Not for nothing has it been voted one of the world’s great dishes.
It takes just one delightful bite to understand why. Pastilla epitomizes Moroccan cuisine, spicy and sweet, delicate and intriguing.
Pastilla is a little work!
Yes it is more labored than the dishes I usually share, but then this is a very special treat, whether you choose to make one giant dramatic pastilla or individual ones. I’m walking you through all fillo hacks, so you’ll be a pro in no time! I have streamlined the preparation by using boneless chicken thighs.
Working with Fillo
My first cookbook, Levana’s Table, devotes a whole chapter to tips on working with fillo: I recommend it, for this and all the beautiful dishes and pictures it offers. Here’s a very useful primer on working with fillo.
I admit I roast the almonds instead of frying them as is traditional, because I avoid frying at almost all costs, both for health reasons and ease of preparation. And I even have more good news for you: you can even buy ready roasted almonds! You will be delighted to have them on hand for sprinkling on salads and desserts.
These individual hors d’oeuvres are smaller versions of the traditional larger Pastilla that arrives in great fanfare in a gorgeous earthenware dish. But at serving time these little gems are good to go. The pastilla ingredients are the same, but here they are arranged differently. Perfect for a first course or as part of a buffet, this dish is also ideal for parties and receptions.
Saffron is the essential ingredients in our beloved Moroccan Cuisine, and in countless Mediterranean dishes. It will seem expensive, but it goes a very long way. Get a larger container saffron, it will last you and will be much more cost-effective than those tiny vials!
- 3 large onions, quartered
- 1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 2 pounds boneless dark chicken thighs
- 2 good pinches saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 4 sprigs cilantro, minced
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted and coarsely ground, or buy them ready roasted
- 1 pound frozen fillo leaves, thawed.
- bowl filled with vegetable oil
- pastry brush
- confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon for dusting, optional
Make the filling:
In a food processor, grind the onions and the parsley to a puree. Transfer the ground mixture to a heavy wide bottom pot, and add the chicken, saffron, pepper, cinnamon sticks, turmeric and ginger. stir the mixture thoroughly. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Uncover, and add the cloves, cinnamon, sugar and cilantro. Increase the heat to high, stirring constantly until all of the liquid evaporates: (this is the secret of a good pastilla; any remaining liquid will make the fillo leaves soggy).
Remove the chicken pieces from the pot and set aside.
Add the eggs to the pot, and stir until the eggs look set and the mixture thickens. Discard the cinnamon sticks.
Dice the chicken small in a bowl, add the egg mixture and the almonds and mix thoroughly. The filling is now ready (The filling can be prepared up to three months ahead and frozen, or up to two days ahead and refrigerated. Add the almonds only when ready to bake though, or they will lose their crunch).
Preheat the oven to 375*F. Cut the pile of fillo leaves crosswise into thirds. Take out two leaves, with the narrow side facing you. Brush the top leaf lightly with oil. Place one heaping tablespoon of filling down the center. Roll the fillo over the stuffing, part-way up, jelly-roll style. Fold the sides toward the center, and roll tightly all the way up. Place seam-side down on a greased cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling, always working with two leaves at a time. Brush the rolls with oil.
Bake for about 35 minutes, or until golden brown and very crisp. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon, if using, and serve hot. Allow about two pastilla rolls per person.