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Moroccan Kefta and Bell Pepper Briouats (Ground Meat and Bell Pepper Pastries)

Caramelized onions and red bell peppers lend sweetness to these briouats, while paprika, cumin, coriander provide an additional layer of flavor.

Overhead view of Kefta Briouates
Serious Eats / Greg DuPree

In Morocco, briouats (or briwats) are triangle-shaped stuffed pastries with savory or sweet fillings such as minced meat or almond paste. They are traditionally made with a Moroccan pastry called warqua, which translates into “paper” in English and refers to the dough’s paper-thin texture. In Morocco, warqua sheets are usually sold in the souk and rarely made at home.

The best alternative to warqua is phyllo pastry. Phyllo is usually just as thin as warqua; the main difference between the two is the way they are prepared before being used. Phyllo pastry is completely raw before cooking, while warqua is lightly cooked to hold its shape. As a result, phyllo is slightly less robust but, when handled with care, still makes a fine substitute.

The savory filling for these briouats consists of ground beef, onions, red and green bell peppers, garlic, ground cumin, and sweet paprika. This particular combination of ingredients and spices is very common in Moroccan cuisine, including salads or tagines.

Caramelized onions and red bell peppers lend sweetness to these briouats, while an assortment of fragrant spices—paprika, cumin, coriander—provide an additional layer of flavor. Serve them as a starter with a green salad on the side or as a finger food for parties. Though the harissa and mayonnaise sauce is optional, I recommend it if you’d like to have a spicy dip for your briouats.

For the Filling: In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, cover, and cook, stirring often, until onions are soft and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid evaporates, 3 to 5 minutes longer.

Add red and green bell peppers, parsley, paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander, salt, and cayenne (if using) and cook, stirring often, until peppers are soft, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add ground beef and cook over medium heat, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon,   until no longer pink and all the liquid has evaporated, 3 to 5  minutes. Transfer to a bowl, then adjust seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. Cool filling to room temperature, about 30 minutes; alternatively, transfer filling to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Once filling has cooled to room temperature, strain the filling if you notice a large amount of pooled oil (this may not be necessary, unless the meat had a very high fat percentage).

Meanwhile, for the Sauce: Whisk together mayonnaise, harissa, and water in a small bowl until smooth and creamy. Set aside or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

To Assemble and Cook: Unroll the filo pastry sheets and, using a sharp knife, pizza wheel, or scissors, cut them into 6- by 11-inch strips. Cover filo strips with a damp towel until ready to use to prevent them from drying out.

Place one filo strip on a clean work surface, with the short side facing you. Fold it in half like a book, bringing the left edge to meet the right edge, to create a strip that is 3-by-11 inches. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling (about 20g) about 1 inch from the bottom of the strip towards the right side. Fold the left bottom corner of the filo strip over filling to tightly enclose and form a triangle. Continue folding the triangle, flipping right and then left until you reach the end of the strip. Use a sharp knife or scissors to trim any excess filo pastry. Place folded briouats seam-side down on a tray and cover loosely until ready to fry. Repeat with remaining filo strips and filling.

A gif showing how to fold the dough over the filling
Serious Eats / Greg Dupree

In a Dutch oven or high-sided skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until oil reaches 350°F (180°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Working in batches, carefully transfer briouats to the oil, placing them folded side down. Fry briouats until the underside is golden, then flip the briouats over and continue frying until both sides are golden and crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes in total. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer briouats to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until all the briouats are fried.

Serve briouats immediately with sauce.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The premade filling will keep for up to 2 days refrigerated.

Pea, Olive, and Preserved Lemon Salad

In this easy salad, sweet peas meet briny olives, preserved lemon, and the sharp, intense flavors of ground ginger and turmeric.

Overhead view of preserved lemon and pea salad
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

A classic Moroccan meal includes an array of salads, usually served at the beginning of the meal with bread on the side. These salads can either be cooked or eaten raw and are traditionally heavy in olive oil. Cooked salads are served at room temperature and can be made with seasonal or frozen vegetables. 

This pea, olive, and preserved lemon salad is inspired by my craving for a good old Moroccan salad. The combination of the sharp and intense ground ginger, ground turmeric, preserved lemon, and olives is very common in Moroccan cuisine, and more particularly in the m’qualli tagine, which uses similar ingredients. Here, I combine those flavors with sweet spring peas, though most often I use frozen peas, as they're picked and frozen at their peak, and thus consistently sweeter and more tender than most fresh peas, save for a narrow window in the spring. Plus, frozen peas are ready in an instant, making this salad incredibly quick to pull together. 

