Mahkuda with harissa

by Emma Spitzer

An Algerian-style tortilla from MasterChef finalist Emma Spitzer

Mahkuda is an Algerian dish that my mother-in-law Judith’s mother, Safta, would cook up all the time and now my mother-in-law makes during high holidays. I’ve taken the same ingredients but constructed it as more of a traditional tortilla-style dish, which works well served either hot or cold, with a crisp salad or some cooked meats. The addition of the cumin and harissa makes it earthy and warming with a gentle kick.

Harissa is a powerful Tunisian chilli paste, and one of the greatest condiments you can have in your fridge. I have experimented with many variations, but this recipe is the one I am happiest with. The sun-dried tomatoes are not a traditional addition to harissa, but I love the flavour they bring as a foil for the strong heat of the chilli. Serve with some olive oil drizzled over the top as a dip for crusty bread, or mix into yoghurt, mayonnaise or ketchup to spice them up for use as condiments. Harissa adds a serious depth of flavour to sauces and works really well in marinades, too.


For the harissa:
10 dried red chillies
2 red peppers
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp sea salt
2 long red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
3 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
115ml rapeseed oil

For the mahduka:
6-7 waxy potatoes
1 large or 2 medium onions, finely diced
300ml olive oil
6 large eggs
1 tsp ground cumin
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season

200ml preserving jar, sterilised 


For the harissa: soak the dried chillies in hot water for 30 mins. Drain, then trim off the stalks, deseed and chop roughly—it is advisable to wear gloves for this prep, to protect yourself from the burning effects of the chilli.

Preheat the grill to high. Place the peppers under the grill for around 10-15 mins, turning once, until the skins have blackened. Transfer to a resealable plastic food bag and seal, or place in a bowl and immediately cover with clingfilm. Leave them for around 20 mins, until cool enough to handle and the skins have loosened. Remove the skins with the back of a knife and discard the stalks and seeds, then roughly chop the flesh.

Heat a dry frying pan over a medium heat, add the cumin, coriander and caraway seeds and toast for 3 mins, shaking the pan constantly to ensure that they don’t burn. Transfer to a pestle and mortar or spice grinder or powder blender and grind to a coarse powder.

Add the garlic cloves with the ground spices, paprika and salt to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the fresh chillies, dried chillies and sun-dried tomatoes and pulse a few times to combine. Lastly, add the vinegar and oil and blend until you have a coarse paste. Add to a small (around 200ml) sterilised preserving jar, seal and store in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Now make the mahkuda. Peel the potatoes, then cut them in half vertically and slice each half thinly so that you have half-moon shapes; use a mandolin if you have one. Add the potatoes to a large bowl with the onion, season with salt and mix together to combine. Heat all but 1 tbsp of the oil in a nonstick frying pan over a high heat. Check the oil temperature by adding a potato—if it sizzles, the oil is hot enough.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the rest of the potatoes and onion. Cook for 20 mins in total, turning very carefully in the oil every 5 mins, or until the potatoes are soft all the way through—you don’t want to fry the ingredients too quickly.

Drain the potatoes in a sieve over a bowl, reserving the oil—this has so much flavour, you absolutely must keep it for other uses. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then mix in 2 tbsp (more if you want it hotter) harissa and cumin. Season again with salt and some black pepper and then add the potatoes and onion back in. Mix very gently to avoid breaking up the potatoes.

Heat the remaining tbsp oil in the same frying pan, add the egg and potato mixture and cook for around 4-5 mins. You want the heat medium-low here, to avoid burning the bottom. Place a plate larger than the diameter of the frying pan over the top and very carefully invert the frying pan to turn the mahkuda over on to the plate, then return the mahkuda to the pan to cook the other side, adding in any potato that’s escaped.

Tuck the edges in with a spatula, if needs be, to make a nice shape. Cook for a further 3 mins then repeat the turning process as before. The result should be a lovely golden mahkuda. Serve warm.

ALTERNATIVE: Feel free to be creative here and add olives, peppers and any other Mediterranean flavours you feel are appropriate.

Recipe: Emma Spitzer