Thin Sephardic Moroccan biscuits

Fat-free thin Moroccan Jewish biscuits -Fekkas d’ Lihoud

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A while ago, I spotted some moulds of different shapes in Essaouira and when asked, the shop keeper said it was for Fekkas d’lihoud. Now fekkas is a form of Moroccan biscotti and lihoud refers to Jews.

Being in Essaouira, I thought it was the place to look for more information about Sephardic cooking. I got busy and forgot about it.

Finding the baking pans

These thin biscuits  as well as their famous baking pans have become a thing in Casablanca for last 5 years and come with different nuts and seed mix in bakeries.

It can also be made to order by the many women who cater from home. My brother brought us some a few years ago and recently my sister brought me an adapted version with chocolate and coffee! the latter was to die for!

So in my last trip, I decided to get hold of some of this iconic baking pans which can also be used to make brioches and thin cake loaves of different shapes: stars, triangles, flowers, rectangular..

In Morocco, these moulds cost next to nothing, unlike the birkmann brand that seem quite expensive considering that you need at least 3 of these even when you halve the recipe..But it’s out there, available via Amazon. Having lived in Germany and bought things from this brand, I know how good it is!

It’s also worth to get those thin bread pans because you can make all sorts of breads and bakes and cut them later on for canapes etc..

Mixing up 

I understood the logic of the recipe then completely changed the additions: I made a less sweeter and also savoury one with anchovies. I substituted white sugar with coconut sugar in the recipe below. I added cranberries and dried strawberries.

The dough needs to be sticky and just slightly runny so do not go and add more flour. It has to flow in the moulds while it’s baking and take their shape.

What I’m posting today is a completely adapted version. As I mention in the list of ingredients, feel free to replace the seeds, nuts and dried fruits but make sure things go in harmony with each other and most of all make sure you stick to a minimum of sticky and sweet dried fruits as it might become excessively sweet.

Regarding the nuts, seeds and fruit mix, you can use a pre-mixed pack but just weight the total of each group to get closer to the one I’m giving down below.

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Ingredients

Serves 30-40 people
Prep: 30 min – resting: min 8 hrs – baking: 30 to 35 min (in two times)

Basic ingredients for the dough 

  • 6 eggs. medium to large
  • 400 g of all purpose flour ( I mixed 1/3 whole wheat and 2/3 white flour)
  • 200 g of sugar (I use half light brown and half white caster sugar, initial recipes call for 300g caster sugar!)
  • 7 g baking powder
  • A good pinch of salt

Nuts, seeds and dried fruits (open to options and substitutes)

  • 150 g of almonds with skin on or slivered (whole almonds will need pre-soaking for a few minutes then pat-dried and roughly chopped)
  • 150g whole hazelnuts,
  • 150g whole cashew nuts,
  • 100g pistachio
  • 100g of dried apricots, raisins, goji berries or anything you have around (unsweetened)
  • 4 tbsps of mixed seeds (or just unhulled sesame seeds)
  • 2-3 tbsps of unsweetened dessicated coconut

Flavourings

  • 1 tablespoon of lemon zest or 
  • 2 tbps of chopped candied orange or clementine peels
  • or 1 tsp of vanilla extract


Preparation

Preheat your oven at 160 degrees C. Grease the pans/tins/moulds with oil and dust them with flour. Discard excess flour.

Beat eggs with sugar and salt until foamy. Put the egg beater or whisk on the side and get a spatula.

Fold in the flavouring, dry fruits, seeds and nuts. Mix.

Sift the flour with baking powder and fold it in. Mix with the spatula or with your hands (I do).

Butter and flour the molds and pour the mixture to 2/3rds of it. They will rise.

Bake until golden and springy (about 20 min in my oven).

Remove from pan and cover tightly with a couple of kitchen towels. Once cool, place in the refrigerator between 8 and 24 hours (overnight will do).

Get a sharp knife and cut the fekkas 1 mm thin (I go to 2 mm and it’s still good but it should be 1 mm really!). This fekkas does not break if do things delicately and with concentration (and a good knife).

