There are numerous regions worth exploring in Morocco for their nature contrasts, for their amazing sights and landscapes or simply for their history and Tafilalt [T U F E E L A L T] is one such place!
By Khadija El Mary
London – Tafilalt is a region in the famous Ziz Valley, probably Morocco’s most important Oasis, considered as a welcome relief from the dry desert, and which once was used as a passage for the caravans travelers who crossed the desert to the Mediterranean Sea.
Since I speak South Tamazight (Shalha) and Darija, so my family and I thought didn’t need a local desert guide to visit this region. So one day, early in the morning, we set off, and drove up through the desert.
The views were amazing, we stopped now and again to take some pictures, or chat with the locals, or simply ask for directions.
The locals were extremely helpful, nice and polite, and they offered us some Moroccan Tea and bread, the best we had ever tasted! Finally, we entered the gigantic dunes, we stopped and got out to enjoy the view.
It was truly amazing, the place was incredible! The night sky was lit up, filled with so many shiny stars and I remember we were just standing there in the middle of sahara, speechless, starring at the sky for ages. It was one of the places that we would undoubtedly remember for the rest of our life!
The Ziz Valley hosts a small town, called Rissani [R E S U N Y], once called “Sijilmassa”, a small Oasis, and which is the capital of Tafilalt. Rissani is the foundation of the Alaouite Dynasty, the current ruling royal family in Morocco. Early in the seventeenth century, the Dynasty was founded by Moulay Ali Sherif, and then Moulay Rachid (Ali Sherif’s son) conquered Morocco and overthrew the Saâdians in 1668. Filaliyine (People of Tafilat) are fiercely proud of their history, lineage, heritage and their identity. It’s no surprise to hear a conversation between Filaliyines who would pride themselves on the fact that they were born in that specific place, and you can feel their pride has become almost a natural, and a common feeling among them.
I couldn’t even remember how many times the waiter, who served our meals in a restaurant, proudly repeated that “even the late King Hassan II himself was born in this very little town and himself used to love Madfouna”!
Rissani is still an unfamiliar destination to most Moroccans and visitors maybe because it’s hard to know quite what to expect before you arrive there, especially for the first time, and you can’t plan anything in advance, you’re totally exposed to the wild nature.
Instead, most people prefer, in general, to hang out in the big cities as Marrakesh, Agadir, Fes, Casablanca, etc…, but I think Rissani is a must place to stay if you visit Morocco. There are so many great trips organized in the area now, including camels’ ride, from one day to several days tours, depending on how adventurous and willing you are to give up simple things in life such as no shower for couple days!
Like many small towns in the South of Morocco, the major source of income in this region comes from tourists, who visit Rissani to spend a few magic days in the pre-saharan desert.
The place is surrounded by palm trees and huge sand dunes and called by visitors “Macca of North Africa!” In 1996, more attention was focused on this region when Sigilmassasaurus Fossils (Tetanuran Theropod Dinosaur) were discovered in Tafilalt, near the ancient city “Sijilmassa,” for which this Dinosaur was named: [Sigilmassasaurus = Sijilmassa is the ancient city and Saurus means lizard].
In Rissani, there is one popular dish to be served in all restaurants, called Madfouna or Medfouna. Whatever way you want to spell it, either with “e or a,” it still means the same dish which is a pizza with meat stuffing; often called by the visitors “Moroccan Pizza or Amazigh flatbread.” Madfouna in Moroccan language means “Buried” and it is quite similar to Calzone and Sausage Rolls with spicy meat and vegetables tucked between the crusts. Since we tasted Madfouna in Rissani, it has become almost a weekly occurrence for us at home and my boys love it. It is surprisingly easy to make.
What is special about this bread is the adding of seeds to the dough, then just before popping it in the oven, more seeds are sprinkled over the top as lightly or liberally as you like, which add an additional texture and flavor to the bread. The crust has a nice and crunchy texture due to the combo of semolina and all purpose flour, absolutely delicious!
To make my life easier, and frankly who doesn’t? I make the dough a day in advance and store it in the fridge overnight (but I put 1/2 of the yeast, indicated in my recipe below).
Then the following day, I just remove the dough from the fridge and allow it to warm up and rise (about 2 hours in room temperature). Two hours give me plenty of time to make my filling as well as some side dishes. Then, time comes to assemble Madfouna and pop it in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. “Boys, dinner is ready!”
There are countless variations of Madfouna:
1-The most traditional base filling is meat (lamb, beef or goat), onions, almonds, eggs, and other popular Moroccan spices.
