Mint Teas and Medinas

Khubz Chronicles: The Moroccan Pancake


“Khubz” is the Arabic word for “bread,” and in Morocco, there’s plenty of it. In this series, I’ll introduce you to numerous bread varieties, and I’ll even show you how to make them. You may want to loosen your belt for this.

The Moroccan pancake goes by many names—mesamen, milwi, murtabak, rghaif—but one thing is certain: this crispy, flaky, chewy confection is as Moroccan as they come. If I could describe mesamen by texture alone, I would say it’s a lot like a crepe, only somewhat crispier. Plus, because it’s not sweet, it’s also incredibly versatile. It can be stuffed with vegetables and meat for lunch, or it can be lathered in honey and jam for dessert. Regardless, if you find yourself in a Moroccan home, you can expect mesamen to find its way onto your plate. It will almost certainly be accompanied by a steaming glass of mint tea, and don’t expect to leave until your stomach hates you.

In Arabic, samen means “clarified butter,” and me-samen means “with clarified butter,” because butter is often a key ingredient in the pastry. Nevertheless, for more health-conscious fried dough consumers out there, the mesamen recipe I’m going to show you replaces butter with vegetable oil. The process may appear somewhat difficult, but it’s fairly straight-forward.

Materials Needed:

Tagine or Large Plate Semolina (Smida) Salt (MilHa)
Griddle or Non-Stick Pan Bran (Zra) Sugar (Sukkar)
Cooking Oil (Zit) Flour (Fendi) Baking Powder (Khmira)

Unfortunately, because Moroccan women have a sixth sense when it comes to portioning out ingredients, I can’t give you specific measurements. However, the following steps make at least 10 large pastries, and some recipes online (like this one by My Moroccan Food) give more precise measurements. Also, notice that the photos in each slideshow are labeled with numbers; this will help you see where the slideshows begin.

Step 1: Mix all of the dry ingredients (semolina, flour, a handful of salt, and a handful of sugar), except for the bran and baking powder, in a large bowl. My neighbor Kinza is using a earthenware tagine, but a large plate works, too.

Step 2: Add water and knead the dough by repeatedly flattening, rolling, and flipping it. If it’s too sticky, add more flour; if it’s too dry, add more water. Lift the dough occasionally to see if it remains intact or falls apart. When it doesn’t fall apart, it’s ready.

Step 3: Dust the dough with bran, then proceed to section it off into tennis-ball-sized portions.

Step 4: Create balls by rolling the portions between your hands. Kinza is rolling them in a way that causes small bits of dough to pop off each ball. After rolling all of them, she takes the leftover pieces and creates one more ball.

Step 5: On a small plate, mix the baking powder with semolina and set it aside. Drizzle a ball with oil and begin flattening it like a pizza. Continue to flatten the dough until it’s as thin as you can make it without damaging it. Scatter some of the baking powder/semolina mixture on it.

Step 6: Fold each side inward to make a long strip, then fold horizontally toward the center, making a rectangle. Place the folded dough on an oiled surface, then repeat the process with the rest of the balls.

Step 7: Oil a griddle or non-stick pan on medium high heat, then transfer a folded pastry onto the surface, turning it several times until golden.

Step 8: As your stack of fried mesamen begins to grow, occasionally toss each one; this prevents flattening and keeps them crisp.

Step 9: Devour yours with jam, honey, coffee, or tea. My friend Ikhlass coated hers with a bnin (delicious) chocolate spread by a Spanish chocolate company called Maruja.

I think she made the right choice.