caraway, cardamom, ah, cumin! We walk down aisles of chittering jars, dipping and sniffing. My Arabic is shaky and her English non-existent, but we both speak spices like a mother tongue.

Back in the kitchen, the stuffing complete, we move onto the dough. Two parts semolina to one part wheat flour. “Your eyes are your measuring cup” says Yasmina. She kneads the dough and as she does the stars begin to peep out over the Algiers skyline. The moon blooms and then fades and still she kneads the dough. Dawn breaks and folds as she kneads, noon passes in a blink as she kneads. Summer fades into autumn, autumn into the balmy Algiers winter, winter into spring. Yasmina keeps on kneading until at last,here we are in Yasmina’s summer evening kitchen once again. “It’s ready” she says.

The stuffing and folding, frying and serving are done in an instant under Yasmina’s expert hands. But you don’t need to be an expert to eat, and the light, crisp pancake shell gives way between my teeth to the molten meaty filling. I take a breath in. I must make this recipe my own.

“Show me again” I said.

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