Yesterday morning I sat with my sister-in-law for practical lessons in how to make M'hadjeb. It's something I have wanted to learn to make for a long time now so it's about time! M'hadjeb is similar in principle to the Pakistani/Indian Paratha in that it is a flat chapatti type of bread with a filling; in the case of M'hadjeb though, the dough is made from semolina rather than regular flour.
It is a very economical recipe at this time of year since semolina is a staple of North Africa and onions, tomatoes and peppers are in season and are cheap. Tomatoes are around 10Dinars/kilo (50halala/kg; 7p/kg)
The filling is made from equal quantities of chopped onions and peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes. Sauté the onions until soft, add salt and the tomatoes, some chopped green pepper if desired and you can also add chili powder or caraway seed if you like. Cook until reduced and rich in flavour.
For the dough, pour semolina of medium coarseness into a large bowl - for my trial run I just used about 1 kilo of semolina and a teaspoon of salt. Pour on some tepid water and mix briskly with the hands and add enough water to obtain a dough that comes together and is kneadable.
Turn the dough out onto the table and start kneading and keep sprinkling with drops of water and pummeling, stretching and kneading. You probably need to sprinkle with water every minute. Knead really well for at least half an hour. We kneaded for about 20 minutes, covered and refrigerated and then continued in the morning for another 15 minutes.
You should finally have a soft, elastic dough that is quite sticky. You'll find that it is easy to knead but if you leave it for a moment, it sticks to the work surface. To test, break off a small piece and stretch into a rectangle, it should stretch easily and become quite sheer.
Form the dough into even sized balls, about the size of a tennis ball.
They can also be made with no filling, and then sprinkled with sugar and eaten with coffee; these are Ma'aarek.