Algerian Mahjouba | Tomato Sauce Stuffed Semolina Flatbread

Mahjouba, popular Algerian street food that comprises a flaky semolina flatbread stuffed with harissa flavoured spicy onion-tomato filling.
Algerian Mahjouba | Tomato Sauce Stuffed Semolina Flatbread

MENA Cooking Club (now disbanded) is back after two months of Summer break! I am glad we are going for a second round of cooking a dish from each of the MENA (Middle East North African) countries in alphabetical order after we were done with the last country – Yemen

Though I had joined MENA Cooking Club when it was time to cook Omani food, I had started cooking a dish for Globe Cooking Mad too through which I have already covered Algeria. And if you remember I had mentioned that there is so much to try from this land that I won’t be moving forward to the next country very soon. :-P

For the first country - Algeria, we were given these options:
  • Khobz Eddar
  • Chorba Beïda 
  • Mahjouba
Looking at the list I was sure what I would be making — Mahjouba! This is a typical Algerian street snack with thick, flaky crepes made with semolina and stuffed with a tomato-based filling. 

While I watched innumerable videos on how to make this, it all seemed too easy for me. Mix, knead, spread, stuff, close and roast! Similar to the making of muttabaq. But I was wrong! In the first trial, I messed up and didn’t get to spread the dough as easily as in the videos and they just turned out to be our Indian parathas! :p And F didn’t even realize that I had served a new dish!

This is the result of my second attempt and there is still room for improvement. Hopefully, will try again and update you with more tips and tricks.

Two things will help you achieve Mahjouba at the first attempt - Don't skimp on using oil and no rolling pins, please!

I have also noticed that Mahjouba is made with and without harissa paste, a blend of roasted red chilli pepper and spices. Honestly, I never looked for harissa in the supermarkets but I wanted to make Mahjouba with harissa paste so went ahead and made a small batch. 

The secret to a perfect Mahjouba is all in the dough! If you have a machine to knead, good for ya! Else be prepared to knead the dough till your hands drop off the joints! :-D

Algerian Mahjouba | Tomato Sauce Stuffed Semolina Flatbread

Prepare the dough, then the sauce and then make the Mahjouba. This way the dough will get its resting period while you make the sauce. I have adapted the recipe from UmmHamza's blog - Halal HomeCooking and The Taste of Algeria video.

Algerian Mahjouba | Tomato Sauce Stuffed Semolina Flatbread

INGREDIENTS

Check here for How to make Harrisa Paste - The Kitchn

For the Dough:
  • 2 cups of fine semolina
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup warm water (may need more while kneading and this will depend on the quality of the semolina so add little by little)
  • Sunflower oil or any cooking oil for working with the dough (keep a bowl of oil close to the work area)
For the Tomato Sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped roughly
  • 2 teaspoon Harissa paste (add gradually as per your taste)
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper powder
  • ½ teaspoon hot paprika powder
  • Salt to taste
  • A fistful of chopped coriander leaves 

Algerian Mahjouba | Tomato Sauce Stuffed Semolina Flatbread


Algerian Mahjouba | Tomato Sauce Stuffed Semolina Flatbread

METHOD

Prepare the Mahjouba Dough:
  1. On a large shallow bowl mix the semolina and salt. Start adding warm water little by little until you can bring together all of the semolina into a dough. Start kneading the dough using the lower part of the palm or with both your hands and keep sprinkling water every few minutes until the dough is non-sticky, stretchy and a big blob! Not like chapati dough. Keep kneading even after you “think” you have achieved the desired state. Your mind can fool you because your hands are hurting! 
  2. Grease a large tray with enough oil. Squeeze equal sized balls of dough between index and thumb and lay them on a flat plate with a lot of space between each dough ball. Spread some oil on each dough ball and cover the plate with cling wrap. Keep this to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Prepare the Sauce:
  1. Heat a saucepan on medium flame and add olive oil. Add in the finely chopped onions along with a dash of salt, sauté until translucent. Add the grated garlic, and tomato paste, let it cook for a minute. Add the chopped tomatoes along with the spice powders and harissa paste. 
  2. Cover and cook until the tomatoes are all soft. Do open and stir to prevent it from sticking to the pan. Add more oil or drops of water if the mixture is too dry. Taste test and adjust the spices and salt. Switch off and stir in the freshly chopped coriander leaves. Let it cool completely before you can use it. 
Prepare Mahjouba:
  1. Heat the flat pan on a low flame so it is ready by the time your first Mahjouba is ready to be cooked. Oil your hands and work surface very well. Take one dough ball and cover the rest. 
  2. Keep the dough ball on the oiled surface and start to gently pat it with your four fingers or palm while stretching it outwards. Gently use both your palms to stretch dough all the way around until transparent. You may end up with a few holes and that is totally okay. 
  3. Place a tablespoon or more of cooled sauce in the centre of the sheet, and with the back of a spoon gently spread it out evenly. Fold by carefully bringing the top side of the dough down over the sauce then fold the bottom side up. Do the same with the right and left sides so you get a square. 
  4. Transfer the stuffed bread to the hot pan. You can try and lift the Mahjouba using a spatula and lay it on the hot pan OR if you have trouble, then choose to fold the Mahjouba on a large plate so you can transfer the prepared square onto your hand and then onto the pan.
  5. Roast it on both sides until cooked crisp and serve immediately!
Algerian Mahjouba | Tomato Sauce Stuffed Semolina Flatbread

I prepared these on Thursday and made a total of seven to eight mahjouba of similar size with this recipe. The three seen in these pics were the first set that I had for my lunch and I made the remaining around tea time when F was back from work. I ensured that he watched how I prepared so it amuses him as taste-wise it is nothing new! :-P

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