Cover a baking sheet with baking paper because the dried fruits might stick to it. Place the fekkas next to each other without leaving space as they won’t expand.

Bake for 10-15 min at 160 degrees. I prefer to bake them for 12 min and leave them in the hot oven (position OFF). Ideally they should not go very golden, they barely change colour and it will look to you as if it’s still soft but once cooled it will harden.

Once cooled, transfer fekkas to an airtight container and leave them in a dry place. It keeps for weeks.

Serve with hot or cold drinks.

Notes

  • The ones I made were either with a mix of whole wheat and white flour or white brown and coconut sugar, which is why they look slightly golden to brown.
  • I made them on the savoury side and dropped the sugar. I added herbs, anchovies, garlic and dried green onions. It was delicious with a dollop of cream cheese on top and some cucumber.
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Falafels

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According to many, Falafels originated in Egyptian where they’re called Ta’amiya. I have tried them for the first time during my first trip to Egypt back in 2001. Well since then they’ve gone popular across the world.

It’s important to mention that Ta’amiya requires the use of split dried fava beans only, which makes its texture different than falafels in a way that its softer. Combining both pulses wisely gives a good texture which happens to be the best of both worlds. Dried fava beans bring softness to the mix while chickpeas bring crunchiness.

While I was told to combine 50% chickpeas -50% dried fava beans in the falafel mix from everyone I know, I followed Anissa Helou’s ratio of 1/3 dried chickpeas to 2/3 fava beans and I believe this offers the best of both worlds I mentioned above as far as the texture is concerned.

As for the garlic, do not be shy to use the amount required. I loved falafels the moment I tried the garlicky ones.

Herbs and spices come to enrich the taste of these wonderful vegetarian/vegan bites full of goodness.

We used to have falafels served in mini wraps as part of an extensive Middle-Eastern buffet back in the days when I worked in upscale hotels, never one left behind. They were a perfect hit during coffee breaks too.

Having lived some of the Golf countries where these bundles of pulses are common due to an important Levantine and Egyptian diaspora, I thought I had enough of them.

Since Imoved to London, I was surprised to find them everywhere, along with Hummus. So I thought I’ll give them a go again for good old days’ sake. Well, supermarket falafels taste horrible, so dothe usual fast-food joints here and there. Since they’re not complicated to make, I just made them.

I followed Anissa Helou’s main recipe for mixed falafel as well as for the usual sauce that goes with them (source: Mediterranean Street food and also Modern Mezze). Besides my friends, she’s my trusted reference in anything Syrian-Lebanese.

If you are interested to read a comparison between famous English cookbook writers in the Middle-Eastern food scene, I recommend the Guardian’s article about it. It’s quite interesting.




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Ingredients
Serves 4 (4 wraps)
Prep:  10 min -`Frying: 3-4 min by batch

  • 100g dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight with 1 tsp of bi-carb
  • 200g dried split broad beans (the peeled ones), soaked in cold water overnight with 1 tsp of bi-carb
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1tsp of Lebanese seven-spice (or ½ tsp ground black pepper and ¼ tsp each of ground cinnamon, ginger, allspice and nutmeg)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • A good pinch of ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 spring onions, sliced
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, crushed
  • About a cup of fresh coriander, long stems removed, roughly chopped
  • About 1/2 cup of flat-leaf parsley, long stems removed, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder or 1/4 tsp bi-carb
  • About a handful of white sesame seeds

For frying

  • Sunflower or vegetable oil, to fry

Serve with Tarator sauce 

  • 1/4 cup of tahini
  • 2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • Juice of 1 lemon (adjust to your liking)
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • Salt to taste
 

Preparation

  •  Soak the chickpeas and broad beans in plenty of cold water overnight. Drain them from any excess of water. Use a clean towel to dry them completely.
  • Put all the beans into a food processor and process until you get coarse texture (Anissa asks for a smooth texture but I know my processor better but I also decided to follow other suggestions here). Be careful not to overload your processor.

