If you’ve been following the breads I’ve been posting on this blog, you might have noticed that on and off, I would have mentioned baking some of those breads as a “buddy”, along with a bread baking group called the Bread Baking Babes.
Who are the Bread Baking Babes (BBBs)?
As one of them explains, “there are twelve of us, a happy little group with a passion for bread baking. What we share is a love for fun, baking bread and doing so together across countries, across boundaries, across the internet. We are about the new coffee klatch in our virtual kitchens, the new over-the-fence talk taking place on the Internet, sharing knowledge, helping each other out.”
So imagine my surprise when last month my in-box had a mail from Tanna inviting me to join them as a Babe! I don’t know that I’d describe myself as a babe but these ladies seem to think I’m one. If it means that we’re a bunch of girls having fun with our hands in flour and yeast, great conversation, loads of humour, and fresh bread baking in the oven (and a different kind every month at that), then that’s what I am. So Cathy of Bread Experience and I are the newest babes on the BBB block.
So here I am, with my first bread as a Bread Baking Babe, which incidentally is also the 6thanniversary bread of the group. The bread for this month is a flatbread from Morocco called R’gaif (also spelled as R’ghayaf or R’ghayef) and was chosen for us by Lien who is the “Kitchen of the Month”
R’ghaif is a Moroccan flatbread and a very popular street food. Though it is a yeasted flatbread, the shaping of the dough involves a folding technique which somewhat resembles that of making pastry dough. R’gaif can be made plain or stuffed with a variety of fillings, and is mostly cooked over a hot cast iron griddle but can also be deep-fried.
Plain R’gaif is served as it is with a syrup made with butter and honey, somewhat in the style of pancakes. This flatbread is served for breakfast, along with tea and also to break the day long fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. R’gaif is also is also found in the neighbouring countries and known as M’hajjib in Algeria and M’laoui in Tunisia.
You can find R’gaif under different names depending on the technique used to fold the dough, shape the flatbread and how it is cooked. The different types of R’gaif are as follows:
Msemen, when it is a square shaped layered pancake or flatbread that is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside;
Meloui which means “rolled” when it is a round and coil shaped flatbread. This is shaped by rolling a folded strip of dough up like a cinnamon roll, and then flattened on the side into a circle.
Oudnine el Kadi, meaning “judge’s ears”, when the flatbread (pastry actually) resembles rosettes. The dough is deep-fried and then dipped in a honey syrup;
Rziza (R’zatte) el Kadi meaning “the judge’s turban” when the flatbread is shaped like coils from spaghetti thin strands of dough;
Mekhtamrine, when the dough is shaped into unfolded rounds which puff up when cooked;
Matlou or Batbout is when the flatbread is thicker and looks like pita bread. It is made from leavened dough which may or may not be allowed to rise before cooking.
On reading through the recipe for R’gaif, it seems to me that it was much like the stuffed square shaped maida parathas we make in India except that our parathas are not yeasted. In fact, the “Meloui” version of the R’gaif seems very much like the Lachcha parathas we make. I guess a lot of the parathas we make in India probably had their origins somewhere in the Middle East so it’s not surprising to see that this Moroccan flatbread has much in common with the Indian parathas.
I made a few minor changes to the recipe provided by Lien. First of all, I halved the recipe. Then I chose to use instant yeast instead of active dried yeast. Then I decided to make the R’gaif with a savoury filling as I felt otherwise this flatbread could prove to too bland for our taste.
The idea for the filling came from a recipe for R’gaif from Anissa Helou‘s Mediterranean Street Food. While her filling uses parsley, I used fresh coriander in mine because that’s what I had on hand. I also decided to spice things up a bit by using a Lebanese seasoning I had bought from FabIndia a while back.
I found I needed more than the 1/2 cup water specified and used closer to somewhere between 3/4 and I cup of water before my dough was elastic enough. I also found the 1/4 cup oil on the higher side, and would have used closer to 1/8 cup to stretch and cook the R’ghaif. I also used rice bran oil instead of olive oil.
If you are using the filling given in this recipe, do make sure you mince the onion as fine as you can. Do not grate it. Also just very lightly brush on oil on the flatbread while cooking so that it browns nicely. If you use any more, you will have greasy flatbreads which isn’t very appetizing.
