Moroccan Pastilla: Origin Of This Sweet And Savoury Pastry

Moroccan pastilla is a delectable sweet and savoury meat or seafood pie that is a culinary speciality of Morocco. It consists of layers of thin phyllo pastry filled with a mixture of poultry or seafood, almonds, eggs, and aromatic spices. The dish is known for its unique combination of flavours and textures.

Moroccan Pastilla's origins can be traced to the Arab and Andalusian influences that have shaped Moroccan cuisine over time. Pastilla, also known as "bastilla" or "b'stilla," was traditionally enjoyed during special occasions and festive celebrations.

Originally, pastilla was prepared with pigeon meat, reflecting the influence of Arab cuisine. With the arrival of Andalusian immigrants in Morocco, the dish evolved to include almonds, aromatic spices like cinnamon and saffron, and layers of delicate phyllo pastry. To make pastilla, a traditional Moroccan dish, you'll need pigeons or Cornish hens, although farm-raised chicken is a suitable alternative.

Pastilla is a staple at Moroccan celebrations and renowned worldwide. It combines sweet and savoury flavours and is shaped like a pie, with layers of thin dough known as warka or filo. The filling consists of poultry, beaten eggs, almonds, onions, sugar, and spices, notably cinnamon. Preparing pastilla can be time-consuming, with some starting the filling a day in advance. According to legend, an authentic pastilla recipe can't be summed up in just a few words.

Moroccan pastilla is a culinary marvel. Delicate phyllo pastry layers encase tender poultry or succulent seafood, while almonds add a delightful crunch. Aromatic spices like cinnamon, ginger, and saffron enhance the complexity, offering warmth and depth. The balance between sweet and savoury is key, with the contrast of meat or seafood and the sweetness of almonds, spices, and occasional powdered sugar or honey drizzle creating a remarkable taste experience. The perfect equilibrium ensures a delightful blend of savoury, nutty, and subtly sweet notes, making Moroccan pastilla truly extraordinary.

Moroccan pastilla exhibits a diverse range of variations influenced by regional preferences and ingredients. In the coastal regions, seafood-based pastillas are popular, featuring an array of fresh fish, shrimp, or a combination of seafood delicacies. Inland regions often showcase poultry variations, with chicken being the most common choice.

However, other meats like pigeon or rabbit may be used in specific areas. Each region adds its unique touch through the choice of spices and additional ingredients, such as preserved lemons, olives, honey or dried fruits like raisins or apricots. These regional influences contribute to the vibrant tapestry of flavours and textures found in Moroccan pastilla, offering a delightful exploration of the country's culinary diversity. 

Things To Remember While Making Pastilla

    Layering Technique: Achieving the perfect balance of textures in pastilla relies on the proper layering of ingredients. Start with a layer of phyllo pastry, followed by the filling mixture, and repeat the process to create multiple layers. This helps distribute flavours and textures evenly throughout the pastry. 

    Seasoning with Care: Be mindful of seasoning the filling mixture. Use aromatic spices like cinnamon, ginger, and saffron judiciously to add depth without overpowering the other flavours. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed to strike the right balance between sweet and savoury elements. 

    Toasted Almonds: Toasting almonds before incorporating them into the filling adds a rich, nutty flavour and enhances the crunchiness. Toast the almonds lightly in a dry pan or oven before grinding or chopping them and incorporating them into the filling mixture. 

    Sweet-Savoury Combination: The art of balancing sweet and savoury flavours is crucial in pastilla. Gradually layer the sweet components, like powdered sugar or honey, on top of the savoury filling to create a delightful contrast of flavours. Go easy on the sweetness, allowing the savoury elements to shine. 

    Resting Time: After assembling the pastilla, allow it to rest for a short while before baking. This resting time allows the flavours to meld together and ensures that the layers of pastry become crisp while the filling sets. 

Moroccan Chicken Pastilla 

Here's a detailed recipe for chicken pastilla, a classic variation of Moroccan pastilla: 


    2 pounds of chicken breasts, boneless and skinless 

    1 large onion, finely chopped 

    4 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 

    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 

    Salt to taste

    1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 

    1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro 

    1 cup blanched almonds, toasted, and roughly chopped 

    4 large eggs, beaten 

    10 sheets of phyllo pastry

    1/2 cup melted butter 

    Powdered sugar and ground cinnamon for dusting (optional) 


    In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add the chicken breasts. Cook for about 15-20 minutes until the chicken is fully cooked. Remove the chicken from the pot, let it cool, and then shred it into small pieces. 

    In a large skillet, heat some oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until softened and translucent. Stir in the minced garlic and cook for an additional minute. 

    Add the shredded chicken to the skillet and season with ground ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, nutmeg, and salt. Stir well to combine and cook for 5-7 minutes to allow the flavours to meld. 

    Stir in the chopped parsley, cilantro, and toasted almonds. Cook for another couple of minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. 

    Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). 

    Grease a round baking dish with some melted butter. Layer 5 sheets of phyllo pastry, brushing each sheet with melted butter before adding the next one. Let the excess pastry hang over the edges of the dish. 

    Spread the chicken mixture evenly over the layered phyllo pastry in the baking dish. 

    Pour the beaten eggs over the chicken mixture, spreading them evenly. 

    Layer the remaining 5 sheets of phyllo pastry on top of the chicken and eggs, brushing each sheet with melted butter. 

    Fold the excess pastry hanging over the edges of the dish over the top layer to seal the pastilla. 

    Brush the top with more melted butter. 

    Bake the pastilla in the preheated oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until the phyllo pastry turns golden brown and crispy. 

    Once baked, remove the pastilla from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. 

    Before serving, you can dust the top of the pastilla with a mixture of powdered sugar and ground cinnamon for added sweetness and a decorative touch. 

    To serve, cut the chicken pastilla into wedges and enjoy!