A few months ago I decided to make Moroccan cigars and bought a bag of frozen pastry dough called warka for the recipe. However the warka was not gossamer thin like I expected and at the end I abandoned it for much thinner phyllo dough. While researching Moroccan cooking and warkas in particular Paula Wolfert pointed out that there is a version made in the Far East called lumpia which is made in a very similar fashion and analogous to spring roll dough. Here is a quick overview of these pastries.
Lumpia: Lumpia is a pastry from the Philippines and Indonesia of Chinese origin and is similar to spring roll pastry. It is used to wrap combinations of chicken, seafood and/ or vegetables and deep fried although some variations use it fresh (not fried). It is made by mixing water, wheat flour and salt to an amoeba like consistency which can be picked up yet still oozes in all directions. This glob of dough is held with one hand and quickly brought down or dabbed on a heated pan and swirled to the desired diameter. It looks impossible to do without burning your hand off but apparently with enough experience and dexterity this can be done. Excess dough is removed, sometimes with the help of a spatula and only a thin film of dough is left on the surface of the pan. This is cooked until pliable, gently pulled off and covered with a towel. Marvin who writes the food blog, Burnt Lumpia has an interesting post about his attempt at making homemade lumpia wrappers.
Popiah: Popiah is popular in Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia and is made like lumpia. It is often steamed before using.
Warka: Warka (also called Ourka, Tunisian brik pastry or feuilles de brick) is a Moroccan and North African pastry which is made in a similar fashion to lumpia except that semolina flour is usually used. Here the dough is cooked on a tobsil del warka, or wide flat pan which is placed above a brazier heated with charcoals. To make large sheets a fistful of wet dough is bounced up and down on the pan like a yo-yo in overlapping circles so the surface is covered entirely. For more information and pictures of traditional warka making read The Culinary Anthroplogist’s “Where the warka women work”.
Phyllo: Phyllo dough originated in Turkey (or Greece according to some) and is made with wheat flour and water that is stretched until it is paper thin either by hand or rolling pin. It is not cooked before being used. Phyllo dough needs to be covered with a wet towel otherwise it dries out and cannot be used. It is called yufka in Turkish.
Although the technique for making warka is similar to what is used in the east to make lumpia I believe that it was developed separately in each area. There was little or no contact between North Africa and China to assume this culinary method was introduced.
As I mentioned previously, my first attempt at making warka/lumpia using the traditional blob method was a complete failure and I wasn’t about to try again until Paula Wolfert introduced me to a new ingenious approach. Her recipe calls for a batter rather than wet dough which is brushed onto a hot pan as if it were a canvas, creating the most delicate of warkas. Although I was skeptical, I had much more success even with low gluten flour.
Braewats (Triangle Pastry)
I made warka using Paula Wolferts recipe except I used all purpose wheat flour as high gluten flour and fine semolina were not available. When I oiled the teflon pan the batter beaded up instead of spreading evenly. After I cleaned off the excess oil with a paper towel I was able to brush the batter more uniformly, however, it was still too thin, almost like a snowflake so I ended up brushing another layer to create a thicker sheet. This caused some clumping but it still worked moderately well, except took longer to make. The sheets were thin enough that I did not need to cut them into strips to make the triangle pastries but simply folded the sides over to create a rectangle.
I used a potato filling with a subtle saffron flavor, perhaps too subtle. I prefer the cigar filling.
2 potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 onion, finely chopped and fried until golden
Pinch of saffron (about 6 strands), soaked in 2 tablespoons of hot water
Salt and pepper
About 10 warka sheets (30 cm in diameter)
Mix the ingredients for the filling. Fill the warka using Christine Benlafquih’s traditional method. I shallow fried it on a skillet but the best way of cooking them is to shallow fry them only until they turn white and become firm and then bake them. It is possible to fry them Belgian style like you would french fries, using two different temperatures to create a tender and crispy texture (via Paula Wolfert).
Couscous and other Good Food from Morocco, Paula Wolfert