I ate my first B’stilla years ago in Casablanca. I fell in love. (Cue the music: As time Goes By.)
We had travelled to Spain to visit Jim Shelton, a teacher friend who had moved to Alicante. Then, on a romantic whim, we booked a one-week junket to Morocco.
Casablanca. Marrakech. Rabat. Fes. Tangier. It was a magical itinerary for me–souqs, medinas, Rick’s Cafe. Casablanca had long been near the top of my bucket list.
Why Casablanca? Casablanca, of course!
The movie was a favorite–romance at its best, in my book. I’d seen Bogart’s Rick tell Bergman’s Ilsa “Here’s looking at you, kid” so many times by the time we finally made the trip that I could recite long passages of dialogue from memory. You have to picture me channeling Ilsa gazing into Rick’s eyes, listening to Sam play As Time Goes By, and steeling myself not (ever-never-ever) to get on that damned plane at the end of the movie.
But, back to real life… When our Air Moroc flight landed in Casablanca, we learned that the two of us were the whole tour when we were met in the dusty Mohammed V terminal by a man named Hasan wearing a fez. Hasan, an aging Moroccan soccer player, turned out to be our private driver-cum-tour guide.
And thank heaven for Hasan. His brio got us past a lot of hurdles on our trip. There was the night we were abruptly bumped from our hotel in Marrakech by the King’s entourage and the day I willfully (and, perhaps, naively) announced my plan to take a walk through the main souq in Tangier– by myself.
Hasan wasn’t having any of it and voiced strenuous objections to my husband, Dixon, who knew enough not to challenge my plan . (Dixon was a smart man.) I learned later that Hasan trailed me in his car and on foot all day as I wandered the exotic alleys of Tangier’s souq.
Yes. I was willful. Even then.
But, back to the B’stilla. We shared our first B’stilla in a small Casablanca restaurant with Hasan and his wife.
That first B’stilla was a culinary revelation for me. The idea of a savory phyllo-wrapped pie filled with scrambled eggs, onions, cilantro and nuts was great all by itself, but the genius idea of generously dusting the whole thing, warm from the oven, with powdered sugar blew me away.
Powdered sugar on a savory dish?
No. Couldn’t possibly work!
Or, to use a movie reference, I was, as Claude Rain’s wonderfully-played Vichy collaborator, Captain Renault, so famously said in the movie, “shocked, shocked.” (Here is the famous shocked, shocked clip for anyone who, like me, enjoys rewatching Casablanca again and again. I know I’m not alone. Some people have Star Wars. I have Casablanca. Anyone else with me on this?)
Shock aside, the powder sugar-covered B’stilla was excellent. Beyond excellent–it was mind-blowingly (is that a word?) wonderful!
I’ve bought several Middle Eastern-themed cookbooks in my cookbook-buying frenzy of 2017, but this recipe for B’stilla comes from a cookbook that I’ve long had on my bookshelves, Kitty Morse’s North Africa:the Vegetarian Table. I have previously written about Morse’s inspired recipes and posted her recipe for Harira soup–a staple around my house. You can find the recipe on Blue Cayenne here.
Try this exceptional B’stilla recipe…”Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow…but soon.” (Forgive me. I’m weak.No amount of personal discipline could keep me from working my all-time favorite bit of Casablanca dialogue into the last lines of this post: Maybe not today…)
Oh, and by the way, there was no Rick’s cafe in Casablanca when we visited (although one was opened in 2004). Bummer.
Here is my take on Kitty Morse’s wonderful recipe. Her cookbook is available on Amazon here.
- 8 T. unsalted butter
- 8 green onions with tops (chopped)
- 6 eggs
- 1 t. gound cinnamon
- 1 t. sweet paprika
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1/4 t. freshly-ground black pepper
- 12 flat-leaf parsley sprigs (minced)
- 10 fresh cilantro sprigs (minced)
- 1 C. cashew pieces (finely chopped--I used my food processor)
- 8 phyllo sheets
- Powdered sugar and ground cinnamon to dust the B'stilla just before serving
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Defrost phyllo dough in your refrigerator for 24 hours and then let it come to room temperature on your kitchen counter. Grease a 10-inch cake pan.
- Put eggs, cinnamon, paprika, salt and pepper into a medium bowl and whisk mixture until the spices are well mixed into the eggs. Set aside.
- Melt 2 T. of butter in a medium sized skilled and sauté the chopped green onions in the butter until the onions are tender. This will take about 4-5 minutes and you will need to stir the onions occasionally. Add the egg mixture to the butter/onion mixture and stir until the eggs are scrambled and fairly dry. Add the parsley, cilantro and finely-chopped cashews to the scrambled eggs and mix to incorporate. Set aside.
- Melt remaining 6 tablespoons of butter.
- Open the box of phyllo dough and carefully unfold the roll of phyllo on a kitchen towel. Cover the phyllo with a slightly damp kitchen towel. (The phyllo dries out very quickly.)
- Carefully layer a ten-inch round pan with eight sheets of the phyllo, brushing each layer with melted butter. You should place the phyllo in the pan one layer at a time, positioning each layer so that it covers the bottom of the pan and overhangs one of the sides. Repeat layering repositioning each phyllo sheet so that each layer covers a different part of the pan's edges. There should be an overhang of phyllo all around the pan when you have finished. (I will add a photo of the b'stilla assembly to this post the next time I make this dish. That will be soon.)
- Spread the egg mixture on top of the phyllo base, smoothing the egg mixture in the pan with a spatula. fold the overhanging phyllo over the egg mixture. Next, arrange (and butter) the remaining four layers of phyllo on top of the egg mixture. Finally, fold the top sheets under the pie as you would a bedsheet. Brush the remaining butter on top of the pie. Bake the pie until it is golden brown. This will take 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and dust generously with powdered sugar and ground cinnamon. Slice and serve immediately. (Phyllo dough is very forgiving. If it rips, don't worry. Just place it in the pan and slather it with melted butter. It may look like a jig-saw puzzle as you put the B'stilla together but, once baked, it will be beautiful.)