I am on a mission to make warka (or ouarka), the special thin dough sheets used in Morocco, Tunisian and Algerian cuisine for making stuffed pasteries such as brik, the famous pigeon pie, b’stilla (or pastille in Algeria) and Moroccan cigars. Making warka from scratch is a lost art, almost no one does it and rightly so because it is incredibly tricky to make, I know, I tried. Using a Moroccan cookbook, replete with pictures and clear instructions it did not look that complicated. All I had to do was make a wet dough and using my hand dab it on a smooth hot surface to create a very thin crepe. Traditionally these shear North African crepes are made on what looks like an upside down paella pan called a tobsil. In reality the very wet dough splattered all over the counter, glued itself onto the pan, carbonized, dripped all over the range, igniting part of it and filling the house with billowing clouds of smoke (billowing clouds of smoke is a recurring theme in my kitchen). “May take some practice” says cookbook author, you don’t say? Apparently, all I really need for warka making besides water and flour is 60 years of practice. When I called the Moroccan Center of Tirosh to see if anyone in the village makes it she said that yes! YES! There is somebody that makes it from scratch. This was very exciting news until she said, “wait….um sorry, um she died”. Most warka makers are grandmothers and in Israel it is literally a dying culinary art. From what I read from Chef Zadi’s blog, commercial warkas are replacing the art of warka making even in North Africa. I am still looking for the mythical warka maker but meanwhile, like a normal person I am using readymade phyllo dough pastry to make the Moroccan cigars.
The warka pastry is probably derived from the Turkish yufka, which is a thin flat bread made on a saj. The Ottoman Turks who controlled parts of North Africa from the 16th century may have introduced yufka which later evolved into warka. The technique for making warka is different than yufka and may have developed in Algeria and then slowly infiltrated into Moroccan cuisine (as the Turks did not control Morocco).
Note in Israel there are also commercial warka but they are very thick and it is difficult to manipulate them into a cigar shape so I prefer phyllo dough.
Moroccan cigars are often served during special celebrations and are not an everyday food.
7 phyllo sheets
500 grams ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoons allspice
½ head of garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 or more teaspoons cayenne pepper or harissa (cigars should be spicy)
3 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
3 tablespoons coriander, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons of flour diluted in a bit of water for keeping the cigars closed
Fry onion in a bit of olive oil until just beginning to brown, add the garlic and fry for a few seconds while mixing. Add the ground meat and using a fork break the clumps, frying until brown. Add the bay leaves and 1/2 cup water and simmer until all the water evaporates. Make sure there is no moisture left because this makes the cigars mushy. Mix often so the meat does not burn. Add the remainder of the spices, vinegar and chopped herbs and cook for another 5 minutes. Mix well and set aside to cool. The meat filling should be heavily spiced as once it is deep fried the flavors are not as strong.
Cut each phyllo sheet into 4 equal pieces, to form a small rectangle (about 13cm width and 20cm height). Using your hands squash a small portion of meat into a cigar shape, a bit smaller than the width of the dough (about 10cm). Place meat on one end of the phyllo, fold sides over slightly, about 1/2-1 cm on each side and roll the meat in the dough until the end. Keep the dough in place by using the flour paste. I made about 20-30 cigars this way. I wish I counted exactly but they were disappearing fast. The length of the final cigars should be about 10-12 cm.
Deep fry the cigars in oil until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels. Eat immediately otherwise it turns mushy. Although I did not try, perhaps brushing the cigars in oil and baking on high would be a less oily alternative to deep frying.
In several Hebrew language Moroccan cookbooks the stuffing is made a little differently, by stewing the meat first then frying.
In a bowl combine the ground meat, parsley, coriander and mix, omitting the onion. Form several flat meatballs with the mixture, place in pot and add enough water to cover the balls. Add the bay leaves and salt and cook for 45-1 hour. Drain and cool. Combine with the rest of the spices and the vinegar. Heat a skillet and sauté the meat for 10-15 minutes. When cool enough to handle place 2 tablespoons of filling in a phyllo dough and roll.
I tried this method but like browning the meat first. What I should do is buy Paula Wolfert’s Moroccan cookbook, it would be interesting to know what technique she uses.