For Kitty Morse, who was born and raised in Morocco and still has a home there, Morocco remains a romantic and exotic place. But, she tells us, that should not prevent you from trying to re-create its wonderful food in your home kitchens. Consider the bastila, one of the most refined Moroccan dishes: it’s simply a fragrant stew that’s wrapped in a delicate dough. The traditional filling for the bastila was pigeon, but chicken is now used. The chicken simmers in a sauce flavored with many herbs and spices; then the chicken is boned; the remaining sauce is lightly sweetened with confectioners’ sugar, a feature unique to bastila. Another unique feature is the use of scrambled eggs to bind and thicken the filling; they also add a subtle flavor. The filling is nestled between sheets of a paper-thin dough, which is sprinkled with a mixture of ground almonds, cinnamon, and confectioners’ sugar. The result is a pastry that’s savory yet sweet.
If you were in Morocco, you would buy your paper-thin dough, called ouarka, from a freelance ouarka maker, who has spent years learning and practicing this art. In America, prepared phyllo makes an excellent substitute, and Morse tells you how to cut it into the rounds you need for bastila and how to assemble the pastry’s layers. Last, she shows you how to serve it in something like the Moroccan fashion. When the bastila appears at the table, “the host quickly pierces the crust in several places to allow the fragrant steam to escape, tantalizing the senses of those guests seated nearby.” Wine choices from Rosina Tinari Wilson appear in a sidebar. Featured recipe: Classic Chicken Bastila.