Advertisement Close

Bastilla: The Crown Jewel of Moroccan Cooking

posted on: Feb 26, 2024

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

Bastilla is an exquisite dish made from crispy paper-thin pastry stuffed with chicken or pigeon and almonds as well as, at times, seafood.  Considered to be the most sophisticated and elaborate of the many Moroccan dishes, this crown jewel of the Moroccan kitchen is a pillar of that country’s cuisine.  A magnificent flaky pie, it reminds one of the foods found in the Arabian Nights.

Bastilla (pronounced basteela) has at leastsix different variations in the spelling alone spelling alone: Bastilla, Bestilla, B’steeya, Bisteeya, Bistayla, and Pastilla.  A sumptuous, delicate and aromatic pigeon pie, it is usually prepared in Morocco on special occasions such as on the arrival of a special guest, holidays, during Ramadan and weddings. It is one of the best known of the Moroccan dishes.

This magnificent dish had its origin in Moorish Spain.  It takes its name from the Spanish word for pastry, pastilla, from the Latin pastillum, a diminutive of panis, (bread).  After the transformation of the phoneme ‘p’ into ‘b’ that is specific to the Arabic language, the name became bestilla in Moroccan Arabic. Rudolf Grewe, a researcher of Hispano-Muslim cuisine, believed that the dish called judhaba in the anonymous thirteenth-century Hispano-Muslim cookbook, a chicken pie enclosed in many paper thin sheets of dough, was a clear forefather of the Moroccan bastilla.

In Morocco, Bastilla is traditionally made with pigeon or chicken but it is at times there can be found seafood and even vegetarian versions of dish. The pie is encompassed in a very thin pastry leaf called warqa (thin pastry) enclosing a filling that combines sweet and savoury flavours.  Today, filo pastry is commonly used as a replacement.

Bastilla – Chicken Pie

Serves 10 to 12

2 medium sized onions, finely chopped

3/4 cup butter

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

pinch of saffron

1 1/2 pounds boned cooked chicken, cut into very small pieces

1 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

4 eggs, beaten

1 cup blanched almonds, roasted until very light brown then ground

3 tablespoons sugar

12 sheets filo dough

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

In a saucepan, place the onions, 4 tablespoons of the butter and ginger then sauté over medium heat until onions begin to brown.  Add salt, turmeric, pepper, coriander, saffron, chicken pieces and chicken stock, then cook over medium/low heat for 10 minutes.  Add parsley, then cook for further 5 minutes, adding more water if saucepan contents become too thick.  Stir in eggs then stir-fry until eggs are cooked.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Make a filling by mixing half the almonds, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the chicken mixture, then set aside.

Melt remainder of butter then set aside.

Place 5 sheets of the filo dough with sides folded in, on the bottom of a greased 9 X 13 inch pan, brushing each sheet with butter.  Spread chicken filling evenly over dough in pan then cover with 5 sheets of filo dough with sides folded in, brushing each with butter.  Spread the remaining almonds evenly over top and cover with 2 sheets sheet of dough, brushing heavily each sheet with butter and tucking in the edges.  

Spread remaining butter over top, then bake in a 350° F preheated oven for 50 minutes or until top begins to turn golden brown.  Remove from oven then sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and the cinnamon.  Serve while warm.

Seafood Bastilla

Serves 6

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 pound finely chopped shrimp
1 pound finely chopped scallops

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
4 tablespoons finely chopped coriander

1 tablespoon lemon juice

12 sheets filo dough

6 tablespoons melted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 

Heat oil in a frying pan, then fry onion over medium heat for about 8 minutes or until soft.  Add salt, paprika, cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and pepper and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Combine shrimp and scallops then set aside

Stir into the shrimps and scallops the parsley, coriander, lemon juice and cooled onion mixture to make a filling. 

Place 1 sheet of filo dough with sides folded in on the bottom of a greased 9 X 13 inch pan then brush with butter.  Repeat the same operation with another 4 filo sheets then spread the filling over top.  Repeat the same operation with 5 sheets of filo dough.  Place the last two filo sheets over top and tuck in the overlaps, then brush with remaining butter.

Bake in a preheated 350° F preheated oven for 50 minutes or until top turns golden brown. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon over top and serve immediately.

Note: Both types of pies can be made in round pie-shaped type of pans.