Egg Mujabbana: The puff recipe of the Almohad dynasty
As we have been savoring over my past few columns, Kitab al tabikh fi-l-Maghrib wa-l-Andalus fi asr al-Muwahhidin, li-mu’allif majhul or, in English, The Book of Cooking in Maghreb and Andalus in the era of Almohads, provides us with hundreds of fascinating recipes from the area known in the medieval period as Al Andalus. These recipes developed during the rule of the Almohad Caliphate, and are examples of the best of Islamic culinary culture. The book not only gives us different kinds of dishes, but also receipts for numerous varieties of dishes that have certain commonalities, and have a common name. One such example is different cheese preparations known as Mujabbanas. Kitab al-Tabikh has scores of Mujabbanas. Today we will taste one of them: Egg Mujabbana.
The Book also mentions that this delicacy was the invention of Musa bin al-Hajj Ya’ish. He was a renowned architect in the times of Abd al-Mumin and his son Yusuf I, both of whom were Muhatsibs, or market inspectors of Marrakesh. It is also known that Almohad vizier Said bin Jami loved this puff and always served it when his companions visited him.
An egg Mujabbana is basically a cheese puff with pastry. Before we go into the recipe, here are few tips about making a Mujabbana: mujabbana should not prepare with only one cheese. Two types of cheese are required, any cow-milk cheese (I use simple cheddar) and ‘lamb cheese’, which I substitute with plain goat cheese. The bottom line is these two types of cheese must bind together well.
Take one-fourth part of cow-milk cheese and three-quarters of lamb (goat) cheese and shred them.
Knead them together well. If softening is required for shredding, use fresh cow milk.
Knead either wheat-flour or semolina adding a little bit of yeast. Add water little by little and make a moist dough. It is even better to use milk to moisten the dough. Roll out the dough and set it aside.
When the leavened dough begins to rise, put a frying pan on heat. Put in sufficient quantity of any white oil.
Wet your hand in water tear off a piece of dough, make a cup with your fingers. Inside it, stuff a good amount of the grated cheese. Cover the cheese with the dough, which makes a ball with the cheese inside it.
Break eggs in a bowl. Beat them well with roasted anise and fennel powder. A little bit of salt may also be added, depending on how salty your cheeses are. Pour the beaten egg over each cheese-filled dough ball and cover it well with the beaten egg yolk and white. When all the balls are done in this manner, put them in the pan with the heated oil.
Fry them brown. Remove them with a sieve and let the oil run out.
This is one of the most delicious dishes I have come across in Kitab al-Tabikh, and not very difficult to make, provided you get the right kind of cheese. It is also important to make the semolina dough right and let it rise properly, which gives a spring to the puffs.
(Writer: Nilanjan Hajra)