Posts Tagged ‘Morocco’

imageFrom my previous posts you may have noticed my love affair with middle eastern food. This time round yet another sweet delight caught my eye while watching one of my favourite TV Shows – World Kitchen presented by Nici Wickes.

The very presentation of this dessert being baked to a perfect golden crunch and the glossy syrup on the pastry was just too hard to resist, that watching it on TV alone was not enough. And so yes I just had to make it.

I normally play it safe when entertaining people at home. But this time I felt a bit too brash and felt like taking a bit of a risk. It was received with gusto and much appreciation. So much so that my friend asked me to make it for her thanksgiving dinner and I also made it on the occasion of my farewell send off at work this week as a special thank you to you my work mates.

Handling filo is normally a challenge, but this is probably one of the most easily prepared sweet treats. So don’t be daunted and feel adventurous. And the effort is so worth it and you’ll experience bliss in every mouthful. And the Orange Blossom water is unlike any other ingredient I have ever used in cooking. It’s by far the most exotic  ingredient I have used in cooking and the outcome is every bit so.

Here’s the recipe for M’hancha, a sweet treat all the way from the culinary haven of Morocco.


Almond Filling
2 cups ground almonds
1 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons orange blossom or rose-water
3 tablespoons butter, melted
For the pastry
13 sheets filo pastry
3 tablespoons butter, meltedHoney Syrup
½ cup honey
Zest from one orange
1 tablespoons orange blossom
¼ cup slithered almonds


Preheat the oven to 180 C. Place a baking paper in a circular pie plate or baking dish.

In a  bowl combine the almond filling ingredients and mix well to form a smooth firm paste. Divide the filling into 4 portions, each portion pinched in the form of a log  so this can be placed along the edge of the filo pastry.

Take one sheet of filo and brush with butter, then layer another 2 sheets on top, buttering between each. Keep the remaining filo covered with a damp tea towel so that it doesn’t dry out.

Place one of the almond logs across the long edge of the filo layers and roll up loosely. Repeat the process so that you have total of 4 pastry logs. Leave a spare sheet of filo to patch up any cracks.

Place one log on the baking tray, seam-side down, and carefully curl into a spiral, pinching the centre end closed. Join the next log onto the end and continue to coil, then add the remaining two logs and spiral until you have a large coiled pie! Patch up any cracks with the spare pastry and give the whole pie a final brush with butter.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and crispy. Meanwhile, heat the syrup ingredients in a saucepan. Remove the pastry snake from the oven. Brush or drizzle with honey syrup, and then scatter with almonds.

Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.

imageWhen serving  I coupled it with some ‘Deep South’ French Vanilla ice cream which was super yummy. The warm sweetness of the pastry with the cold ice cream was both sunshine and snow on a single plate. Ultimate heaven!

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Baked Pumpkin

My stirrings for something fragrant, colorful and untried came back with a renewed vengeance after a long long time of straying from flavourful food. But I don’t know what flavour it was that my palate was looking for. So when my colleague Ayesha said she was going to visit her daughter in Morocco, it was as if something clicked and fell into place. As she narrated how much she was looking forward to this trip, the beautiful scenes of Morocco which she painted made by brain turn into a projector playing out the scenes on a 70mm screen in Eastman colour. The effects were so real, the colours were glimmering, the sun shining and the dust rising off the dirt roads, I could literally smell the air smelling of sunshine, dust and spices. Scenes of rustic architecture, markets lined with colourful silks, mouth-watering foods and spices, people preparing food in traditional earthen ovens, mud houses, children playing on the street, the hawkers shouting out at the top of their lungs etc played harmoniously with some middle eastern soundtrack, that it felt almost as if I were witness to the things going around.

My fascination for Moroccan food began with Ayesha describing all these enticing foods that I could only imagine in my head. And I thought, I really have to try something out. And, soon!

And there came an opportunity. My aunt and uncle were flying out to India and were going on a two month holiday. So my aunt called me up and said, “We are leaving tomorrow, why don’t you and Ram come for dinner. We can spend time and it will be great to have a potluck before we go”. First thing I thought of was, I need to buy some vegetables. Nothing interesting at home except a pumpkin, some kumara and carrots.

I finished work, headed to our nearby grocery store. Damn! Out of luck, they had already closed as it was long weekend for the Queen’s Birthday. I was in panic mode, I called Ram on my mobile and told him the shops were shut. He said “I think we’ll just make some pulao and go”. I told him that I’ll figure something out.

I came back home, got onto the internet first thing. I googled some pumpkin based dishes. The search returned some recipes. Third link on the page, my eyes kind of zeroed in on it. Not sure how! But I guess if you have been thinking about that particular thing, your mind starts noticing things that are relevant to it. Well in this case, my eyes traced out the word Baked Pumpkin(Morocco). And I had it. The interesting recipe that I was looking for, for the impromptu potluck. Baked Pumpkin with Caramelised Onions and Almonds. The moment I read the heading, my mind went into a tizzy of craving.

I scanned through the ingredients and found that every last one was easily something we kept at home. And I got up immediately and started hacking away at the pumpkin. The recipe was so simple too. The recipe asked for Sugar Pumpkin. I didn’t have that, but it was too last-minute I resorted to using whatever pumpkin was available at home. And of course, I had to have another enemy too, right? Time. Barely an hour to go.  The recipe said that I had to bake the pumpkins in the oven with some water to make them tender for a good 40-45 minutes. Who has that time! I cut the pumpkin into square chunks and dunked them in the microwave steamer for a head start on getting the pumpkins tender for a quick 5 minutes. While the pumpkins turned tender in the microwave, I chopped up some 3 onions Julienne, and slivered some readily blanched  almonds(about 4 tbsp). Splashed a bit of EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) instead of vegetable oil in a saucepan and threw in the onions and sautéed it until it turned deep brown and then added the slivered almonds. I got some raisins out and plumped them in hot water, drained it and added this to the onion-almond mixture. Then in went 3-4 tsp sugar, salt, pepper and a sprinkling of cinnamon powder. And the burst of aroma of the sugar and cinnamon melding hit the high heavens and reminded me once more as to why I loved food.

I wish I had taken some pictures of it. But I shall post some soon. Below is the original recipe for the traditionalists.

Moroccan Baked Pumpkin with Caramelised Onions and Almonds

2 pounds pumpkin, preferably sugar pumpkin
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 onions, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup seedless raisins,
plumped in warm water and drained
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the pumpkin into 2-inch chunks. Place them in a ovenproof dish. Add the water and cover tightly. Bake until tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool. Peel the pumpkin and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and sauté the onions until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of the almonds, the raisins, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the onions are caramelised, 15 to 20 minutes. Spread the onion mixture evenly over the peeled pumpkin. Return to the oven and bake until heated through, 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining almonds and serve immediately.

If you try it, do let me know how it turned out. Adios!!!

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