This is a cooking lesson, but it starts with a pronunciation challenge. The starting ‘r’ is at the front of the tongue; the next consonant is pronounced like a French ‘r’, in the back of the throat. All together now: rghaif!
OK, you can also call it msemmen or milhui. That’s considerably easier for me, at least.
The starting ingredients are very simple: sifted flour, salt, water, oil.
Hayat told us apologetically that her sister would have to do the first part of making the dough: the proper ratio of flour, water, and oil is a matter of long experience, measured mostly by feel–we wouldn’t have a chance of getting it right.
Kneading, on the other hand, was fair game.
After a considerable amount of kneading–about 20 minutes, shared among us all–the next step was to grab a handful of the (remarkably light and fluffy dough) and squeeze it out between your thumb and index finger in the shape of a little ball or a balloon. This was harder than it ought to have been for us; we needed some help and a lot of practice.
The little balls of dough then sit and rest for a while: 30-60 minutes or thereabouts. Then you take one at a time and start to press it out into a circle on a well-oiled surface. The patting is very gentle, expanding the circle little bit by little bit. Again, this was harder than it might seem: we had heavy hands, apparently.
The best moment, though, came when Hayat’s sister picked up the edge of this circle of dough–extended as far as it could go, we thought–and pulled it out to the very edge of this round table, and then did the same in all four directions. We literally gasped at the unexpectedness of this move. Not a move we could really replicate, however:
Imagine an unbroken circle of dough, extending much farther in all directions.
Next, you drizzle a little oil on the dough, and you fold in the edges, shaping a square with several layers. That square–the rghaif or msemmen or milhoui–is then fried in oil (preferably olive oil) and enjoyed hot off the stove.