For centuries, the Berbers have wandered the Sahara Desert. When they’ve stopped to rest, the North African nomads have traditionally used the sand beneath their feet to help prepare meals. Madfouna, a stuffed flatbread that contains a wide range of meats, nuts, vegetables, herbs, and spices (whatever the cook has on hand), is one popular iteration of sand-baked fare. Cooks pinch the filling inside an elastic, yeasted round of dough that reminds foreign visitors of pizza dough. Moroccan Berbers who work in tourism around the Erg Chebbi dunes (near the Algerian border) have taken to calling this dish “Berber pizza.”
To prepare a truly traditional madfouna, Berbers need no cookware. They dig a pit in the sand, build a small fire, and place stones on top. After rolling out the dough and stuffing it with a medley of ingredients (such as beef, egg, almonds, onions, cumin, and paprika), they set the pie atop hot stones and cover it with sand. After cooking, the chef uses a cloth and a knife to scrape off the charred exterior —which has been in direct contact with flame, rock, and sand—before serving. Then, they slice it into wedges and distribute the smoky pie amongst themselves and their guests.
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