One of the beloved dishes of the Moroccan kitchen, these cigars feature a spiced meat filling wrapped in delicate warka pastry (also called brik pastry) that's fried until crisp and golden. Popular in Israel, where you can get the pastry at the supermarket, I suggest spring roll wrappers if you can't find it.Yum
Ideally, you should have these made for you by a Moroccan grandma—yours, your friend's, or your dad's army buddy's mom. If you don't happen to have one of those, you can give this recipe a go, though you should know from the outset that it's impossible to approach the sublimity of a Moroccan grandma's cigars. I would know, since my dad's army buddy's mom made the best ones in the history of the State of Israel. We ate them in shifts, because we couldn't all fit around the table in her apartment. These are supposed to be appetizers or part of a spread, but kids (and grown-ups who don't care much for appearances) figure out pretty quick that they're properly the main affair.
Yes, yes, these are so called because they resemble cigars. And I'm going to summarily refuse to politically correct that. Cigarim + Golani forever.
Moroccan cigar pastry
First up: the pastry. Moroccan cigars are made with a very particular and persnickety pastry. It's like a paper-thin crepe with tiny translucent bubbles throughout. In Israel it's commonly found in the supermarket freezer, like puff pastry or phyllo in an American supermarket, and packaged as "cigar leaves," but technically it's called warka pastry. A close cousin of warka is Tunisian brik pastry, used to make eponymous deep-fried pastries enclosing a whole egg. Traditionally, warka or brik is made by dabbing a very thin layer of watery batter on a hot cooking surface—by hand. A modern update to the method employs a wide brush for the dabbing. If you're wondering if we're going to tackle handmade warka someday soon, the answer to that question is OBVIOUSLY. For now, though, we're sticking with premade.
You can sometimes find frozen warka/brik in kosher markets. Interestingly, warka is quite similar to Shanghai-style spring rolls and Filipino lumpia. You'll notice that my pastry package markets itself in English as lumpia and spring roll pastry; the back includes a recipe for Moroccan meat-filled cigars, and one for Chinese egg rolls. (The Hebrew says "Moroccan cigar leaves.")
In English-language recipes, you'll usually see that warka is replaced by the more readily-available phyllo. Although visually the two pastries look similar in the finished cigars, I can't see how this substitution would work. Phyllo is crisp and dry, while warka is soft and pliable. If you can't find frozen warka/brik pastry locally, you're better off using a packaged Asian-style dumpling wrapper, such as spring roll or even wonton wrappers. You can use rectangular or round wrappers, as big as you can find them. These are available in many supermarkets and several national brands are kosher.
Making meat filling for cigars
The main thing to know about cigar filling is that the meat inside has to have this particular, silky, condiment-like consistency. The texture is achieved in a unique way: by boiling the ground meat first and then mincing it further. First, you'll form the ground meat into two rather unattractive-looking logs and plunk them in a pot of boiling water with a bay leaf or two. When the meat is cooked through, you'll puree it along with the aromatics and spices in the food processor. Then, you form the (cooked) meat mixture into finger-long cigar shapes and wrap the pastry around the fully-shaped meat patty.
Wrapping the cigar filling in the pastry
Before you start the assembly process, you make a flour-and-water paste, used to stick the pastry to itself. Just a quick slurry, no cooking required.
To enclose the meat in the pastry, you place the meat patty on the lower third of the pastry. Fold up the bottom and brush the roll all over with the flour paste. Tuck in the sides, then roll securely. Add more paste as needed to stick the pastry together.
Deep frying the cigars
Just a few minutes in screaming-hot oil and your cigars are ready to be inhaled, dipped in tahini (green tahini is especially nice here). Claudia Roden knows just about everything, but she says it's okay to bake cigars, and it's not. Not okay at all. You have to deep flash-fry, just like my dad's army buddy's mom. Any deep pot and cheap oil will do.
(In loving memory and appreciation of Dani and his mom, z"l.)
Moroccan Beef Cigars (meat)
- 8 large cigar pastry wrappers (see note for substitutions) - also called warka or brik
- ½ lb 250g ground beef
- 4 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ onion - roughly chopped
- handful of fresh cilantro leaves - 10-12 stems
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp mild vinegar, such as red wine vinegar - optional
- 1 tsp salt - or to taste
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp nutmeg
- ⅛ tsp allspice
- ⅛ tsp white pepper
For the "glue":
- 1 Tbsp flour
- ½ Tbsp water
Prepare the filling:
- In a pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the bay leaf.
- Form the ground beef into two long patties and gently place into the boiling water. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pulse the onion, cilantro, garlic, vinegar (if using), and spices in a food processor.
- When the meat is cooked, remove it from the pot and place it straight in a food processor bowl. Pulse on and off until the mixture is fincely minced and comes together almost like a dough.
- Remove the meat filling from the food processor. Knead several times by hand, then form into finger-sized rolls.
Make the "glue":
- Mix the flour and water to form a paste. Set aside.
Assemble the cigars:
- Lay the first cigar pastry in front of you on your work surface, keeping the remaining cigar pastries covered while you work. Place one of the prepared meat rolls in the lower third of the pastry. Roll the pastry over the meat, then tuck in the short ends. Continue rolling into a cigar shape.
- Seal the cigar by brushing on the prepared paste. Repeat for the remaining cigars.
Deep fry the cigars:
- Deep fry each cigar in hot oil (365F / 185C) for 2-3 minutes, until crisp and golden all over.