Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Casse Croute Cooking

One element that takes a while for travelers to get used to is meal schedules. Every country seems to have its own specific internal clock that lets everyone know when to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and so on. Morocco is no exception to this rule. I always feel like I'm eating at the wrong time when I'm traveling - whether I'm having dinner in an empty restaurant, expecting breakfast food and only finding places serving lunch, or having my waiter react to my order by asking me, "you want that now?".

It has taken me nearly a year of living here to finally get into the rhythm of Moroccan meal timing. Here is what I have learned:

8-10 am: Breakfast (breads, jams, olive oil, coffee, tea, black olives)
1-3 pm: Lunch (Tagines, couscous, bean soups, or a sandwich/panini if you are on the go)
5-7 ish: "Casse Croute" (a word borrowed from the French that means snack), also known as tea time (similar foods to breakfast, plus cookies or cake if enjoyed with guests or friends)
9-11 ish: Dinner (generally lighter than lunch, maybe leftovers, spaghetti, soups such as harira or semolina, stewed vegetables, fish)
Dessert: fresh fruit, if anything

*this schedule is merely a set of estimates and shouldn't by any means be taken as a unchanging fact*

If you spend anytime in Morocco you will fall in love with the breads that are prepared for Casse Croute. In the mornings and late afternoons you see women rolling out their gas griddles onto the sidewalks in front of cafés and snack shops as they begin to pan fry various types of breads. The smell is intoxicating.

With most types of cooking in Morocco, it is difficult to find any exact recipes. Moroccan women cook with their senses - smell, taste, touch, look. It is a "pinch-full" of this, or a "splash" of that, or "add this until it looks like that" kind of style, which at first can feel impossible to a foreigner who was brought up using measuring cups, scales, and ovens with precise temperature readings. However, if you get over this learning curve and embrace the creativity and trust your instincts (or your teacher's), I promise the end result will be nothing but delicious. 

Beghrir (be-gh-reer)

Beghrir is a light spongy pancake that is usually served drizzled in honey and eaten during casse croute. Many families eat beghrir as a way to break their daily fast during the month of Ramadan because it is easy to eat several without feeling stuffed. I'm not sure how great of an attribute this is...

yields 12-15 pancakes

1T (or spoonful - teaspoon sized and semi-heaping) of sea salt
250 grams of semolina flour (finely ground)

4 packets of Idéal (brand) baking soda (32 grams total)

Warm water

In a blender, combine the salt and the semolina flour and add warm (not hot) water until it makes a batter that resembles that of a thin pancake batter. Blend until mixed well and then add baking soda. Blend until it is mixed through, but don't over do it. 

Using a small non-stick frying pan over medium to high heat. Ladle the batter into a pan so it resembles a pancake. The batter will begin to bubble and then firm up. When this happens, the beghrir is ready! Slide it out of the pan onto a plate, drizzle with honey, and enjoy! 

Melaoui (me-la-wee)

Melaoui is what I'd imagine the spawn of a pancake and fried dough to taste like. Crispy and buttery on the outside with a doughy center, it is sure to please. Moroccans eat it with a wide variety of spreads, such as: honey, Vache qui Rit (spreadable cheese), olive oil, butter, jam, amlou (a spread made out of honey, Argan oil, and honey). I personally enjoy it with honey and a jet black espresso. 

Yields about 12 servings


(approx.) 250 grams of all purpose flour (or however much you want to use) - SIFTED
a pinch of table salt (to taste)
(approx.) 4 grams of baking soda
Warm water

vegetable oil (zeet)
butter or margarine (zebda) - softened or spreadable is best 

Medium ground semolina flour

 In a large mixing bowl, mix your dry ingredients. Gradually add splashes of warm water until the consistency resembles a sticky bread dough. The best way to tell this is by mixing with your hands.

Next, dump the batter onto a clean countertop and begin working the dough by rolling and kneading it. Do this for approximately 3 minutes.

Grease a cookie sheet with vegetable oil. 

Rub a bit of vegetable oil onto your hands and begin pinching off balls of dough about the size of a small child's fist and placing them on the greased cookie sheet. Once all the balls of dough are on the cookie sheet cover it with saran wrap for about 15 minutes. While you are waiting for the dough to rest, pour about 1/2 a cup of vegetable oil and a few spoonfuls of butter or margarine into a small dish. In another small dish, pour out about 1/2 a cup of semolina flour. 

After 15 minutes, uncover the dough and rub your hands with the oil/butter mixture from the dish. Then, take each ball one by one and press it out until it is flat and thin and (hopefully) circular. Rub a bit of oil/butter onto the dough and sprinkle a little bit of semolina flour into the center. 

Next, imagine an imaginary line running vertically through the center of the dough. Fold the sides of the dough in to the center, rub with oil/butter and sprinkle with semolina flour. Do the same with the top and bottom of the dough. It should look like a square little package. 

Once this has been completed, flatten out each dough "package" until thin and then place it in a cast iron (or whatever you have) skillet over medium-high heat. Once it starts puffing up, flip it over and add a little bit of oil/butter with your fingers. Once both sides are golden brown, your melaoui is finished! 

Note: Because I learned how to make these recipes in a hands on a way (read: my hands were too buttery to document the experience with my camera). The photos in the melaoui recipe were taken from an article on for how to make traditional Melaoui step by step.

(to your health)