Mhadjeb (singular) Mahdjouba (plural); A labour of love, even with the help of my trusty stand mixer!
Mhadjeb is a thin semolina stuffed flatbread. Some say it’s more crepe than bread but to me it’s more like pastry especially due to the amount of effort required to make it.
They are usually made with a onion and tomato sauce filling like mine but other alternatives are ground meat and shredded vegetables such as carrot. For a sweet version toserve at breakfast / dessert a filling of sugar, spice and nuts. You can even make them without a filling, known as maarek / msemmen which are great for dipping in olive oil, honey, hummus to name but a few. Anyway you have them, they are always deliciously crisp, tender and chewy all in one bite.
Now, i’m no
expert north african on this famous street food soooo here is how I make mhadjeb, at night and without my dslr as there is no way I am risking getting oil anyway near it, not yet. I will come back and update the photo another time, in shaa Allah.
First prepare sauce ingredients
Using a box grater, grate 6 fresh salad tomatoes.
Finely chop 2 medium onions using a food processor.
Crush garlic and measure selection of spices. I used harissa (powder form), cinnamon, black pepper, paprika plus a bay leaf.
Now it’s time to start the mhadjeb dough.
In the bowl of my stand mixer goes 3 ingredients: 500grans fine semolina (must be fine), teaspoon salt and….
water. Using a dough hook on minimum speed you need just enough water to form a dough, i used 350ml but it will depend on the quality of semolina.
Then increase the speed to knead the dough, on my kenwood that is number 1. Every minute or so using your hand sprinkle some water into the bowl or with a cup dribble a tiny amount of water in.
When your not busy sprinkling your dough with water, start your sauce. Fry onions until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add your crushed garlic, spices and some tomato puree to the pot, let it cook another minute or so until fragrant. I left salting the sauce until later because the harissa powder already has salt.
in with the fresh tomatoes, stir and then leave to reduce slightly, about 5 minutes.
Transfer to a heatproof bowl and allow to cool before checking seasoning and adding fresh chopped coriander.
This is how the dough looked after 10 minutes kneading. Now put your hand in and remove the dough from the hook and push the dough back into the bowl, continue letting the mixer knead for another 5-10 minutes all the while you stand by its side feeding it water every minute or until you see the last amount of water you put has been absorbed.
It’s important not to flood the dough making it too wet but also we don’t want an unmanageable dry dough either, we want soft and elastic.
Kneading this by hand would take at least 30-40 minutes depending how fit you are, a good work out though for those calories you will be consuming later.
This is how my dough looked after 20 minutes kneading.
Now it’s time to divide your dough and let it rest
Oil a baking sheet and your hands each time you pull fistfuls off. Place balls of dough on the tray and dab each one with more oil. We don’t want to let these dry out, after all that effort you and the mixer put in.
Cover the tray loosely with cling film and let them rest for 20-30 minutes, or until you have done the washing up!
this is how it looked after resting. Now i got 9 balls of dough so you would think that equals 9 mhadjeb? not really, it all depends on the size of the pan your cooking them in and how big you can stretch the dough.
Now it’s finally time to fold and cook the mhadjeb. I told you it was a labour of love right?
Oil your worktop and hands very well then Take each dough ball and flatten it with your hands until it resembles something like the above. We are not done there…..
place your hand(make sure it’s oiled) underneath a corner of the dough and from the center gently stretch the dough, you can slightly wave it up and down to help. Repeat this step for all the corners of the dough until you have something that resembles the above. You see i have thick edges so i proceeded to cut these off using a pizza wheel but if your a novice i would suggest leaving them on the first time as it will help having something substantial to grab hold of when you come to fold this baby up.
place your sauce filling in the center or your mhadjeb and spread out, you don’t want too much sauce, no more than 1 and half tablespoon, most of my mhadjeb i used just 1 tablespoon.
Now if you like mhadjeb extra spicy as my husband does, you can add some green chilli that you prepared earlier over the sauce. This way both kids and adults enjoy mhadjeb, win win.
