Layers of Tasty

(originally posted on on 5/17/11)

I believe I’ve found one of my favorite go-to recipes:  Moroccan b’stilla.

“What the hell is that” you say?  Well, I didn’t know what it was either until I was browsing through one of Adam’s dozens (okay, hundreds) of cookbooks looking for a recipe that called for filo dough.  I had never used filo and had an itch to try it out.  From the dizzying array of recipe books to choose, I hesitantly pulled out one specializing in Moroccan fare.  Now I’ve had Moroccan food before (a particularly romantic Valentine’s Day dinner comes to mind) but I’m not well-versed, or even vaguely familiar with the names of dishes, types of ingredients or characteristic flavors from this North African state.  I’ve been to North Africa (Tunisia, to be exact) but all I really remember is the couscous and getting severely dehydrated which resulted in hospitalization.  But I digress.

This particular collection of recipes contained instructions for making b’stilla, which is encased in filo dough  -so I knew I had my dish.  I informed Adam via text message my plans for dinner, to which he responded “that’s really hard to make”.  Oh – a challenge!  I was determined to make this work.

What I discovered is that although not technically difficult, it is a time-consuming recipe (about 3 hours from start to finish).  Not necessarily something you’d want to make on a weeknight (unless you are temporarily unemployed, like me, then it becomes a practical time-filler).  The smell of it cooking is intoxicating, a thick mix of sweet and spicy.  The sight of it coming out of the oven – wow.  I actually jumped up and down with excitement.  It’s a beautiful dish that’s also fun to eat.  Traditionally, the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand are “plunged through the pastry crust into the steaming filling and the size mouthful required is pulled out and quickly transferred to the mouth”.  Finger food at its finest.  Here’s the recipe, from Hilaire Walden’s “The Moroccan Collection”, if you’d like to give it a try, which I highy suggest you do.  You won’t be disappointed.

  • 1 small chicken
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • good pinch of crushed saffron threads
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup blanched almonds, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 9 ounces packet filo pastry
  • olive oil, for brushing
  • salt and pepper

To serve:

  • confectioner’s sugar
  • ground cinnamon (optional)

1.  put the chicken into a saucepan with the onion, ginger, saffron, cilantro, 1 tsp of the cinnamon, parsley and season with salt and pepper.  Add enough water barely to cover the bird and simmer gently, covered, for 45 minutes until the chicken is tender.

2.  Transfer the chicken to a plate.  Boil the cooking juices until they are reduced to a thick, dryish sauce.

3.  When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and take the flesh from the bones.  Coarsely chop the flesh.

4.  Beat the eggs and butter with half of the cooking juices and cook, stirring constantly, until scrambled.

5.  Toast the almonds in a dry, heavy frying pan, stirring frrequently, until lightly browned.  Add the remaining cinnamon and sugar.

my frist time blanching almonds – so easy!

6.  Using overlapping sheets of filo pastry and brushing each sheet with oil, make a square 3 layers thick (I acutally used 5) and 18 inches across on a baking sheet.  Spread the remaining cooking juices in a 7 inch circle in the center of the pastry.  Cover with the egg mixture, then top with the chicken and the almonds.  Fold up the sides of the pastry to enclose the filling.  If necessary, patch any gaps with more pastry, brushing them with oil.

7.  Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and crisp.

8.  To serve, sieve confectioner’s sugar ove the top and make a random or lattice pattern with ground cinnamon, if desired.

Be careful, it’s super hot!!!!




So pretty!  But it wasn’t long until it looked like this: