Chicken Rfissa and Msemen
Am I the only weirdo who can try a new dish once and fall so in love with it that I spend years thinking about it afterwards and/or trying to re-create it? I assume not, but I do think it takes a certain type of personality – a memory that’s often more sharply tuned to food than to certain books or conversations or other experiences (which I wish I could remember better) – to be nostalgic even for one-time edible experiences.
Actually, maybe that’s the underlying issue here: too much (food) nostalgia.
At any rate, it’s happened to me with more than one dish, and more than one ingredient, so that all of these experiences added up together have vastly expanded my food knowledge and cooking repertoire, or at least the cooking repertoire I hope to someday have.
And these random encounters with ingredients or dishes that take me by surprise and spark my devotion have really been what has driven me to get into the kitchen and try making something new – probably more than flipping through all of the cookbooks in my cookbook collection could ever do.
This exposure to newness is just one reason I appreciate the importance of traveling, of visiting new restaurants, of trying different items from the menu.
(And of re-trying certain dishes or ingredients, since tastebuds can change… Take me and my newfound love of capers, for example – I don’t know what I ever had against them.)
Although now that I’ve gone on about traveling and newness for a bit, let me tell you that the first time I tried the new-to-me Chicken Rfissa was not in Morocco, which I still haven’t visited, but at a Moroccan restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin, where I’m from. Not that I live there anymore, or have for some time, so I guess you could say I was traveling (back home) – and trying new restaurants, as you do when you travel…
I think this was a Madison trip back in 2012. We went out to eat as a family, with a few aunts and uncles who were in town, to Marrakesh, a restaurant I’d visited only several times before. Paula (predictably) ordered a falafel/hummus/pita platter, while I became intrigued by the tempting combination of chicken, lentils, and phyllo dough – it would be hard to go wrong with those ingredients.
The chicken arrived buried in a bowl (actually a tagine) of the greenest lentils, with buttery triangles of phyllo dough dotted over the lentils to soak up the spices. The flavors were strong: ginger, cumin, and fenugreek. But as a whole, the dish was more rich than spicy. It was comfort food, yet complex. One of my favorite combinations – chicken and lentils, but with flaky pastry dough instead of with rice or bread. It won me over.
It took a while before Paula and I started making Chicken Rfissa (also sometimes spelled “rafissa”) at home, mostly because every recipe I was able to find for it seemed to have an overwhelming number of steps and ingredients. (And considering that Paula and I have made mole, dosa, and momos from scratch on more than one occasion, that’s saying something!)
The rfissa recipes we found all explained how to make homemade msemen (also spelled “msemmen”), which are layered, buttery pan-fried Moroccan flatbreads, sometimes referred to as pancakes or crepes (i.e., not the same as the phyllo dough that was in the first rfissa I tried!).
But this seemed like even more work (for Paula, the designated bread-maker…). So we began to make rfissa from scratch – attempting to simplify the recipe with each iteration – but we always substituted storebought frozen paratha for the homemade msemen. (For what it’s worth, an excellent substitution!)
The last step before we could share it with you was for Paula to make msemen, which she finally did for me, for our Valentine’s day chicken rfissa dinner this year. Since then, we’ve enjoyed leftover msemen, and the extra msemen from later batches, slathered with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.
I hope many of you will give this dish a try, despite the recipe seeming a little involved. It’s truly one of my favorites, and I think I like my version now better even than that first one at the restaurant, which was so good that’s it’s been stuck in my memory since 2012.
P.S. I must have traveling on the brain, since I found a way to work it into this blog post. A little news: Paula and I are about to leave to spend most of April traveling in South Korea and Japan! (Her first time in both countries.) I hope I get to try at least a few new-to-me dishes that I missed learning about when living in Korea/Japan! And my hope for Paula is that she comes home with a newfound love – or at least respect – for Japanese mayonnaise. (I think the first goal is more realistic than the second…)
Anyway, for the sake of my tendinitis – among other reasons – I am leaving my laptop behind, so no new blog posts until after we return! (Next post: May 7th.)
Msemen (Moroccan Fried Flatbreads)
(Adapted from many recipes, from sites around the internet and from Youtube.)
(Makes about 10 flatbreads)
Active and Total time: about 50 minutes.
Ingredients for dough:
~ 1⅓ cup all-purpose flour
~ 1⅓ cup semolina flour
~ 1¼ tsp. sugar
~ ½ tsp. salt
~ ¼ tsp. yeast
~ 1 cup water
Ingredients for folding dough:
~ ⅓ cup vegetable oil
~ ⅓ cup (5.5 Tbsp.) butter, melted (plus more butter for frying)
~ up to ¼ cup semolina flour
How to make it:
1. Combine all dough ingredients in a stand mixer (or knead by hand) until smooth (about 5 minutes in the stand mixer; longer by hand).