The most challenging part about making R’gaif, is stretching the dough out thin, as thin as you can go. The yeast makes the dough very elastic but it also means that as the dough gets thinner, it can tear. One can patch up the holes a bit but you don’t want holes in your R’aif dough especially if you’re going to fill it!
R’gaif should have a slightly chewy texture with a crisp outside and is best eaten hot or warm. It tends to lose it outer crispness once it cools down, but it can always be re-heated on the griddle just before serving. Even though plain R’gaif is usually eaten with sweet syrup, the savoury filled version is equally good to serve with tea or coffee. Given that R’gaif tastes like the flatbreads we eat in India as part of a meal, I would say this flatbread is good served at lunch too, or even as a bread to serve on the side with soup.
This recipe is adapted from Lien‘s recipe from Vrijdag Couscousdag by R. Ahali.
R’gaif/ R’ghayaf/ R’ghayef - Moroccan Flat Bread (V): My First Bread As A Bread Baking Babe!
For the Dough:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp yeast instant (or 1 tsp active dried )
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup water About (or more)
For the Filling:
- 1 onion small , very finely chopped
- 1/4 cup coriander leaves finely chopped
- 1 tsp red chilli flakes
- 1 tsp cumin roasted and coarsely crushed
- 1 tsp spice mix Lebanese seasoning or other (optional)
- to taste Salt
- Note : You can use any spice mix that goes well with Middle Eastern cuisine. Otherwise, increase the crushed cumin to 2tsp.
- This dough is usually kneaded by hand but I used my processor. Put the flour, yeast and salt in the processor bowl and pulse a couple of times to mix. Add as much water as required to knead and obtain a dough that is just short of sticky, very elastic and doesnu2019t stick to the sides of the bowl. If youu2019re kneading by hand, it might be a good idea to lightly coat your hands with oil to prevent it from sticking and getting very messy.
- Divide the dough into 8 equal portions and shape each into a ball. Divide them into 4 or 5 portions if you want larger sized Ru2019gaif. Coat each ball with oil. You can put a little oil in your palm and then roll the dough in this. Let them rest for about 5 to 15 minutes.
- In this time, make the filling. Mix the powdered spices, salt and oil together in a small bowl. Keep this and the chopped onion and coriander ready. Before you start with the shaping the R'gaif, do see this video which explains this stretching and folding process perfectly.
- Flatten the ball with your hand as much as you can, and start stretching the dough using your fingers and then lifting up the edges and pulling outwards gently. Take care to get no (or a little as possible) holes in the dough. You need to stretch the dough until it gets as thin as you can, thinner than paper if possible. I managed to stretch each of the dough balls to a circle about 10 to 11u201d in diameter. I used a largish wooden cutting board to stretch my dough. I very lightly oiled the surface of my board, and then used a rolling pin to roll the dough out as thin as I could. Then I stretched it thinner with my fingers.
- The stretching is best done on a counter top, stretching the dough and sticking it to the surface, so it doesnu2019t spring back. Make sure your stretched dough doesnu2019t develop any holes. If youu2019re using a filling, place a small amount in the middle of the dough circle. Take about a tsp of spices in oil and spread it in the centre. Sprinkle less than a tsp of finely chopped onion and coriander over this.
- Now fold the dough from any one side, about half way and the opposite side to meet it. Fold the other sides inwards (like a square envelope) to have a closed square.
- Using your fingers press out the squares carefully so the filling doesnu2019t come out, so it becomes thinner. Your pressed out filled flatbread should be about a 5u201d square. Your Ru2019gaif should be as thin as you can make it without tearing it.
- Heat a cast iron or non-stick griddle and on medium heat, cook the Ru2019gaif on one side until light brown spots appear. Very lightly brush with oil and turn it over and cook on the other side as well. Again lightly brush this side with oil and turn over and cook the other side for about thirty seconds or so until the brown spot deepen a little. Do not burn. Repeat with the other isde so both sides look uniformly cooked. Donu2019t brush the flatbreads with too much oil or they will turn greasy.
- These flatbreads can also be deep-fried instead of pan frying. Serve warm. This recipe makes 4 to 8 flatbreads depending on how big (or small) you make them. I preferred to make mine smaller to serve with tea.