Bastilla, a revered Moroccan dish, is a savoury pastry masterpiece with thin layers of pastry and a luscious filling of pigeon, chicken, or seafood. Discover the rich culinary heritage of Morocco and try making your own version at home with our recipe.
Bastila, also known as bisteeya, b'stilla, or pastilla, is traditionally a pigeon pie delicacy. It is a savoury pastry masterpiece consisting of delicate layers of paper-thin pastry encasing a luscious filling typically made with pigeon, chicken, or seafood. The pie is encased in a delicate and ultra-thin pastry leaf called warqa, meaning "leaf" in Arabic. The top of the pastry is adorned with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and a lattice pattern created with ground cinnamon.
To make warqa pastry, a unique process is followed. A spongy dough is skillfully tapped or slapped against a hot, convex metal sheet called a tubsil, creating concentric circles that form a large, thin film of pastry. It is a revered Moroccan dish that epitomises the country's rich culinary heritage. This exquisite pastry, thinner than phyllo pastry, beautifully complements the rich filling of the Bastilla. While phyllo pastry can be used as a substitute, instructions for making warqa pastry can be found in various Moroccan cuisine resources, such as books by Paula Wolfert and Robert Carrier, complete with helpful photographs.
The origins of Bastilla trace back to the mediaeval era of Morocco, with historical roots in Arab and Andalusian cuisine. Originally, Bastilla was a sweet dish made with layers of flaky pastry filled with almonds and honey, but over time, it transformed into its savoury counterpart. The evolution of Bastilla reflects the historical influences on Moroccan cuisine, including Arab, Berber, Moorish, and Jewish culinary traditions. Bastilla's historical context and cultural significance lie in its association with special occasions and celebrations.
It is often prepared during weddings, religious holidays like Eid, and other festive gatherings, symbolising generosity, abundance, and the communal sharing of food. The dish's connection to Moroccan culinary traditions is evident in the use of traditional ingredients and cooking techniques, such as layering thin pastry sheets and incorporating a harmonious blend of spices like cinnamon, saffron, and ginger. Moreover, influences from other cultures can be seen in Bastilla, as it embodies elements of Arab-Andalusian cuisine, Ottoman cuisine, and even French culinary techniques introduced during the colonial period. This fusion of influences has contributed to the unique and beloved status of Bastilla in Moroccan gastronomy.
Traditional Bastilla fillings encompass a range of options, with pigeon, chicken, and seafood being the most popular choices. Pigeon Bastilla, considered the epitome of this dish, features tender, slow-cooked pigeon meat infused with aromatic spices and combined with almonds and eggs. Chicken Bastilla is another beloved variation, where succulent shredded chicken is seasoned with spices and mixed with eggs and almonds, creating a rich and savoury filling. Seafood Bastilla showcases the coastal influence with ingredients like shrimp, fish, or a combination of seafood delicately flavoured with spices and herbs.
Flavour profiles and regional variations of Bastilla fillings reflect Morocco's diverse culinary landscape. Some regions may incorporate additional ingredients such as raisins, caramelised onions, or preserved lemon, imparting tanginess and complexity. The balance between sweet and savoury notes may also vary, with some regions favouring a sweeter profile, achieved through the use of honey or powdered sugar dusting.
For vegetarian or vegan options, creative adaptations come into play. Popular choices include vegetable-based fillings like sautéed mushrooms, caramelised onions, roasted vegetables, or a combination of lentils and aromatic spices. These vegetarian or vegan fillings provide a delightful mix of textures and flavours, ensuring that everyone can savour the essence of Bastilla while adhering to their dietary preferences.
5 Tips To Make The Perfect Bastilla
1. Master the Art of Layering: Achieving the perfect Bastilla begins with mastering the delicate layering of thin pastry sheets. Roll the sheets thinly and brush each layer with melted butter or oil to create a flaky and crispy texture when baked.
2. Slow-cook the Filling: Whether using pigeon, chicken, seafood, or vegetarian options, slow-cooking the filling ensures tender, flavorful results. Simmer the meat or vegetables with aromatic spices, herbs, and a splash of broth until they are cooked through and infused with rich flavours.
3. Balance Sweet and Savoury: Bastilla is renowned for its harmonious balance of sweet and savoury flavours. Pay attention to the seasoning, combining warm spices like cinnamon, saffron, and ginger with a touch of sweetness from honey or powdered sugar, ensuring a delightful contrast of flavours in each bite.
