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Photo by Tara Stevens
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Photo by Tara Stevens
Over the weekend I made a Moroccan dish called rfisa, a stew of chicken, lentils and fenugreek seeds, which are used more like a grain than a spice. You soak the seeds overnight so that they swell up and use about 2/3 lentils to 1/3 fenugreek. Surprisingly the flavour is quite subtle, aromatic but not overpoweringly so. Once cooked the chicken and lentils are layered over shredded msemen, a square flat bread made with semolina and eaten with the hands, and bowls of the lentil liquor are served on the side. Traditionally it is given to pregnant women as the fenugreek helps induce labour, or to new mums to promote milk production. It’s also one of Morocco’s great dishes, but then, so is the bread.
Bread, or khboz in Morocco is a marvelous thing. There are plate-sized crumpets eaten hot with butter, puffy barley breads like muffins, wafer-thin sheets of warka made over gigantic hot iron “eggs”, and my favourite, the wonderful msemen. Bread is never thrown away in Morocco, day old it is used in layer dishes like Chicken rfisa to soak up juices. Completely stale its placed on the top of a wall or crammed into crevices of buildings for somebody less fortunate to take away. In Arabic cultures, you never ever waste bread.
At the rfisa dinner everyone asked where I’d gotten the bread, and much as I’d like to say I made it, it actually comes from a place called Curry Alimentacio on C/ Hospital 123. They take a hot, fresh delivery every morning from a Moroccan woman who bakes great khboz, and the most wonderful, flaky, buttery msemen you’ve ever seen.
Rghaif is what it becomes when you stuff it – perfect for picnics and breakfast. Try it with fresh herbs, hummus and grilled lamb or hot topped with lemon and sugar, butter and jam, or Catalan mel i mato (fresh cheese and honey). Wrapped in foil and popped in a low oven you can reheat it a couple of times.
Got any bread tips? Send them in…
p.s. Barcelona's second Africa Festival takes place this weekend (23rd & 24th May) in the Parc de l'Estació del Nord (www.barnafrika.cat) and includes music, dancing and lots of traditional African food.