Served traditionally on special events, like our wedding – really! – bastila is the ultimate Moroccan meal. I have so many memories of my younger self inquisitively watching my mom and my aunts making gigantic bastilas large enough to feed 20 people. For some reason, I always thought that making bastila was a very complex process designed only for grown ups.
A few years ago, long after I had become a grown up, and after an extensive London-Rabat Skype session with my mom, I finally had all the ingredients and instructions necessary to make a real bastila and I challenged myself to make it.
Over the years, I made a couple of adjustments to my mom's recipe and the truth is, making bastila is not difficult, just fairly long. But believe me, it is worth the time. Its richness, crispiness and alluring taste will charm you and transport you somewhere between the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert.
Makes about 12 4 inch bastilas
- 3 tablespoons olive oil for cooking + 1 tablespoon olive oil to roast the almonds
- 2 kg whole chicken cut in pieces or 2 kg chicken legs and thighs
- 1 kg sliced onions
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- A small pinch saffron
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups chopped fresh parsley, about 1 large bunch
- 1 cup chopped fresh coriander, about half a large bunch
- 400 gr blanched almonds
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Ground cinnamon
- Icing sugar
- 10 eggs, scrambled, plus 1 egg beaten for brushing
- 220 gr unsalted butter, divided
- 500 gr filo pastry
• Preheat oven to 160 C (320 F). In a large casserole, heat the olive oil and add the chicken, onions, turmeric, ginger, saffron and salt and pepper. Leave over medium heat for 15 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the parsley and coriander along with 1 cup water (about 240ml). Bring to the boil, lower the heat to medium-low and cover with a lid. Leave to simmer gently until the chicken is cooked, about 50 min.
• Meanwhile, prepare the almonds. Place the blanched almonds in a baking tray and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bake in the oven until golden, about 18 minutes. Once the almonds are cold enough to handle, transfer them in a food processor or a nut grinder. Add 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon, 3 tablespoons icing sugar to the roasted almonds and process until coarsely ground. Set aside until ready to assemble.
• When the chicken is cooked, take the casserole off the heat and remove the chicken pieces from the pan (leaving the cooked herbs and onions inside the pan). Add 1 tablespoon honey, 2 tablespoons icing sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon to the onions and reduce the sauce to caramelize the onions. Leave over medium-low heat with no lid on top until all the liquid evaporates and the onions are golden brown, about 30 to 40 min. Stir occasionally to prevent the onions from sticking to the pan. No liquid should be left in the pan, except oil. Add salt if necessary.
• Once the chicken has cooled down to room temperature, pull out the chicken meat and discard the skin and the bones. Chop the chicken into smaller chunks, (about 1 cm/0.4 inch). Place in the fridge until ready to assemble.
• In a small frying pan, melt 20 gr butter, crack the eggs and scramble them. Set aside until ready to assemble. Make sure that the scrambled eggs are not under cooked and runny because liquid can affect the pastry during the assembling process.
Now you can start assembling. You can prepare the filling up to two days in advance.
• Preheat oven to 200 C (390 F).
• Unroll the filo pastry sheets, keeping them under a damp towel to prevent them from drying out. Use a small round shallow dish (of about 10 cm (4 inch) large) and with a sharp knife, cut the pastry sheets according to the size of your dish. Cut the filo sheets into squares large enough to fit the dish and to cover the top of the pie. You will need two sheets for each pie. Check the notes below regarding the size of the filo sheets.
• Heat the remaining butter until melted. Place a filo sheet on a work surface, brush it with melted butter and top it with another filo sheet that you also brush with butter. Gently place the two layers of filo sheet in the shallow dish making sure that the pastry sheet touches the inner edges of the dish.
• Inside the dish, place in this order: a layer of chicken chunks (about 1 cm/0.4 inch), a layer of caramelized onions (less than 0.5 cm/0.2 inch), a layer of scrambled eggs (about 1 cm/0.4 inch) and finally, a layer of coarse almonds (less than 0.5 cm/0.2 inch). Fold the overlapping filo pastry in over the top to cover the pie. Brush lightly with melted butter. Carefully, flip the bastila and remove it from the dish and place in a greased baking tray.
• Brush the pies with the beaten egg and bake in the oven until golden brown, about 25 min. Serve hot and sprinkle with icing sugar and cinnamon.
• I used a 2.5 cm (1 inch) deep and 10 cm (4 inch) large round dish and I cut the filo pastry in squared sheets of 23cm (9 inch). Make sure you have enough pastry sheets before assembling, depending on the brand, the size of the pastry sheets varies.
• If you make all the preparation on the same day you can keep the assembled bastilas for up to two days in the fridge. You can also keep them in the freezer for up to two months. In that case, keep the bastila frozen until ready to bake, note that it will take longer to cook.
• Variation: Large bastila. Use the same quantities and follow the same method to prepare the filling. For the assembling, use a large round shallow tin (about 13 inch/33cm large and about 3 inch/7 cm deep). Inside the tin, arrange 4 large filo sheets (brushed with butter) in such a way that the bottom of the tin is covered and there is enough pastry hanging over the sides to cover the top of the pie (you might have to use more sheets depending on the size of your filo pastry). For the filling, follow the same instruction, except that you will use all the quantities for each layer. Fold the overlapping leaves in over the top of the pie. Brush with butter and place 2 additional large filo buttered sheets over the pie and neatly tuck in the corners of the sheets under the pie. Egg wash and bake the pie until the top is golden brown, about 35 to 40 min.
• Traditionally, bastila was made with pigeon, nowadays Moroccans often use chicken. You can use either of them. Moroccans also use warka dough, instead of filo pastry.