To make this salad, I start by gently blooming the spices in olive oil, allowing the heat to coax out and lightly toast the spice flavors; because many of the flavor molecules in spices are fat-soluble, this step infuses the oil with flavor and ensures the spices come through in every bite. After that, I add the peas, preserved lemon, garlic, and cilantro, and warm them all together, just long enough for the peas to defrost. After stirring in the olives off-heat, the salad is ready as a delightful side.

 In a large skillet, heat olive oil, ground turmeric, and ground ginger over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, swirling skillet occasionally, to allow spices to release their aromas.

Stir in green peas, cilantro, preserved lemon, garlic, and salt. Increase heat to medium, cover, and cook until green peas are bright green and fully warmed through, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir in olives, and season with additional salt if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes

I prefer using purple olives for this recipe but you can substitute with green ones.

Make-Ahead

The salad can be made-ahead and stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Chicken M’qualli Tagine With Olives and Preserved Lemon

Bold, sweet, fragrant—but also sour and bitter with olives and preserved lemon—m’qualli carries a myriad of flavors that make it a special and comforting meal.

Overhead view of Chicken M’qualli Tagine on a platter
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

This recipe—chicken m’qualli with olives and preserved lemon—is one of the most common ways of preparing a m’qualli in Morocco. As a child, I wasn’t a big fan of meat, but I became enamored with this tagine because of deghmira, the flavorful sauce of reduced onions. I loved it so much that I used to eat it with a spoon, and my mother would prepare the dish for me each time I visited from university. 

Bold, sweet, fragrant—but also sour and bitter with the addition of olives and preserved lemon—m’qualli carries a myriad of flavors that make it a special and comforting meal. The word “tagine” refers to both the earthenware pot with a conical lid as well as the dish prepared within the pot—a meal that has become one of the most emblematic of all Moroccan dishes. Hundreds of years ago, North African nomads used the conical cooking vessel known as a tagine as a portable oven, enabling them to cook any time while on the move. 

The base of a traditional tagine is wide and shallow, with a conical lid that sits on the base. Together, the two components constitute a sort of clay oven that is placed on a low flame for cooking. While the food slowly cooks, steam rises into the cone, condenses, then drips back down into the dish, keeping the ingredients constantly basted, moist, and tender. This cooking process and the resulting meal are very similar to stew and braises. 

Close up view of Chicken M’qualli Tagine
Serious Eats / Jen Causey



The challenge with using tagines today is they come in so many styles. There are the traditional clay tagines, but there are also cast iron tagines commonly sold at cookware stores that match the form of the original if not the material. These differences end up making a big difference in how the tagine cooks, which makes it difficult to write a recipe that works across all formats. For example, a dish’s cooking time can vary a lot depending on the type of tagine used: A proper old-fashioned clay tagine will result in a significantly longer cooking time, while a cast-iron pot in the shape of a tagine will take just a touch longer than a regular pot. This could also explain why nowadays, even many in Morocco prepare their tagines in other dishware, including casseroles, Dutch ovens, or even pressure cookers. 

While the tagine is commonly described as a Moroccan stew, it’s important to note that within Moroccan cuisine, there are more specific categories of tagine that indicate the way they are prepared and/or the ingredients used. Just as there are a variety of curries in Thai cooking, there are also different types of tagines within Moroccan cuisine. 

Each type of tagine can be prepared with a choice of meat, fish, and/or vegetables, and can be customized with dried fruits, preserved lemons, and olives. The single element that most tagines have in common is the fact that they are all onion based. Onions add flavor and sweetness, but they also bring texture: as the onions cook, they thicken into a jammy sauce called deghmira. 

There are four main categories of tagines in Morocco: 

  • M’qualli: This is the tagine featured in the recipe below, and is cooked in olive oil and seasoned with turmeric, ginger, and saffron. M’qualli has a vivid deep yellow color and can be made savory or with a bit of sweetness. A common way to prepare m’qualli is to remove the meat from the pot once it’s cooked, set it aside, then let the onions cook and turn into deghmira. 
  • M’hammer: This type of tagine is cooked in butter and seasoned generously with sweet paprika and ground cumin, spices that lend it a brownish-red hue. “M’hammer” comes from “ahmar,” the Arabic word for red, and refers to the color of the sauce and the use of paprika in the seasoning. The meat in m’hammer is cooked twice: first in the pot with the spices, then it’s removed and either shallow-fried or roasted. 
  • M’chermel: This type of tagine is seasoned with chermoula, a marinade of olive oil, sweet paprika, ground cumin, lemon juice, cilantro, parsley, and garlic.
  • Tomato tagine: Tomato-based tagines are typically cooked in olive oil and seasoned with ground cumin, paprika, and garlic. Towards the end of the cooking process, eggs and/or meatballs are added to the tomato sauce. 