4. Let the Flavours Combine: After assembling the layers of pastry and filling allow the Bastilla to rest for a while. This allows the flavours to meld together, resulting in a more cohesive and flavourful dish. Cover the Bastilla with a cloth or plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out while resting.
5. Master the Flipping Technique: The final step is flipping the Bastilla onto a serving dish, presenting the golden, crisp side on top. Use a large plate or baking sheet to carefully invert the Bastilla, ensuring a beautiful presentation. Take your time and use a confident, swift motion to prevent any mishaps and maintain the integrity of the layers.
Serving and Enjoying Bastilla
When serving and enjoying Bastilla, there are several elements to consider to enhance the experience:
1. Traditional Garnishes: Sprinkle a dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon on top of the Bastilla just before serving. This adds a touch of sweetness and a delightful aroma, enhancing the flavour profile.
2. Presentation and Plating: Bastilla is often presented as a whole pie or individual portions. To showcase the beautiful layers, serve it on a decorative platter or individual plates. Consider garnishing the plate with fresh herbs, such as parsley or mint, for added visual appeal.
3. Pairings and Accompaniments: Bastilla pairs well with a variety of Moroccan dishes. Serve it alongside a refreshing Moroccan salad, such as Zaalouk (eggplant salad) or Taktouka (tomato and bell pepper salad). The contrasting textures and flavours create a delightful combination. Additionally, traditional Moroccan mint tea is a perfect beverage to complement the savoury and aromatic notes of Bastilla.
4. Savour the Layers: Encourage guests to savour each layer of the Bastilla by cutting it into portions and enjoying it bite by bite. The combination of flaky pastry, flavorful filling, and delicate spices creates a multi-dimensional taste experience.
Recipe For Bastilla
Video Credit: Cookingwithalia/YouTube
Bastilla stands as a testament to the rich heritage and cultural significance of Moroccan cuisine. Its origins, evolution, and traditional fillings showcase the blending of flavours and influences that make it a true culinary masterpiece. From its delicate layers of flaky pastry to the harmonious balance of sweet and savoury, Bastilla captures the essence of Moroccan hospitality and celebration.
450g boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup blanched almonds, roughly chopped
4 large eggs, beaten
12 sheets of phyllo pastry
Powdered sugar and ground cinnamon, for garnish
In a large skillet or pot, cook the chicken over medium heat until fully cooked. Remove it from the skillet, let it cool, and then shred it into small pieces.
In the same skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until it becomes translucent and slightly golden. Add the minced garlic, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground turmeric, ground black pepper, saffron threads (if using), and salt. Stir well to combine the spices with the onions.
Add the shredded chicken to the skillet and mix it with the onion and spice mixture. Cook for a few minutes to allow the flavours to meld. Add the chopped parsley and cilantro, reserving a small amount for garnish. Stir well and remove the skillet from the heat.
In a separate small pan, lightly toast the chopped almonds over low heat until they become golden and fragrant. Set them aside.
Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).
Take a sheet of phyllo pastry and brush it with melted butter. Place another sheet on top and brush it with butter as well. Repeat this process until you have a stack of six sheets of phyllo pastry, each brushed with butter.
Place half of the buttered phyllo stack into the bottom of a round or rectangular baking dish, allowing the excess pastry to hang over the edges.
Spread the chicken mixture evenly over the phyllo stack in the baking dish. Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the chicken.
Pour the beaten eggs over the chicken and almonds, distributing them evenly.
Fold the overhanging phyllo pastry over the filling, creating a neat package. Brush the top layer of phyllo with melted butter.
Repeat the layering process with the remaining 6 sheets of phyllo pastry, brushing each sheet with melted butter.
Place the second phyllo stack on top of the chicken mixture, tucking in the edges to enclose the filling.
Brush the top layer of phyllo with melted butter and score the surface lightly with a sharp knife, creating a decorative pattern.
Bake the Bastilla in the preheated oven for about 30–35 minutes, or until the phyllo turns golden brown and crisp.
Once baked, remove the Bastilla from the oven and let it cool slightly. Sprinkle the top with a dusting of powdered sugar and ground cinnamon.
Garnish with the reserved chopped parsley and cilantro.
Serve the Bastilla warm, either as a whole pie or portioned into individual servings.
Enjoy the delicious flavours and textures of the homemade Bastilla and savour the traditional Moroccan pastry masterpiece!