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Gluten Free Moroccan Harcha

Gluten free eating 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.

Gluten Free Moroccan Harcha

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 Harcha

  • 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 harcha.

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.

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Adrienne Acoba

Sunday 19th of July 2020

Can you please tell me how/where you obtain masa harina here in Morocco? Everyone I find online doesn’t ship or else shipping is prohibitively expensive. Our nearest “supermarket”, I carrefour in Ouarzazate (90 miles west of here), and no luck for me there. They do have those god-awful French “tortillas” of wheat and corn, but I’m looking specifically for a way I can make corn tortillas. My mom usually mails me a package that includes tortillas, but mail is still excluded from shipping here.

Thanks for all of your lovely emails, recipes, and help!

Adrienne (down here in Tamazight)

Amanda Mouttaki

Monday 20th of July 2020

You can't. I have found corn flour lately in Carrefour but it's not masa harina. It sort of works. Not quite the same but we do what we can!

Saida

Monday 15th of April 2019

Hoi heeft u ook recept glutenvrije msemmen?En heeft u nog meer recepten glutenvrije

Amanda Mouttaki

Tuesday 16th of April 2019

No I'm sorry I've tried for years to make gluten free msemmen and haven't been able to master it.

Jacqui

Thursday 10th of April 2014

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

Thursday 10th of April 2014

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!

Moroccan Orange Salad and Harsha {gluten free} - The Hands-On Homeschooler

Wednesday 29th of May 2013

[...] 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 [...]

cami

Thursday 31st of January 2013

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

marocmama

Sunday 3rd of February 2013

Hey Cami - hope it turns out better with the extra milk- come back and let me know!