Tagine Malsouka: A Tunisian Showstopper

Most of us know Tagines as the elaborate sweet and savory dishes from Morocco, cooked in a conical clay Tagine pot on the stove or over coals. Tagines in Tunisia and Libya are only savory and are always slow cooked in the oven – more casserole than stew. In Tunisia these casseroles almost always contain eggs, so Tunisian tagines are really more frittata than stew. Unlike in Morocco, the Tagine in the Libyan and Tunisian dialects is an oven dish or roasting pan, much like the Egyptian Tagen طاجن. The conical Tagine pots are actually called  Tagine Maghrebi (or Moroccan Tagine) in Libya, reflecting that they are not traditionally used in the eastern Maghreb region.

Malsouka transparency

Malsouka closeupMalsouka ملصوقة is a Tunisian muslin-like tissue-thin pastry sheet similar to spring roll wrappers. Its root word is lasaq لصق to stick, which describes the process of sticking the dough to the pan to create these sheets. Malsouka is used to make savoury briks (derived from the Turkish borek) with an endless array of fillings, and for desserts like samsa (basically a brik filled with ground nuts, fried and soaked in syrup). The most elaborate use of malsouka pastry is in the Tagine Malsouka, a golden savoury pie with a creamy luscious filling.

Tagine Malsouka طاجين ملصوقة

Similar to Moroccan pastilla (but without the sweetness), to me Tagine Malsouka is like a fancy chicken pot pie! There are many variations to this elaborate showpiece Tagine. The chicken can be replaced with lamb cubes or ground beef. Capers, boiled potatoes and boiled eggs are common additions. Parsley can replace or be added to coriander. To upgrade you can use saffron; to make it more affordable replace Gruyere with processed cheese triangles (although I personally don’t recommend it!). You can add more eggs to the mix (up to six!) for a creamier filling (I opted for less to make a lighter meal).

Baked tajine malsouka

Recipe:

Serves 6 to 8 people

Makes one 20cm (8 in) pie

Prep time: 15 minutes (not including prep of chicken)

Baking time: 20 – 30 minutes

Baking temperature: 190 °C (375 °F) or Gas mark 5

Ingredients:

  • 10 large (approx.30 cm 12 in diameter) malsouka rounds (feuilles de bricks) or substitute with spring roll sheets
  • Meat of 1 whole chicken breast (or two whole chicken legs) poached or roasted (see note below), shredded or diced
  • 2 eggs + 1 egg white
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp turmeric (or a pinch of saffron)
  • Salt + black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup pitted green olives
  • ¼ cup finely chopped coriander
  • 100g grated cheese (Gruyere or Emmental)
  • 100g Tunisian Gouta  قوطةor Rigouta (Ricotta): Gouta is a Tunisian fresh soft cheese similar to Italian Ricotta, produced mainly in the city of Béja.
  • ¼ cup melted butter or olive oil

Preparing the chicken:

Poach the chicken in a stock consisting of one sliced onion, a tablespoon of coriander seeds and salt to taste. Add just enough water to cover and simmer on a low heat until cooked through and tender. Alternatively, use any plain leftover chicken you may have to make this dish loads easier! I personally cook the chicken the day before I plan to make this dish, and refrigerate once cooled. It makes cutting the chicken easier and leaves me more time with my guests on the day!

Preparing the filling:

In a bowl crack two whole eggs and one egg white. Reserve the egg yolk for the glaze.  Whisk the eggs with two tablespoons of the poaching stock, or water. Whisk in the turmeric and seasoning.  Add the chicken, olives, parsley and grated Gruyere or Emmental. Mix well with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Assembling:

Grease a 20 cm (8in) pie pan. If available use a dish with a removable bottom, or a shallow spring form pan to make it easier to remove the pie once baked.

Tajine Malsouka (1)

Place one pastry sheet in the center of the pan. Brush with melted butter or olive oil. Place another sheet and brush with butter or oil. Repeat until you have completed five layers.

Tajine Malsouka (2)

Pour half of the filling into the pastry and spread evenly.

Tajine Malsouka (3)

Add slices of ricotta cheese.

Pour over the remaining filling mixture. Smooth over with back of spoon or spatula.

On the counter or work-surface layer the five remaining sheets, by greasing each and sticking each layer onto the one below.

Tajine Malsouka (4)

Once you have completed layering all the remaining sheets, place them over the pastry dish and gently tuck the edges into the dish around the pie to create a cover for the tagine. (You can also do this directly on top of the pie, but i find it easier to stick all the layers together on a flat surface and then assemble them on top of the pie filling.)

Brush the surface with an egg yolk.

Place in lower rack of the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until crisp and golden. If the top browns early on, switch off the upper heating element.

How to serve:

Sliced Tajine Malsouka

Allow to cool for a couple of minutes before handling, but don’t wait too long as the steamy filling will make the pastry soggy if it sits too long! Gently slide the pie out of the pan directly to the serving dish or gently flip onto a cutting board then flip again onto the serving plate so that the golden egg-washed side faces up. Slice with a serrated knife at the table for a wonderful presentation for your guests!

Saha!

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