So, for my milestone birthday next year (I just won’t reveal how
old young I am, haha), my husband and I have decided that we are heading to either East or South Africa for safari!!! Just the two of us, like the old days. Yeah, yeah!!! Now, we have to pick whether we want the Kenya-Tanzania-Zanzibar combo for some Maasai and Serengeti action; or if we want the South Africa-Botswana-Zambia combo for some Livingstone and Okavango action. Which would you prefer or suggest, dear readers?
While we are on the subject of Africa, I should mention that I love Marrakech, Morocco! This was the first African city I’ve set foot in, and to me, it was magical! It was like I got possessed by some spirit or jinn – a good one – and I never wanted to leave.
I tried to convince my husband and then 2-year-old daughter to runaway to Marrakech, but they just laughed at “crazy mommy!” So, I slowly let go of my dream of buying a rundown riad with a garden courtyard in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. I resigned to the fact that I won’t ever have my dream Moroccan house filled with brass lanterns and wooly kilims. However, what I DO have are memories of its dust-ridden alleys, its cacophanous souks, and the smokey, fiery foods made by a Berber’s hands.
Today’s recipe is for a briouat, a North African fried savoury pastry roll that comes in many different shapes and sizes, with many different fillings. Briouats are traditionally made with warkha pastry, which Marrakshis are very adept in crafting. Everywhere you go in the souk, you’ll see warkha makers spinning these delicate and light pastries on metal crêpe drums set over charcoal braziers. And those Marrakshis, they know how to cook!
Look! Even my daughter loves Moroccan food!
Right now, I want to replicate my favourite vegetable briouat from the Marrakech souks. These are perfect little snacks after a day of haggling and shopping. Sip mint tea with these rolls, and that’s a mini Moroccan feast for yourself!
I did not have a chance to go to a North African store here in Toronto for warkha, and I surely didn’t want to attempt making these thin-as-gauze wrappers at home. So, I used phyllo for this recipe – an acceptable substitution with acceptable results.
Also, these briouats require a spice blend called “ras el hanout.” Ras el hanout translates as ‘top of the shop’ and it’s a merchant’s special spice blend, which is at least 15, and up to 30, different spices and herbs. It usually includes nutmeg, cardamom, mace, ginger, cloves, lavender, cayenne, orris root, cinnamon, cumin seeds, turmeric, aniseed, rosebuds, allspice, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cassia bark, almonds, grains of paradise, nigella seeds, ash berries. My ras el hanout supply from the Marrakech souk - carefully smuggled in my carry-on - is long gone, but I found a really good one at The Spice Trader. As well, Williams-Sonoma has a decent version.
- 4 sheets warkha pastry or 8 sheets filo pastry
- 4 ripe tomatoes, quartered
- 4 zucchinis, chopped
- 1 large eggplant, halved and sliced
- 1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 whole head garlic
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil for drizzling and brushing
- 2 tablespoons ras el hanout*
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, minced
- nigella seeds or sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon harissa**
- 8 tablespoons thick Greek-style yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Place the tomatoes, zucchinis, eggplant, onion, and garlic in a roasting pan or baking sheet large enough to hold everything (or use more than one pan – do not overcrowd).
- Season with salt and pepper and drizzle vegetables with olive oil, then add the ras el hanout and combine well.
- Roast the vegetables for 45 minutes to 60 minutes, checking to make sure they are browned but did not dry out.
- Remove from oven, allow to cool, then chop vegetables again to smaller pieces. Add lemon juice and parsley, and toss to combine.
- To make the briouats, take one sheet of warkha or phyllo and place the filling mixture along one side of the pastry.
- Roll the pastry to form a long cigar shape, making sure to secure the edges with olive oil. Repeat until all filling is used. Sprinkle with nigella or sesame seeds.
- Option 1 (Fried): Fill a large frying pan a third full with olive oil, then place over medium heat. When hot, carefully drop the briouats and fry until golden, 5-7 minutes, turning to brown all sides.
- Option 2 (Baked): Heat your oven to 350 degrees F, place your briouat rolls on rack atop a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden.***
- To make the harissa yoghurt dip, mix the harissa, yoghurt, and olive oil.
*Ras el hanout translates as ‘head of the shop’ and it’s a merchant’s special spice blend, which is at least 15, and up to 30, different spices and herbs. It usually includes nutmeg, cardamom, mace, ginger, cloves, lavender, cayenne, orris root, cinnamon, cumin seeds, turmeric, aniseed, rosebuds, allspice, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cassia bark, almonds, grains of paradise, nigella seeds, ash berries.
**Harissa is North Africa’s most commonly-served condiment. It is a red chilli-garlic mixture which can be moderately to highly spicy.
***Although traditionally deep fried, I chose to bake mine in the oven; it’s a little bit more heart-healthy that way.