 

  • Add the spices, salt, onions, garlic and herbs and process until you have a paste anywhere between coarse to fine (many Lebanese and Syrian cookbook writers like their paste not that fine, for more crunchiness).
  • I decided to roll the falafel, slightly flatten them and then place them in the fridge for a couple of hours although it’s not necessary for that long but It helps keeping them together.
  • Pour enough oil to cover a batch of falafel in a small saucepan and heat it over a high heat.
  • Bring the heat to medium, roll the falafel in sesame and fry them batch by batch for 3-4 minutes
  • Drain on kitchen paper. Serve with Tarator (tahini sauce), pita or Arabic bread and salad.

Notes

  • I like to roll each falafel in the sauce, lay a bed of lettuce and chopped spring onions in the middle of a tortilla bread, roll then cover with foil, place the wrap between a panini grill and give it 5 minutes. Heaven..
  • I also like to fry falafels and fish them out before they’re completely dark brown. I freeze them and reheat them in hot oven when needed…

 



Moroccan petite fekkas with spicy salami and cheese

Savoury Moroccan fekkas (biscuits) with spicy salami and cheese

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Whenever I make these savoury biscuits called Fekkas, I end up eating more than a handful in one serving. That’s how they are addictive. They can perfectly replace a bowl of salty nuts, chips or pretzels on the table.

Moroccan petite fekkas with spicy salami and cheese

Moroccan petite fekkas with spicy salami and cheese. Credit @Nada Kiffa

New Moroccan habits

The last 25 to 30 years have seen these savoury bites starting in Casablanca as a good idea for nibbles among a few families only to become a national treat in many other cities and with various flavouring ingredients and shapes..
 
 
This combination I’m posting today is one one my favourites and it’s actually one of the firsts we’ve seen in the market one they started making savoury fekkas in Casablanca. It also gets better in the next days..


For wedding ceremonies, some families prepare savoury fekkas biscuits  in different shapes and flavours and place them in the middle of tables, along with roasted salted almonds, to keep the guests busy before the big ceremony starts..

Free-form biscuits

The variety of fekkas I’m proposing today is coin-shaped and is usually between 1 and 2 cm. However, I do personally shape it using small cookie-cutters and serve as it is or as mini-crackers.

When I don’t feel cutting the whole batch, I properly wrap the rods of unbaked dough and leave them for another time. It takes 15 minutes to bring them to a decent texture and cut them and another 10 minutes to bake them. Then you end up with another fresh batch of nibbles.

Ingredients

Serves 20 persons 
Prep: 20 min – Chilling: 2 hrs- freezing: 1 hour – Baking: 10 -12 min

  • 1 kg of all purpose flour
  • 250g of butter, soft or in cubes, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp of ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp of harissa paste or chilli powder or flakes (optional)
  • 2 tbsps of Dijon mustard
  • 120 g of soft cheese (kirri, la vache qui rit or Philadelphia)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 80 ml of vegetable oil (substitute half with olive oil)
  • 1 clove garlic (pressed) or 1/2 tsp of garlic powder
  • 200 g of grated cheese (cheddar or Edam will do)
  • 200g of grated cooked spicy salami or spicy cacher/kacher (Moroccan cold cuts)
  • 1 tbsp of dried thyme or oregano
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup of water (add as needed to get a dough)
Making petite fekkas with spicy salami and cheese

Making petite fekkas with spicy salami. Credit @Nada Kiffa

Preparation

Mix all ingredients except the water, spicy salami and thyme. You should get a sort of sandy texture. A food processor can be used to cover this step.

Follow the process described here to shape dough rods and freeze them so you can produce even “coins” of dough at a faster pace.

Preheat the oven at 170 degrees C.

Line the coins of dough next to each others over a baking tray covered with baking sheet.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until golden and baked from the center.

You may find some of the fekkas which may have been cut thicker then the others a bit soft from the center; just leave those in the hot oven but with the heat turned off. They’ll be perfect after a few minutes.

Store in an airtight containers or in plastic bags for up to 2 weeks.

Like mentioned before, you can freeze unbaked rods of dough for at least a month and pop them out for a few minutes before cutting and baking a new batch of fekkas.

I like these fekkas the next day after they’ve been baked, they get better by the day and the spicy salami/cacher infuses the flavour even better.

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