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Gluten Free Moroccan Cooking {Harcha}

I want to give you a little heads up.  Right now I am studying to take the LSAT exam.  I’ve finally decided to make my law school dream a reality and am preparing myself for this first step.  The test is for the middle of February so I am cramming!  I don’t want to take a long break from writing however I know I will not have the time to make new meals or put together long posts.  I’ve asked some of my readers, friends and followers to help me out by sharing some of their stories to keep you interested while I’m chained to my desk.  
 
Stephanie is the founder and co-editor of InCultureParent.com, a magazine for parents raising little global citizens.  She has two Moroccan American daughters (ages 3 and 5), whom she is raising, together with her husband, bilingual in Arabic and English. After many moves worldwide, she currently lives in Berkeley, California.  I was so happy that Stephanie agreed to share this post because it’s really important for me!  Last week we received news from MarocBaba’s physician that he has celiac disease.  We had been experimenting with gluten (or the absence of it) in his diet to see if it would help with issues he was having.  We were correct.  Stephanie’s post is a great example of how hard gluten-free life can be for lovers of Moroccan food (and Moroccans themselves!) But never fear – it can be done!
 
Gluten free and Moroccan cooking are not the best of friends. The idea of eating gluten free is pure craziness to most Moroccans. Many have told me point blank they would rather suffer the repercussions than be forced to give up gluten. My sister-in-law is case in point. While she has many of the symptoms associated with those who have an intolerance to gluten (frequent stomach pain, bloating, gas constipation, headaches), and each trip to Morocco I talk to her about what I believe is her gluten intolerance just like my daughter’s, she has been unwilling and incapable in her own mind, of forgoing bread for even just one day. You see every meal and snack in Morocco revolves around bread. Bread goes beyond being a simple staple—it is also the primary utensil you use to eat with, replacing forks and spoons.
 
The last time we went to Morocco, I was able to arm myself with an arsenal of gluten-free breads, pastas and cereals to take with us. It still didn’t do much good because when the whole family was enjoying just off the stove, flaky pieces of msemsen—a fried Moroccan bread that is sheer heaven— and you hand my daughter a dry, gluten free roll out of plastic, you can guess how that went down.
 
We weather Morocco with a lot of Miralax and do our best to limit bread as much as possible (usually this involves eating breakfast with Jasmin before everyone else to ensure she eats gluten free and is full by the time the real breakfast is served). But at home, it’s a different story. Our household is largely gluten free, except my husband who can’t survive without bread. Breakfast for him is a baguette with olive oil for dipping. He’s never really tempted by any of my weekend breakfasts—pancakes, waffles, Brazilian cheese bread, and instead always opts for white bread with olive oil and maybe jam if he’s getting crazy and really mixing things up (sarcasm).
 
For a time, even after we knew Jasmin should eat gluten free, it was hard to give up certain Moroccan food routines, like my husband’s Friday night couscous or Sunday morning harsha (also written harcha–a type of flat bread). Both are made of semolina flour. Often times, direct gluten-free substitutes don’t end up tasting as good. But more and more, I have been experimenting and improvising to turn traditional Moroccan meals into gluten-free ones. I started with something easy: harsha. Harsha, a pan-fried flat bread, is like a Moroccan pancake except much firmer. It’s sort of like a patty and you eat it always fresh out of the frying pan, then smeared in jelly or dipped in honey.
 
I make my gluten-free harsha with corn flour (masa harina) and it’s a distant cousin of the Colombian arepa, but using a Moroccan recipe all the way.
 
Gluten-free Harsha

  • 3 cups corn flour*
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 4 T sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 4 T butter (melted)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup warm milk until the batter is wet enough to form patties in your hand

 
Directions

Mix the dry ingredients and add in the butter then milk. Add the milk slowly to make sure the dough is not too wet. Mix dough with your hands as it will be stiff. Form into hamburger-like patties and cook in butter over medium-low heat. They take a little bit to cook fully through on both sides (approximately 6-9 minutes per side).
 
Serve with honey or jam. Better yet, you can make a true Moroccan side by mixing together warm butter and honey, in equal proportions, for dipping sauce. Bet you can’t eat just one!
 
*If you want the real deal, then you would use semolina flour instead of corn flour to make authentic gluten-filled harsha.

