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Rock the Casbah — Bastilla

Bastilla

There’s something wonderfully beguiling about Moroccan food. It has that tinge of the exotic with an Arabian nights, camels and belly dancers kind of feeling, but the ingredients are usually easily accessible and approachable. You don’t find things like dried fish flakes or chicken feet in Moroccan cooking (not that there’s anything wrong with these — they just usually necessitate an extra shopping trip.) It’s all the stuff of childhood food — cinnamon, carrots, pastry — used in new and surprising ways.

While I love me my couscous, merguez, tagine and harissa, my favorite Moroccan dish is bastilla (also B’steeya, pastilla, and any number of other arcane spellings). It’s a meat pie (originally made with pigeon, but you usually find a chicken version in the US) in a pastry crust sweetened with cinnamon and sugar. I first encountered Bastilla in Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour (a great beach book if you’ve never read it) and I was so intrigued by his mouthwatering description that I set out to make my own bastilla that week. At the time, I lived in a studio apartment in Manhattan with a stainless steel corner instead of a proper kitchen, and the bastilla recipe I found (from Claudia Roden’s wonderfully authentic book, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, which I had enthusiastically checked out from the New York Public Library) was so time consuming and complicated (though ultimately delicious) that I swore off making it ever again, and confined my bastilla eating to restaurants.
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