2-Vegetarian version contained a mixture of carrots, lentils, onions, hot pepper and lots of spices.
3-Then there is the 21th century version, with whatever filling you choose. I usually put chopped beef steak, onions, garlic, some spices, and a lot of cheese. This is my boys’ favourite and the one I’m posting today!
This recipe yields 2 large thin circles about 29 cm in diameter.
Preparation time for the dough: 0 h 20 minutes
Time to let the dough rest: 2 h 30 / Repos : 2 h 30
Preparation time for the filling: 0 h 15 minutes
Cook Time: 0 h 25 minutes
For the dough:
-50 gr plain flour
-150 gr hard unbleached flour all puprose or fine semolina
-Some salt to taste
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-3 gr yeast, dried. I used instant yeast, but you might use fresh yeast or other type of yeast as well, but I think you have to put more than 3 gr if the fresh yeast is used
-About 110 ml warm water
-1 tablespoons honey
-1/2 teaspoon whole green aniseeds (Green aniseeds has a very strong flavour and if you put too much of it into the dough, it will overwhelm the other flavours!)
-1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds (These seeds are known in Moroccan Language as “Sanooj”. They are also called “Black Cumin” or “Habba Sawda”
Method: How to make the dough :
1-Put the flours and salt in a kasriya or a large bowl, make a well in the centre and add the yeast, honey, aniseeds, poppy seeds and oil, then mix well with your hands, adding gradually water. Mix well to a soft dough and knead with hands for about 15 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
The dough should be soft but not too sticky. If it turns out too sticky to work with, just add some flour and keep kneading. If the dough feels a bit stiff, work in additional water, small quantity at a time and keep kneading.
2-Cover the dough and allow to rest for 2 hours.
3-Gently punch the dough down to release any air bubbles and divide it into 2 equal balls. Cover and leave them to rest for another 30 minutes.
Ingredients for filling:
– 300 gr of beef steak or meat of your choice
-1 medium onion chopped
-2 garlic cloves, crushed
-1 teaspoon ground cumin
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley and coriander leaves
-Some salt to taste
-1/2 teaspoon sweet red paprika
-1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
-Pinch of Soudaniya ghobra or hot red paprika or use red chilli powder or Tunisian Harissa
– Pinch pure saffron or saffron threads (Since heat releases saffron’s flavour essence and so to extract the best flavour out of it, warm it gently in the frying pan (with no oil) for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently, then still warm, crush it to a powder either with your hands or with the mortar and pestle)
-1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
-2 tablespoons chopped green olives
-Some cheese, grated. Use any cheeses you like but if you use salty ones, put less salt in your filling.
Make the filling :
1-While the dough is rising prepare the filling. Put olive oil in a deep skillet or a sauce pot or a fry pan, and turn heat to medium. One minute later, add meat and salt then saute, stirring for about 3 minutes.
2-Add onion and continue to sauté, stirring for about 3 minutes or until soft but not brown.
3-Add garlic, olives and all spices. Stir and reduce the heat and allow to cook for about 2 minutes. Don’t cover and don’t add water to the sauce. Try not to over cook the meat since it will finish cooking in the oven.
4-Taste and adjust the seasoning; you probably will need more salt or black pepper. Cover and set aside to cool.
Before baking Madfouna, you will need :
-1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and pinch of salt
– 1/2 teaspoon green aniseeds
-1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
1-Preheat oven at 210°C fan / or 230°C / or 450°F / or gas mark 8.
2-Sprinkle the work surface with some fine semolina and roll out 1 portion of the dough into a large thin circle about 29 cm in diameter.
3-Gently transfer the circle to a fine semolina or flour-dusted baking sheet or pizza pan.
4-Spread half of the cheese over the base. Don’t spread the cheese to the edge, leaving at least 1 cm of dough exposed all around.
5-Lay the steak mixture and all the juices on top of the cheese.
6-Then spread the remaining of the cheese over the steak.
7-Brush the exposed edges of dough with egg yolk mixture.
8-Sprinkle the work surface with some fine semolina and roll out the remaining portion of dough into a large thin circle about 29 cm in diameter. Same size as the first one.
9-Then place it over the filling, pressing the edges to hold it together. Seal and give a nice look to the edge.
10-Poke Madfouna with a fork or knife.
11-Brush Madfouna with egg yolk mixture and sprinkle more seeds over the top.
12-Pop it in the pre-heated oven for 20 to 25 minutes.