 

Traditional Harcha with Semolina


 
 

Thank you so much Stephanie for sharing this story and post.  I know that as we continue down the road of gluten-free living there will be so many issues like this that come up!!  If you’d like to follow Stephanie you can find her at IncultureParent.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ok, i am in casablanca, coeliac and starving. I could use some advice. i get that most things are served with bread but What french or morocan foods dont usually include gluten? How are tagines normally made here? I didnt have this much trouble in egypt. Rice, tagines, grilled meat, omlettes etc were plentiful. Why the hell dont they serve yoghurt or eggs at breakfast!!! Arggh. Sorry , very hungry and rapidly eating through my suitcase stores. I still have 20 days here so i need some solutions. Whats french for meat and 3 vege? Surely that is possible :)

    • Amanda Mouttaki says:

      Hi Jacqui – I’m commenting here and I’ll send you an email just in case you don’t see this. Most Moroccan foods aren’t cooked with any gluten they’re just served with it. You can safely eat any tajine with a fork and just pass on the bread. You can tell them “hassasiya dgeg” (allergy flour) That’s understood. Couscous has gluten and you won’t find gluten-free bread very easily. There’s plenty of eggs and yogurt available, you’ll just have to ask for them. It shouldn’t be any problem. Moroccans don’t eat much rice but grilled meat and other foods are readily available. I hope that helps some!

  2. Hello! Just looking into your recipe archives. I attempted a failed harsha recipe the other day and had to see what you did different. I didn´t add enough milk it would appear :) I have also connected with Stephanie. I really love her website as well. Hope all is well.
    Cami

  3. how do these taste? i love harcha!

  4. Great website! I happen to be an American married to a Moroccan and our son has celiac disease. Your comments are right on! We didn’t go to Morocco this year because we couldn’t figure out how to do it successfully gluten-free yet. We generally go to Casablanca (to visit family). Have you found any gluten free products there? Do you have a recipe for gluten free M’smen?

    Thanks, Teri

    • marocmama says:

      Thanks for stopping by! Honestly in Morocco itself we haven’t found anything off the shelf that’s gluten-free. What we have thought of doing for a long term move is actually going to the miller to have rice ground to flour, corn ground to flour and other grains that don’t have gluten ground up. For now, short visits I either bring a few things in the suitcase or make do with what I find. I’ve been working on a gluten free msemmen recipe for a few months (many people have asked) and so far I haven’t found a recipe that is really good. I’m hoping I’ll figure out something soon!

  5. Oh I would LOVE to see a gluten free guide to Ramadan! I am gluten intolerant and try to steer free of corn based things as well, but my Moroccan fiancee just doesn’t see a meal as complete without bread. Inshallah I will be a new wife by Ramadan and could really use some ideas for compromises that will work for both of us! So far he hasn’t like my idea of a cauliflower rice based “fouscous”…

    • marocmama says:

      Thanks so much for your feedback!! It seems that this is something that many people would like to see…inshAllah we’ll be able to have something by Ramadan ready!

    • Use Quinoa to replace the couscous. It’s pretty close and very healthy. Bob’s Red Mill has certified gluten free couscous (sold at Costco in larger quantities). You find it in the pasta section. Also, if you make Harira, thicken it with potato starch instead of flour (works great). Disolve the starch in cold water then stir it in at the last 10 minutes (2Tbsp is enough for a big pot).

  6. Hey, Stephanie and Amanda, will you add me to the list of co-authors? :-) My husband also has celiac disease so we’re a GF family too. Corn bread is a big staple in our house but I still haven’t figured out how to make baklava with GF flour!

  7. Thanks so much for the opportunity to share this with your community! I’m so sorry to hear about your husband having celiac–that is tough for anyone but especially tough for Moroccans. I’m looking forward to be able to exchange more gluten free recipes with you (I’m already envisioning your gluten free guide to Ramadan for next year!!) I have an awesome gluten free pancake recipe if you need one!

    • marocmama says:

      Oh a gluten free guide to Ramadan! What a fantastic idea! We might need to co-author that series! Thank you again for sharing your story and recipe.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] flour, which is a wheat product – definitely not gluten-free! We found a gluten-free recipe here.  Harsha is eaten for breakfast as well as snacks – with jam or a butter/honey [...]

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