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Chicken Rfissa and Msemen

March 26, 2015

Chicken Rfissa and Msemen (Moroccan Fried Flatbread)Pin it!

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.

Chicken Rfissa and Msemen (Moroccan Fried Flatbread)Pin it!

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.)

IMG_2949-5Pin it!

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…

Ingredients for Moroccan Chicken Rfissa

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.

Chicken Rfissa and Msemen (Moroccan Fried Flatbread)Pin it!

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.

Frying Msemen (Moroccan Flatbread) in butter

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!)

Msemen - Moroccan Fried FlatbreadPin it!

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!).

Chicken Rfissa and Msemen (Moroccan Fried Flatbread)Pin it!

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!)

Msemen - Moroccan Fried FlatbreadPin it!

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.

Msemen - Moroccan Fried FlatbreadPin it!

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.

Chicken Rfissa and Msemen (Moroccan Fried Flatbread)Pin it!

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.)

Print Msemen recipe only. (PDF)
Print Chicken Rfissa recipe only. (PDF)
Print both recipes. (PDF)


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).

Balls of dough for Msemen FlatbreadMaking Msemen - Moroccan Flatbread

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.)

Folding Dough for Msemen - Moroccan FlatbreadFolding Dough for Msemen - Moroccan Flatbread

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.

Making Msemen - Moroccan Flatbread

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.

Square on the left flattened till doubled in size and ready for frying - Making MsemenFrying Msemen - Moroccan Flatbread

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.

Chicken Rfissa
(Adapted from many recipes around the internet)

(Serves 4-5)

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).

Soaking Fenugreek Seeds and Green Lentils for Chicken RfissaIngredients for Moroccan Chicken Rfissa

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).

Ras el hanout and other spices for Chicken RfissaMaking Moroccan Chicken Rfissa

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.

Print both recipes. (PDF)
Print Chicken Rfissa recipe only. (PDF)
Print Msemen recipe only. (PDF)

Msemen - Moroccan Fried FlatbreadPin it!

Chicken Rfissa and Msemen (Moroccan Fried Flatbread)Pin it!

Related recipe posts:

Lemony Lentil Spinach Soup Homemade Pita and Hummus Chicken Tagine with Chickpeas, Chard, and Figs Korean Cinnamon Stuffed Pancakes (Hotteok)
Lemony Lentil
Spinach Soup
Homemade Pita Bread & Greek Yogurt Hummus Chicken Tagine with Chickpeas, Chard, & Figs Korean Cinnamon-Stuffed Pancakes (Hotteok)
27 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2015 10:42 am

    I do the same thing! Fall in love with a dish then try to recreate it. There is usually an ingredient missing somewhere. :) This looks fabulous.

    • May 8, 2015 9:22 am

      Thanks for commenting! :) Oh man, I know what you mean about how there’s usually an ingredient missing somewhere, haha. This dish wasn’t so hard to reproduce — in a way that I was satisfied, if not in a way that exactly mimicked the one at the restaurant — but there is this one Vietnamese curry/laksa hybrid dish at a restaurant in Santa Barbara that I’ve been trying to reproduce for at least 3 years (with at least 10 tries), and I can’t get it right!! Someday…

  2. March 26, 2015 1:52 pm

    The msemen looks divine, and I bet the leftovers are wonderful with honey and cinnamon. What a delicious dish!! Have fun on your travels :-)

    • May 8, 2015 9:23 am

      Thanks so much! Our travels were wonderful! And yep, I’m thinking we might need to make another batch of msemen sometime soon, if only to eat with honey and cinnamon… :)

  3. March 26, 2015 7:00 pm

    Oh, wow, from the looks of it I can see why you kept at it. Looks/sounds delicious. Happy travels!

    • May 8, 2015 9:27 am

      Thanks, Michelle! Yes, this dish is one of my happier (personal) successes in the kitchen — thanks mostly to Paula, because the msemen is the trickier part, compared to the chicken + lentils. But also every version I tried out along the way tasted really good too, so it wasn’t too much of a sacrifice to keep at it until we got it right! (Unlike some of my other trial-and-error kitchen pursuits, where there really have been some not-so-edible & disappointing results before the successful ones…)

  4. March 27, 2015 10:17 am

    OMG. How are you a real person??? This dish is amazing. I can’t believe you made the bread from scratch! This dish looks so good! I’m totally recreating this. I do what you do. I’ll get a dish from a restaurant stuck in my head for a year and then finally make it. Love this. Your photos are beautiful too. What a resource you are. I see that you also made hoddeok! So did I! I’m going to look right now. So excited to see this recipe. WOW.