While these four kinds of tagines are the most common, there are others that are more unique, such as m’rouzia (a sweet and savory lamb tagine with raisins) or k’dra (a savory tagine with chickpeas). 

What makes a tagine special is the way the spices transform during the cooking process. The most important ingredient for this to happen properly is time: Making a tagine means giving the spices enough time to slowly steep and meld. The longer a tagine cooks, the more complex its flavors will be. 

For the Marinade:  In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, ground turmeric, ground ginger, and salt. Add chicken leg quarters to marinade, and, using your hands or a spatula, turn to evenly coat chicken. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

For the Tagine: In a 5.5-quart pot or Dutch Oven, heat olive oil over medium-low. Stir in sliced onions, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add cilantro, garlic, ground turmeric, ground ginger, and saffron (if using) to pot. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft, about 5 minutes. Remove chicken legs from marinade and add to the pot in a single layer, nestling them into the onion mixture. Pour in stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until the chicken is fully cooked and registers 165ºF (74ºC) in the thickest part, 55 to 65 minutes.

Using tongs, carefully remove chicken from the pot to a plate. Loosely cover with foil to keep warm and set aside.

Stir preserved lemons and olives into the sauce and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until all the excess liquid has evaporated and the sauce has reduced to a thick, jammy consistency and the oil separates from the onions and pools on the surface, 45 to 55 minutes. (When onions and oil separate and thicken into a jammy sauce, this is referred to as “deghmira” in Morocco.) Taste sauce and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.

To serve, return chicken legs to the pot to warm through in the sauce, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately with crusty bread or warm couscous.

Special Equipment

5.5 quart pot or Dutch oven

Make-Ahead and Storage

The dish can be made 3 days in advance and kept refrigerated. 

Moroccans often reheat the chicken and the sauce separately: gently warm up the sauce in a saucepan on the stove and reheat the chicken in the oven with the broiler turned on to allow the chicken skin to crisp up.

Moroccan Egg Drop Harira (Vegetable and Legume Soup)

Derived from the Arabic word “harir,” harira translates into “silk,” which describes the consistency of the soup. This version features both lentils and chickpeas, and is finished with a drizzle of beaten egg.

Overhead view of egg drop Harira
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Harira is a soup enjoyed across Morocco. Though different regions and families have their own special way of making it, the soup typically contains tomatoes, celery, pulses such as chickpeas or lentils, spices, cilantro, and cornstarch. Harira is often prepared with red meat, but some versions are made with chicken, eggs, or can be vegan. This version features both lentils and chickpeas, and is finished with a drizzle of beaten egg to form little wispy egg bits in the thickened soup.

Derived from the Arabic word “harir,” harira translates into “silk,” which describes the consistency of the soup. Towards the end of the cooking process, harira is thickened with a mixture of cornstarch and water—called “tadwira”— that gives it its distinctive smooth and silky texture. The tadwira is poured into the soup and immediately stirred in to quickly incorporate it, then simmered until the starches gelatinize and thicken the broth. If more is needed, more can be added, little by little, to get the correct final consistency (though this recipe produces a soup base that's thick enough from the vegetables not to require extra cornstarch). 

Harira is famously served during Ramadan to break the fast, since a bowl is a nutrient-packed meal in itself. It’s very common to make batches of harira big enough to feed the whole family, along with unexpected guests, for several days.  

Though the soup is typically tomato-based, its flavor isn’t the defining one. Instead, it's complemented with warm spices such as turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon. The cilantro added at the very end of the cooking process adds freshness and balances out the cooked vegetal flavors of the soup. The final touch that makes all the difference? A squeeze of fresh lemon juice for acidity and brightness. Fragrant and herbaceous, harira is as satisfying as it is nourishing.

In a large pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat until butter is foamy. Add onions and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to soften, 5 to 6 minutes.

Stir in passata, parsley, ground ginger, salt, ground turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, and saffron. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in vegetable broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 hour. (This time will allow the spices to steep and develop.)

Stir in lentils and rice, cover pot, and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in chickpeas, cover, and cook until both the rice and lentils are almost cooked, about 10 minutes longer.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and with 1 tablespoon (15ml) water until smooth. Add to the soup and stir well to combine. Increase heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the harira thickens and lentils are tender, 5 to 8 minutes.

While stirring the soup in a circular motion using a ladle, slowly pour the beaten egg in to form threads, then simmer harira for 1 minute until the eggs are fully cooked. Season with salt, if desired.

Stir in chopped cilantro and serve immediately with lemon wedges and more cilantro leaves.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The soup can be made and refrigerated for up to 5 days.