For most Americans, Moroccan cuisine is synonymous with couscous and tagine, a meat-and-vegetable stew that’s slow-cooked in a conical clay pot that gives the dish its name. In middle-class Moroccan homes, these two filling dishes are indeed the centerpiece of most meals. But on special occasions, the spectacular palette primer for these main courses can be a feast in itself: a sweet-and-savory pie called bastilla.
Topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon, bastilla disguises itself as a decadent desert. Its flakey pastry is made from layers of warqa dough, which is thinner and more elastic than Greek filo dough or the French millefeuille. Surprisingly, though, this delicate crust gives way to a bold filling of eggs, toasted almonds, and a squab curry infused with saffron, garlic, and ginger. This recipe has many steps, but if you’re willing to take the time, it’s a one-of-a-kind dish that’s well worth the effort.
1 whole chicken or Cornish game hens (approximately 2 pounds)
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 cup of parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
Large pinch of saffron
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups water
6 eggs, beaten
10 oz blanched almonds
4 oz powdered sugar
2 Tbsp orange blossom water
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Oil for frying
Filo dough (a substitute for Moroccan warqa dough)
1 stick of butter, melted
1 egg yolk
Prepare the chicken layer:
- On high heat, pour the oil in a large pot. Add the onions, parsley, and spices. Mix well.
- Place the whole chicken on top of the onion mixture. Cover the pot and let the chicken cook for 10 minutes.
- Add water to steam the chicken. To keep the sauce thick, 1-2 cups should suffice.
- Cover the pot, and let the chicken cook for an additional 30 minutes.
- When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot, but leave the sauce in the pot.
- Let the chicken cool, and then separate the meat from the bone. Shred the meat into small pieces with your hands.
Prepare the egg layer:
- Add the 6 eggs to the sauce where the chicken was cooked.
- Lower the heat, and stir the eggs to incorporate. Do not cover your pan, and let the sauce evaporate. Stir occasionally.
- The egg mixture should become dry after 10-15 minutes, like scrambled eggs.
Prepare the almond layer:
- In a separate pan, fry the almonds in the oil until they become golden brown.
- Remove excess oil from the almonds. (Reserve one tablespoon of the oil from the almonds and mix it into the chicken pieces.)
- In a food processor, combine the almonds with the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and orange blossom water until the almonds are crushed. The texture should remain coarse.
Fold the layers into the pastry:
- Brush a baking pan with melted butter.
- Fold filo pastry sheets into 2, and put 3 layers in the middle of the baking pan.
- Place folded pastry sheets around the baking pan where 1/3 of their length is overhanging the edge of the pan.
- Brush the pastry with melted butter.
- Spread the egg mixture in the middle of the pan. Cover it with 2 layers of filo pastry. Brush the filo pastry with melted butter.
- Spread the chicken pieces. Cover them with 2 layers of filo pastry. Brush the filo pastry with melted butter.
- Spread the almond mixture. Cover it with 2 layers of filo pastry. Brush the filo pastry with melted butter.
- Carefully fold over the filo dough on all sides and brush the top of the pastry with melted butter and egg yolk.
- Add 3-4 layers of filo dough pastry on top and tuck them in the bottom of the pie. Brush the surface with melted butter and egg yolk.
Bake & garnish:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Bake the bastilla for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.
- Dust the baked bastilla with powdered sugar and cinnamon over the top. Serve warm.
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