Pastilla (pronounced pas-tee-ya), also known as bastilla or basteeya, is a savoury-sweet Moroccan meat pie made by filling a phyllo pastry with a mixture of spiced braised poultry, eggs, and ground almonds. It is the national dish of the city of Fes in Morocco.
There are many variations on the layering and spicing of the filling. My husband and I were taught an elaborate filling during a cooking class in Morocco in September 2013. I have studied various other recipes but the one that is a blend of exotic and not-too-difficult is the one I have chosen to share with you below. I have made this one for years and always with rave reviews. More than the filling, pastilla is an impressive main course to bring to a dinner table of family and friends. Hence, with a few variations on Moroccan Chicken Pastilla; I will explain the steps. Furthermore, when you have practised working with phyllo, it is not so overwhelming.
The ingredients, beside the chicken, for my filling are below: onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, cinnamon stick, Thai chili pepper, vegetable broth, lemon juice, lemon rind, chopped olives and chopped prunes. Salt and pepper to taste. Sounds like an odd combination but the combination of tart, spicy and sweet is just perfect.
My major shortcut is to buy a rotisserie BBQ chicken and remove all the meat from the bones, white and dark.
And put aside one egg and coriander leaves for mixing into the final filling before the phyllo step.
Saute the onions for a few minutes and then add all the spices, cinnamon stick and chili pepper. After a couple minutes of stirring, add the broth, lemon juice, olives, prunes. Cook covered for about 10-15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and then let cool before adding the beaten egg and chopped coriander. Time to prepare the cinnamon-almond mixture to sprinkle between the top layers of phyllo. The original recipes suggests grinding whole roasted almonds for the mixture of ground almonds, icing sugar and cinnamon. I buy ground almonds and this has worked out just fine.
The trick with phyllo sheets is to keep them from drying out. I always cover the sheets with a tea towel while I’m working with it and spritz the tea towel with water occasionally.
Dab one sheet of phyllo with olive oil and place it into a spring-form pan. It doesn’t matter if it tears a little — there will be 5 more sheets on top of this one.
Shift each additional sheet so that there is an even overhang all around. Press down very gently in the middle to create the pocket for the filling.Put all the filling in the prepared phyllo pan.
Start folding in the overhang a few pieces at a time and sprinkle with the almond-cinnamon mixture each time.
Once all 5 sheets have been folded in, oil a 6th sheet and place on top and tuck in the edges.. Sprinkle more almond-cinnamon mixture. Repeat with a 7th sheet. On the oiled 8th sheet, tuck in the corners and bake for 20 minutes at 350° until golden brown.
When out of the oven, you can decorate the top anyway you’d like! Below are five photos of chicken pastilla that we had in Morocco. The large one in the left hand upper corner was from our cooking class. The four surrounding it are personal size ones from each meal that my husband ordered. He loved it so much, he ordered it as often as possible.
I served it with roasted cumin carrots and cauliflower. A green salad is nice too.
adapted from Christine Cushing, Basteeya – Morroccan Chicken Pie
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 clove garlic, chopped
1 small Thai chile or chile flakes, to taste
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp fresh chopped ginger
1 tsp grated lemon zest
All the meat, dark & white from one BBQ rotisserie chicken
2 pitted prunes, chopped
¼ cup spicy green olives, diced
½ cup chicken or vegetable stock
juice of ½ lemon
Coarse salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander
⅓ cup olive oil
8 sheets phyllo
1 tbsp icing sugar
2 tbsp ground almonds
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Some toasted almond slices, if desired
- In a large skillet heat olive oil over medium high heat. Sauté the onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chile, cinnamon stick, curry powder, ginger, lemon zest and chicken and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in the prunes, olives, stock, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Let cool completely.
- Meanwhile, mix icing sugar, cinnamon and ground almonds.
- On a work surface, arrange a sheet of phyllo. (Keep remaining phyllo under a damp tea towel.) Dab one sheet with oil. Lay in the middle of pan allowing excess phyllo to hang over the edge. Repeat with 4 more sheets of phyllo.
- Stir beaten egg and coriander into chicken mixture. Spoon chicken mixture into prepared pan. Fold the phyllo pieces that are hanging over the edge of the pie dish, a few at a time into centre of the filling, sprinkling some of the almond mixture between each layer.
- Oil 1 piece of phyllo and sprinkle with some of the almond mixture. Place over the filling and tuck in around the edges. Repeat with another sheet of phyllo and almond mixture. Last sheet, tuck in but do not top with almond mixture.
- In a 350° preheated oven, bake for 20 minutes until top is browned and crisp. Let cool for 5 minutes before decorating top (if desired) and cutting into wedges for serving.