Today we are not going to talk about couscous, but we are going to discover one of Tunisia’s most rich and filling pasta dishes, dwida mfawra. This is a dish that combines both the Ottoman heritage and the Amazigh/Berber cooking method.
Dwida mfawra is a specialty of Jijel, a beautiful coastal city of Algeria, in the northeast of the country. Adapted from the Algerians, dwida is a pasta that is made by hand. It is basically the same dough used for trida. Imagine the time it takes to make the shape of this fine pasta! As a result of the time it takes, hand rolled pasta is being replaced by broken thin vermicelli (fideo). It is fast, practical and it gives the same delicious result. But it’s certainly a treasure to master the original technique. These thin broken vermicelli are often used in Arab dishes, whether savory like Moroccan harira, or sweet such as balaleet, this breakfast staple in the United Arab Emirates, or sawine, this vermicelli cake from Guyana often served to break the fast during ramadan. It is also used in Indian specialties such as semiya payasam.
This dish is typically served at weddings or special occasions that will feed a crowd. In fact, it is a tradition to prepare this dish in the Muslim New Year, a meal that is based on starchy foods and dwida mfawra is certainly that.
There are two sauces that can be made with this dish, a white and a red. Today we are presenting the red version.
Steaming is an essential technique in North African cuisine and a huge number of traditional dishes, like dwida mfawra, fall into this category. Tunisian cuisine, with its Berber roots is based around slow cooking using clay cookware’s that provide moisture and develops flavors to the stews as well as steaming that allows dishes to cook over the same source of heat.
Dwida mfawra is a typical example of how Algerian women fused foreign inherited dishes (Ottoman in this case) to give them local touches through the steaming technique.
In dwida mfawra, lamb, veal or chicken (dwida mfawra b djèj) can be used. Lamb is what we used for this recipe. The lamb should be cut into 3 to 4 inches cubes. Make sure to trim any excess fat off of it, or it will render too much oil, making your stew greasy.
Like similar Tunisian stews, a lot of onion is used in this dish. Take the time to caramelize the onions, so that it develops that sweetness to balance the acidity of the concentrated tomato.
Harissa, tomato paste and a Tunisian spice blend called tabel are used to flavor the dwida mfawra. Tabel is made by mixing coriander, with garlic powder, caraway and cayenne pepper. Turmeric is also used to give it a beautiful orange color when combined with the concentrated tomato. In addition to the lamb, spices and vermicelli, this dish also uses chickpeas that have been soaked overnight, as well as potatoes.
Before using the vermicelli, you must soak it in vegetable oil. After adding the oil to it, use your hands to rub it in so that each grain is coated. This process helps in the steaming process. Using the steaming method of cooking for this dish, after an hour of cooking the lamb and the chickpeas in the spices, add the potatoes that have been quartered. Set your steamer over the stew, place the vermicelli in it and cover. The vermicelli will take some time to steam.
Be patient, set the flame to low so that the stew won’t burn or dry out while the pasta is steaming. You can help it along, by sprinkling a few drops of water over the pasta every 10 minutes. Do not boil this pasta as you would other pasta. It has to be steamed for this traditional dish.
Once the pasta is soft and has puffed, add it to a wide baking dish, pour some of the gravy from the stew over it, not too much. Just enough to soak the pasta and bake it for 10 to 20 minutes, being sure not to dry it out.
While your pasta is in the oven, fry or broil 4 hot peppers, peel and remove the seeds.
To serve the dwida mfawra, spread the pasta out on a huge dish, add the lamb and chickpeas over it and garnish with the cooked potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and the fried peppers. Serve it family style.
Enjoy this traditional Tunisian dish at your next special gathering to share with friends and family.
- 2 lb boneless lamb shoulder , cut into pieces
- 4 hard boiled eggs
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 20 oz. thin fideo (cut vermicelli)
- 3 oz. dried chickpeas (soaked for 12 hours)
- 4 small potatoes , cut in half
- 4 green hot peppers
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 onions , thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic , pressed
- 1 tablespoon harissa
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon tabel karwiya (spice blend)
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 5 cups water (boiling)
- In the lower part of a couscous steamer (double boiler), heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add the garlic and stir well.
- Add the lamb chunks and chickpeas and fry for 3 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste, harissa, tabel, coriander, and turmeric and sauté again for 2 minutes.
- Add 2½ cups of the boiling water and simmer for 1 hour.
- After 20 minutes of cooking, add the potatoes. The sauce should cook for about 1 hour. If, during this time, it becomes too concentrated or it is about to stick to the bottom and burn, add boiling water and simmer.
- Pour the fideo into a large container, add the vegetable oil and mix by hand to soak them well with this oil.
Add the remaining boiling water to the sauce in the lower part of the couscoussier and place the angel hair in the upper part of the couscoussier by creating a hole in the center to allow the steam to go through. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes (depending on the thickness of the pasta).
- Fry the green hot peppers and peel them.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Place the fideo in a baking dish and add some sauce, just enough to soak the pasta.
- Baking should take between 10 and 20 minutes. Pay attention to the baking time, as the pasta should not dry while baking. Add a little sauce if necessary.
- When serving, add the fideo in a dish, place the pieces of lamb, potatoes and chickpeas.
- Sprinkle with sauce and decorate with the eggs (halved or quartered) and fried green hot peppers on top.