Monday, November 15, 2010


My first experience with Moroccan food was at my friend (and follower) Laura's 16th birthday dinner. I fell in love with the cuisine immediately. It's hard not to, when one of the first things they bring you is bastella, a pastry filled with cinnamon chicken and almonds.

I am not a fan of working with phyllo, and really shouldn't have tried when the humidity was under 30%, but it didn't disintegrate completely. It's also a shame that you have to use the whole package immediately, or throw out the rest. Puff pastry just doesn't give you the same crunchy layers.

This recipe from Mideast & Mediterranean Cuisines makes enough for 6 to 8 as a main dish. I'm posting my four-serving version, which also works for parties up to 8 as an appetizer. You're supposed to eat it with your fingers, but it's very crumbly and eating it hot results in burned fingertips. I have no problem with handing out forks.

1 lb boneless chicken breast, skin optional
salt & pepper to taste
1 Tb olive oil, optional
1/2 onion, chopped
1 C chicken broth or water
pinch of saffron, optional
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 C fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1 C ground almonds
2 Tb sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon, plus more for dusting
4 phyllo sheets
2 Tb butter, melted
powdered sugar for dusting
whole almonds for garnish

1. Place chicken, onion, salt, pepper, oil, saffron, cinnamon stick, and broth in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until very tender, at least 1 hr. Let chicken cool slightly. Remove from juices, remove skin and any stray bones or gristle, and chop chicken finely. Set aside. Reserve 1/2 C of cooking liquid and discard the rest.

2. Combine almonds, sugar, and cinnamon. Add chicken to nut mixture.

3. Bring remaining broth to a low boil. Add parsley and cook 5 minutes, until herbs are wilted. Add egg and cook until egg is scrambled and liquid is absorbed. Toss into chicken mixture.

4. Preheat oven to 350º. Butter an oven-proof 6" skillet with rounded sides. Layer on 4 phyllo sheets, brushing each with melted butter as you go, and covering the ones not in use with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Add filling to skillet, then carefully fold overhanging edges of phyllo on top of mixture, to make a sealed pie. Brush top with melted butter.

5. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Invert onto serving platter. You can't really move the pie once it is out of the pan, so try to center it. Dust with powdered sugar and cinnamon and decorate with almonds. Serve hot.

Difficulty rating $@%!

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