To fold: first you need to make a rectangle, pulling the top layer down into the center and then the bottom layer up into the center. Then you go ahead folding the right side into the center followed by the left until you end up with a square.
something like this.
Lift up the mhadjeb from one side and transfer to pre-heated pan or cast iron flat griddle (fold side face down) then cook on both side until crisp and golden.
Don’t worry too much if:
a. You get tiny holes while stretching the dough once the mhadjeb is folded it will cover these holes.
b. The square shape stretches as you transfer it to the pan to cook. This happens depending on how elastic your dough is and how far the mhadjeb has to travel to the pan.
c. You get small holes from transferring mhadjeb to pan and the sauce leaks out slightly. It all adds to the colour of the final mhadjeb and who doesn’t like to hear the sizzling sound?!
Believe me all the above effort is worth it for the texture and taste of the final mhadjeb. You have to try these, like now! be sure to come back and let me know your thoughts.
Mhadjeb / Mahdjouba
- 2 average size onion, finely chopped
- 1 large garlic clove crushed
- 3/4 teaspoon harissa powder or paste
- 1/3 teaspoon ground black pepper or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of tomato puree
- Bay leaf
- 6 salad tomatoes
- Salt, to taste
- 1 green chilli, finely sliced with seeds/membrane fried in oil. * optional
- 500 grams fine semolina (don’t use coarse or extra coarse)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 350ml Water, warm + more for sprinkling
- Oil (i used sunflower but you can use any you prefer, or half butter half oil or even coconut oil for a healthier version) for coating work surface, baking tray, dough & hands.
- Important: Read All Steps Before Making
- Place semolina and salt inside a bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook. On the lowest setting mix the ingredients, adding enough water until it just forms a dough. You then turn the setting/speed to knead then let it run for 10 minutes whilst every minute or so you sprinkle the dough with water. See Sauce.
- After 10 minutes pull the dough off the hook and push back into bowl. continue kneading using mixer whilst watering for another 5-10 minutes until you reach a soft and elastic dough (see above post for example)
- Divide the dough up: coat baking tray and your hands with oil then pull off handfuls of dough and place on tray. pat tops of dough with a little oil. Loosely cover with clingfilm and leave to rest 20-30 mins.
- When your not sprinkling dough with water make the sauce!In a large saucepan on medium heat, add a glug of olive oil then onion, cook until soft and translucent. Add garlic, spices (no salt yet) and tomato puree, cook for a minute or two until fragrant. Add tomato, stir, cook gently for 5 mins. Turn off heat and transfer sauce to heatproof bowl, leave to cool then add freshly chopped coriander or parsley and salt.
- Pre-heat your chosen pan or flat griddle on low heat (switch to medium when you are ready to cook the mhadjeb) Oil your hands and work surface very well, this is a must so the dough doesn’t stick to the surface or you and well you’re cooking the flat breads in a dry hot pan so you need that oil. Start by getting 1 piece of dough and gently pat it with the palm of your hands until you get an even flat squarish shape. Place your hand underneath one part and gently stretch from the middle outwards until that side is thin and you can see the work surface underneath, continue stretching dough all way around until it’s even. Don’t worry if you have a few little holes it won’t matter once you start to fold it over but try and get a consistently thin surface, you can cut off any thick edges using a pizza wheel. Any excess cut offs can be put back on the baking tray and covered and left to rest for use later on.
- Put a tablespoon of cooled sauce in the center of the sheet, with the back of a spoon gently spread out but leave a big border of dough. Now your ready to fold! fold the top side down over some of the sauce into the centre then fold the bottom side up into the center. Do the same with the right and left side so you get a square. With oiled hands delicately lift mahajeb into pan and cook until each side is golden and crisp.
- Repeat folding and cooking process until all the dough has been used.
- The cooking time will vary depending on the consistency of your sauce, how much sauce you choose to put and the thickness of the mhadjeb.
- For a sweeter red bell pepper mhadjeb, replace 1 onion in the food processor with 1 red bell pepper.