Thursday, 20 March 2008

Berber Pizza! And a Mini Travelogue...

Three years ago I went for a two week trip to Morocco with a friend of mine. After a few days in Marrakech, Fes, Casablanca, we went on a road trip, driving over the Atlas mountains to the Sahara.

As you can imagine, food played a big part of my trip - and was one of the things I had been most excited about. But I had been somewhat disappointed by the choice in the cities - the ubiquitous cous cous with 7 vegetables along with chicken or lamb tagines seemed to form the bulk of many menus. We did manage to eat well - but it wasn't quite as easy as I had hoped!

Where was the the spice, the variety and the depth of flavours that I had been looking forward to?
As we drove over the mountains, I found it... Berber food!

Our guide took us into the Sahara, where we rode camels through the moonlight to reach our camp. The fire was already roaring when we got there, with some people playing music whilst others cooked dish after dish of stunning Berber fare. It was all vegetarian, and no two dishes were even approaching similar. As different from 7 veg cous cous as you could imagine!

Me and A. We called our camels Dave and Ian. They had really long eyelashes!

That night we slept in hessian Berber tents (you could see the stars through the tent material), snuggled under about six blankets (it got REALLY cold!!). And at about 5am we were woken to watch the sunrise over the sand dunes. Neither words, nor my photograph can describe how beautiful that was.

Sunrise over the Sahara

So we then trekked back through the desert before meeting our guide. We then had a long drive back, stopping to buy carpets (about a third of the price of those in Fes!), visit a film studio and look round a 6th century mud built town.

Like our Berber headware??

So, by the time we got to a silverware workshop we were almost faint with hunger. After a prolonged haggling session and 3 gorgeous purchases later, I had the most welcome invitation of my holiday... our guide informed us that the silversmith and his wife would like to invite us to stay for lunch!

As we sat down I asked what we were having, to which our guide responded... Berber pizza!

I was bemused - there was nothing that I had seen in Moroccan restaurants or cookbooks that even remotely resembled pizza. Then it arrived - a large round calzone type affair. When he cut into it, the juice from the meat poured out - it was one of the best things I ate all holiday!

The original Berber Pizza!

So when I found out that this month's blog party over at Dispensing Happiness was a Pizza Party, and started trying to decide what to make, the idea of Berber pizza popped into my head... and refused to go. Despite the fact I couldn't find a recipe anywhere! Then, after a few hours of detective work, I finally found this recipe. It is called medfouna - which means 'buried', and is basically stuffed bread! I seem to remember being told that they used to cook this by burning a fire in the sand, putting it out, then burying the medfouna in the hot sand to cook. I haven't been able to find a source to back this up though! I have made a few changes, but only to make it more like the original one I had! I also used half fillet/ half rump steak to cut the cost down.

As for a drink to go with it - Morocco is all but dry, so no alcoholic beverages for me. So instead I think I'll serve this with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice - the Djemaa el Fna was full of vendors selling the best OJ you've EVER tasted... all for about 25p a glass!

Medfouna - or Berber Pizza!

  • 2 tsp active dried yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 175ml lukewarm water
  • 250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 large stick celery, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli finely chopped
  • 1 handful flatleaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 small handful cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 200g fillet steak
  • 200g rump steak
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 beaten egg, for brushing
  • sea salt flakes
  • cumin seeds

Start by activating the yeast for the dough - add the yeast and sugar to the warm water and mix to dissolve. Leave for about 10 minutes until the foam starts to form on the top of the yeasty water.

I made the dough in a mixer with the dough blade attached - but you could do it by hand if you like! Place the flour, salt and caraway seeds into the mixer and pulse a couple of times to mix. Add the yeasty water and mix for a couple of minutes - until the dough forms one big ball and the sides of the mixer are clean. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface, and knead for five or six minutes.

I accidentally forgot to divide the dough at this point - it still worked ok, but it was harder to get a uniform shape! So, divide the dough into two equal pieces and place in bowls. Cover the bowls and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. In a pan, fry the onion, celery and chilli for a few minutes until they start to soften (I didn't fancy leaving the onion raw!). Using my mixer I pulsed the meat a few times - I wanted it still to have some texture.

Mix the onion mixture with the parsley, cilantro, coriander, ground cumin and meat into a bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix well.

To build the medfouna, roll out both risen portions of dough into large rounds about the size of a dinner plate. Place one of the dough rounds onto an oiled baking tray. Place the filling on top and spread evenly, leaving a 2cm edge. Brush the edge with a little egg wash. Place the second dough round on top and press the edges gently together to seal the bread.

Brush the top with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with sea salt and cumin seeds.

Bake in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes at 180c (350f), or until golden-brown.

Serve in slices and enjoy your Berber pizza!

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Mike of Mike's Table said...

That sounds like a really fun trip! That has to go on my list of things-to-do-one-day. The pizza also sounds like a delight and looks delicious...also on the list!

Peter M said...

Kitten, you're mighty adventurous or travelling as a pair of females in Morocco.

The Berbere pizza looks fabulous...everyone has a version of a meat pie!

Jen said...

This looks so good...

I really like the use of the North African flavors- especially as I always think of pizza as being Italian and empanadas having Spanish/South American flavors.

kittie said...

Mike - it was amazing, I can't believe how much we fitted into 2 weeks!

Peter - I was pretty nervous to start with, but the cities were safe enough, and we had a trustworthy (male) guide for when we went off the beaten track!

I thought it looked more like a cornish pastie than a pizza ;)

Jen - I had to look up empanadas! Now that's another thing to add to my to-cook list! Thanks :)

A. Grace said...

mmm...that looks like my kind of pizza--yummy crust and juicy, satisfying filling. i'm so jealous of your trip!!

Bellini Valli said...

This looks wonderful. I'd love to hear more about your trip in your posts someday:D

Deborah said...

I'm jealous of the trip and I'm jealous of the pizza. I love meat pasties, and this sounds awesome!