Go ahead and spread

Each community has its own special blend of spices.

Frena bread (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Frena bread
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Every few months, I reorganize my pantry and renew my supply of basic ingredients. Each community has its own special blend of spices, which plays a major role in that region’s cuisine. There are a number of spice rubs and spreads that are commonly used in North African cuisine, and which play a very significant role in many dishes.
A number of these items are mass-produced in Israel and can easily be purchased in grocery stores and markets, but their quality and taste cannot compare with homemade spreads.
This week, I bought bushels of red peppers, as well as sweet and hot dried peppers. In addition, I bought lots of hot green peppers, herbs and spices. I’m so happy to finally be able to respond to my readers who’ve requested recipes for spicy spreads, and tell them, Yes! the time has finally arrived.
So, I donned my apron and got ready to work. I prepared lots of little jars of peppery spreads, tied a pretty ribbon on top, and gave them as presents to friends and family. When I was done, I realized that I should probably bring them something to calm the fire in their mouths, so I baked a batch of Moroccan frena bread that can be eaten with the spreads.
Here is a short description of the four spreads:
Makes 1 medium jar
1 kg. dried red peppers
Water for soaking
2 cups oil
1 cup water
Cut the tops off and then de-seed the peppers. Soak them in water for 15 minutes. Rinse them well and then grind peppers with a hand blender or meat grinder. Add the salt, oil and water and mix well with your (gloved) hand or with an electric mixer. Pour mixture into jars and pour a little oil on top so that it doesn’t dry out (about 3 tablespoons in each jar).
Makes 1 medium jar
200 gr. hot cayenne pepper, ground
3 cloves of garlic, peeled, rinsed, and smashed or crushed
3 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground caraway
2-3 tsp. salt
½-²⁄3 cup oil
In a bowl, add 1 tablespoon of ground pepper and a little of the crushed garlic. Mix well. Add another spoonful of pepper and garlic and mix. Continue until all of the pepper and garlic are mixed. Add a little water, if necessary. Season with cumin, caraway, salt and oil. Mix well. If you’d like it to be a little more diluted, add two to three spoonfuls of oil or water. Transfer to a glass jar and seal well.
Makes 1 medium jar
500 gr. hot green peppers
10 sprigs of coriander
10 sprigs of parsley
3 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground black pepper
20 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp. salt
2-3 tsp. olive oil
Olive oil for storage
Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to a jar and pour olive oil on top. Close well and store in pantry or fridge.
Makes four servings
3 medium tomatoes
1 large hot green pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and olive oil, to taste
Rinse the tomatoes and peppers and cut them into small cubes. Place them in a bowl and add the salt and olive oil. Adjust seasoning. You can also add a little lemon juice or vinegar. Serve with frena bread.
This simple Moroccan bread is easy to prepare. Although originally it was baked on baking stones or in an electric spiral baking pot, it can also be baked in a regular oven. Some add an egg to the dough, which makes it richer.
Makes five to six round loaves
1 kg. flour, sifted
2 Tbsp. dry yeast, or 50 gr. fresh yeast
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
½ cup oil
2½ cups water, at room temperature
A little flour or oil
Place the flour and the yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer with a dough hook. Add the sugar, salt, and oil, and mix well.
While mixing, gradually add the water and increase speed. Mix until dough is mixed well and sticky.
Cover bowl with a damp towel and let dough rise for an hour or until it doubles in volume.
Separate dough into five to six sections and place on work surface. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for 30 more minutes.
Preheat the oven to 250°. If you’re using a baking stone, make sure to put it in the oven before turning it on. After 20-30 minutes, turn down temperature to 180°.
For baking surface, use either flour or oil. If you’re not sure which method you prefer, make three of each, and then you’ll know for next time. Both ways make for wonderful bread.
Take each section of dough and flatten into a large circle. Cover dough with either flour or oil on both sides and place on a tray covered with baking paper (or directly onto a baking stone).
Bake for 22-25 minutes or until bread is crusty. If you’re using an electric spiral pot, the frena loaves will need to be baked one at a time. They will also need to be flipped halfway through.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.