2. Assemble the ingredients for folding the dough, each in a separate small bowl. Making sure your hands are well-oiled (with some of the vegetable oil), squeeze the dough into about 10 small egg-sized balls. (You might want to cover them with a sheet of plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out.)
3. Note: Use generous amounts of both oil and butter throughout this step. Brush some of the oil and melted butter onto a clean counter or surface; make sure your hands are well-oiled as well. Use your fingers to start to flatten one of the balls of dough, then use the palm of your hand (circular wiping motions work well) to gradually spread out the dough into a large circle — the thinner the better. Don’t worry if the dough tears or has holes because you’re going to be folding it up into layers anyway.
4. Sprinkle a pinch of semolina flour evenly over the thin circle of dough, then fold the dough in thirds toward the middle once from the left and right edges, and once again from the nearest and farthest edges. Set the layered square of dough aside, and repeat with the other balls of dough.
5. Warm up your griddle or a frying pan, and melt a little butter on the surface. Take a folded square of dough and press it to flatten it out a little more, until it nearly doubles in size. Fry each flatbread for 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown. Serve warm with honey or slice into strips to serve with chicken rfissa.
(Adapted from many recipes around the internet)
Active time: 1 hour; Total time: 1 hour 30 min. (plus 1 hour or overnight soaking time)
~ ¾ cup green lentils, picked over, rinsed, and optionally soaked for 1-2 hours
~ 1 Tbsp. fenugreek seeds
~ ¼ cup olive oil (plus 2 Tbsp. later)
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 2 tsp. ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice mix; you can make your own)
~ ¾ tsp. salt
~ ½ tsp. ground turmeric
~ ⅛ tsp. ground ginger
~ 5-6 chicken drumsticks
~ 2¾ cups water
~ 1 bunch cilantro and/or 1 bunch parsley, stems optionally tied with twine
~ pinch of saffron
~ 2 medium (or 5-6 small) tomatoes, peeled and diced (see step #5)
~ 1 batch msemen (or 2 storebought frozen paratha), fried and sliced into strips, to serve
How to make it:
0. (Rinse and optionally soak the green lentils for 1-2 hours, then drain before using.) Soak the fenugreek seeds in boiling water (drain and pour over new boiling water several times) for 1 hour, or in room temperature water overnight. After the fenugreek seeds have soaked, drain them, and then grind them in a coffee grinder or a powerful blender (if you’re using a strong blender, add a little water to help them blend).
1. In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium-low, then add the diced onion and cook for about 10 minutes until softened, stirring frequently. Add the ras el hanout, salt, turmeric, and ginger during the last few minutes of cooking the onion.
2. Add the chicken drumsticks, increase the heat to medium, and “brown” the chicken, or at least turn them several times so that they start to cook and get coated in the oil, onions, and spices (5 minutes). Then cover and reduce the heat a little (another 5 minutes).
3. Uncover and increase the heat back to medium. Pour over the 2 3/4 cups water, then add the (soaked and) drained lentils, the soaked, drained, and ground fenugreek, the bunch(es) of cilantro and/or parsley, the pinch of saffron, and the remaining 2 Tbsp. of olive oil. Cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. After it’s been simmering (covered) for 30-35 minutes, uncover to allow the liquid to begin to reduce. Continue to simmer (uncovered) for an additional 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally at first, but then checking on it and stirring it frequently during the last 10-15 minutes, since the extra liquid should disappear, and the lentils could easily stick to the bottom of the pot and burn once that happens.
5. Meanwhile, peel tomatoes by slicing an ‘X’ into the bottom of their peels, and sliding them into a small pot of boiling water for about 10 seconds each. Remove with a slotted spoon, let cool, then pull back and discard the peels and roughly dice.
6. Once the liquid has reduced from the rfissa, remove it from the heat, remove and discard the cilantro and/or parsley stems that have not dissolved into the dish (in particular, remember to remove the twine!), and stir in the tomatoes.
To serve: Arrange the sliced strips of fried msemen (or paratha) on a large serving platter (or in individual dishes), and plate the chicken and lentils over the strips of fried bread.
Related recipe posts:
|Homemade Pita Bread & Greek Yogurt Hummus||Chicken Tagine with Chickpeas, Chard, & Figs||Korean Cinnamon-Stuffed Pancakes (Hotteok)|