Kesra is a traditional Algerian flatbread that is prepared from semolina and that is served both for savory and sweet meals.
What is the origin of bread?
The history of bread starts with the Upper Paleolithic, in the middle of Prehistoric Times. Unleavened bread traces were found at several sites dating from 30,000 BC. Men ate grains in their raw form, without any preparation and prehistoric bread was really a porridge made of raw wild grains crushed and wet with water.
One day, men decided to grill this porridge into patties. This was really by chance, around 3000 BC, when a bread dough was forgotten, that the Egyptians invented leavened bread where wheat grain is crushed in a mortar.
It is in large earthen vessels that the dough was kneaded with water from the Nile, rich in silt and natural ferments close to baker’s yeast. This dough was forgotten and as it rested a few hours, it fermented naturally.
It is actually the Greeks who perfected the technique of baking bread in the oven. Their daily bread called maza was a simple unfermented barley flatbread, and their festive bread called artos was a wheat bread. Both were cooked on hot stones. After a few years, the Greeks abandoned this cooking technique for one that used an oven with a frontal opening. In the second century AD, there were 72 varieties of breads in Athens!
What is kesra?
Kesra is an Algerian bread native to Eastern part of the country that is semolina-based, and has the shape of a round flatbread.
It is called khobz ftir in Algiers, kesra to the east and aghroum n’tajin in Kabylia. This recipe is very simple. Traditionally, it only consists in semolina, oil, salt and water.
To make kesra, the Algerians use a cast iron pan or Dutch oven with embossed circle lines at the bottom. If you do not have this special pan like me, no problem as you can create the lines with cookie cutters.
For this recipe, only use fine and/or medium durum wheat flour.
Whether it is Moroccan, Tunisian or Algerian, the cuisine of North Africa is very rich. Every country in the Maghreb has its specificity, the ingredients are often the same, but the skill is different from one country to another.
In Morocco, people call it harcha. It is exactly the same recipe except for one detail: the Moroccans add a few pinches of baking powder in their bread but the taste and the texture are fairly similar.
- 1 lb durum wheat flour (fine semolina)
- 1 lb medium semolina
- ½ cup sunflower oil (or olive oil), to taste
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 cup semolina (for dusting the work surface)
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil (for cooking)
- Pour both semolinas in a large, wide bowl.
- Add salt and mix well with your hands.
- Make a well in the center, pour the oil, mix everything with your fingertips and rub the mixture between your two palms to get a crumbly texture.
- Pour water slowly by working the semolina until it has the consistency of a light dough but not sticky.
- Let stand 20 minutes.
- Cut dough into 4 equal parts and form balls.
- Place each ball on a work surface generously dusted with semolina, and roll it with a rolling pin into a circle of about 6 inches in diameter.
- Heat the pan and grease it using a clean cloth with oil wiped across the surface.
When the pan is hot, lay down the flatbread and cook it over medium/high heat for 1 to 2 minutes while piercing with a fork all over its surface.
- Turn over gently to cook the other side for 1 to 2 minutes. You can then turn it over with the help of a large plate or with a wide spatula.
- Enjoy kesra hot or cold, as an accompaniment to savory or sweet dishes.
- It is also possible to prepare individual kesra.