    • May 8, 2015 9:32 am

      Haha, Amanda, I always love your comments! :) And let me second one of your sentiments: I can’t believe *Paula* made the bread from scratch! I’m just the one who whined/inspired her to do it!

      So cool that you made hotteok too! (Ours was also thanks to Paula… at my insistence.) I’ll have to check yours out!

      We just had some awesome honey hotteok from a street vendor in Seoul! (It was so hot, we had them squish it into a paper cup and we ate it with chopsticks — we couldn’t wait to eat it even though it was too hot to touch!)

  5. MyKabulKitchen permalink
    March 27, 2015 1:49 pm

    What a coincidence you posted this!! I am in Brussels right now, and there is Msemen everywhere! On weekends I go to a local market where they make it fresh in front of you…lets just say I cant stop with one! You are amazing for making it at home, this meal looks exiquisite!!
    Love your creativity and exploration of so many cuisine :-)

    • May 8, 2015 9:47 am

      Oh wow, that’s wonderful that you can get freshly made msemen in Brussels! (I’ve been to Brussels but only briefly — for one afternoon, in between train rides!) Anyway, I would never be able to stop with just one either…

      Thanks for your comment! :)

  6. March 30, 2015 7:47 am

    You are certainly not the only one who tries over and over to re-create a specific taste! I’m still working through curry dishes. Harder than they seem! This looks delicious.

    • May 8, 2015 9:48 am

      Thanks for commenting! :) And yep, curry dishes are harder than they seem — see my response to the very first comment above about this one particular curry/laksa that I’ve been trying to master/capture/reproduce/whatever for AGES and it’s still not right… (I’m stubborn though and I won’t give up — I mean I need to have a back-up ability to make it myself in case that restaurant ever goes out of business!)

  7. March 30, 2015 8:30 am

    I love Moroccan food! I’ll definitely try this. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  8. March 31, 2015 6:49 pm

    This sounds so good, and your description reminds me of my own kitchen philosophy, if you will. I can’t wait to give it a try!

    • May 8, 2015 9:50 am

      Yay, I hope you do give it a try, and I hope you enjoy it! :) Also glad to hear we share that in a kitchen philosophy — I love eating out at restaurants, too, I’m just constantly eating things at restaurants and thinking: hm… how could I also make this at home?!

  9. April 1, 2015 12:05 am

    YUMMM!!!! thanks for sharing this recipe! looks fantastic! can’t wait to try it out! =D

    By the way, I would love if you could stop by my page & check out the latest in Food Reviews from a TRUE FOODIE, follow & share it with your friends / followers =]


  10. April 9, 2015 9:06 pm

    Ah, but definitely share the proclivity for food nostalgia. What a dish!

  11. May 6, 2015 10:59 am

    I totally think about meals I loved over and over – you’re not weird! This looks absolutely divine! My husband hates lentils but I think I could get him to eat them if there was chicken and fried flatbreads involved.

    • May 8, 2015 10:03 am

      Thanks, Andrea! Wow, that’s too bad your husband hates lentils — because especially with this dish I think it’d be a pain to cook the lentils/chicken separately, and you’d lose out on a lot of good mixing of flavors — but for your sake I hope you can get him to try it with the chicken & fried flatbreads as a selling point! Not sure how you could go wrong with those two. :)

  12. May 7, 2015 11:42 am

    Oh you made me smile – i had rice paper rolls ( vietnamese on monday, went back on tuesday, got all ingedients last night and have just made some for dinner, i forget faces ( unless the person talked about food) and conversations too but can remember taste sensations from years ago – maybe there is a syndrome name for people like us! Lovely to find your blog

    • May 8, 2015 10:04 am

      Nice! I have totally done things like that before! (Like it either takes me one day before I need to recreate something, or years, but either way, it goes on my mental must-make list!) Let me know if you come up with any good syndrome names for people like us. :)

      • May 8, 2015 12:03 pm

        will do :) – have never read anyone describe it so well before ( I have wondered why I can remember the first time I had uni but not the names of anyone I went to school with) – it seems a bit odd – but it seems like I am not the only one :)! If I come up with a name I’ll let you know !

  13. July 8, 2015 10:29 am

    for those who like to travel, this is a great dish

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