BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Pastilla, Bastilla, Bisteeya, B’stilla, or Bstilla; It All Means “Delicious”

I may have never known about the wonders of pastilla, the mysterious pastry with a half-dozen different spellings, if not for the ethereal prose of Fatima Mernissi. So inspired by her lavish, unrestrained words of praise, this was my call to action, to secure a literal piece of the pie for myself. A Moroccan inspiration clad in endless layers of flaky, buttery phyllo, authentic renditions are stuffed with pigeon meat, but more modern formulas concede that chicken will suffice. In a play on words, since we’re thinking in a literary manner anyway, chickpeas turned out to be an excellent substitute, staying true to the theme without compromising any feathered friends in the process.

Most curious, perhaps, is the incongruous addition of powdered sugar right before serving; a light dusting of confectionery snow, frosting a decidedly savory main course. A jarring suggestion to this westerner, raised with a deep mistrust of even gently sweetened dried fruit mixed into an entree, it took a leap of faith to give this coup de grĂ¢ce a fair shake. Humbly, I must admit, it does work, tempering the hot, bold, and intense spices without turning the pastry into a dessert option. Though it could still taste equally delicious without, for those as hesitant as myself, I must urge you to just give it a shot. You made it this far- Get the full experience, at least once. It’s worth taking the plunge.

Chickpea Pastilla

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Medium Yellow Onions, Finely Chopped
2 Teaspoons Granulated Sugar
1 1/4 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/8 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained
1/2 Cup Coarse Almond Meal
1/2 Cup Vegetable Broth
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
3/4 – 1 Teaspoon Salt

8 – 10 Sheets Frozen Phyllo Dough, Thawed
Confectioner’s Sugar, To Garnish (Optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and lightly grease a 6-inch round springform pan.

Heat 1 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar; cook for 8 – 10 minutes while stirring frequently, until lightly golden and aromatic. Incorporate the ground cumin, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, and cayenne, cooking for a minute or two longer to gently toast the spices, releasing their unique perfume. Add drained chickpeas and almond meal next, stirring to combine, before slowly pouring in the broth and lemon juice together. Cook for another minute to heat through and slightly thicken the mixture. It should be thoroughly moistened but not soupy. Season with salt to taste. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 minutes before proceeding.

Lay 1 sheet of phyllo across the bottom of your prepared springform pan, allowing the excess dough to hang over the edges. Lightly brush with the remaining olive oil, and then place another sheet of phyllo on top, turning it slightly so that the points stick out at different angles. Repeat this process so that you end up with 4 – 5 sheets lining the pan, covering the sides completely. Gently spoon the chickpea filling into the center, smoothing it out so that it fills the pan evenly. If you end up with a bit too much filling to comfortably squeeze in, you can always use leftover sheets of phyllo to make individual parcels later.

Cover the filling with another sheet of phyllo, brush with olive oil, and repeat the same process as before, ending up with another 4 – 5 sheets on top. Fold the overhanging dough back over the top, smoothing it down as neatly as you can without driving yourself crazy. Give it a final brush of olive oil before sliding it into the oven. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, keeping a close eye on it since it cooks quickly at this high temperature, until the whole thing is golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before unmolding, and sift a fine dusting of confectioner’s sugar on top right before serving.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Pickle-Licious

Not everyone grooves on desserts. It’s a tough reality to accept, but I get it: Some sweet teeth are never properly developed, for whatever reason, which allows certain people to drift through life without craving a single cupcake or brownie. Truly. Despite my penchant for the more sugary side of cooking, I can empathize with this small but largely misunderstood crowd. My own sweet tooth is so deeply rooted, so extreme, that I seem to have developed a salt tooth that’s just as persistent in making its desires known. As a wee tot, before I could even see above the kitchen counters, you might see a tiny hand pop up out of no where, searching blindly for the hors d’oeuvre platter than undoubtedly contained a small mountain of briny jumbo olives. Savoring those enormous salt bombs, I relished they way they fit perfectly over each small finger, capping my stubby paw with a very fetching olive manicure.

Should a plate of pickles be available to garnish sandwiches at a luncheon, others knew that any toppers should be selected right away, before the bulk of those gherkins curiously vanished over the course of the meal. Fresh, lightly soured dill pickles were always the best, still tasting more of cucumber than aged pickle, thoroughly infused with herbs and licked with salt. A good pickle is still hard to find, but that unique pickle flavor is surprisingly easy to replicate, even when there are no cucumbers to be found.

The roasted chickpea craze that swept the blogs has died down a bit, but it seemed to me that there was still a whole lot of unexplored territory to cover with these humble beans. Like any other versatile snack food, the flavor possibilities are endless, and so the serendipitous sighting of pickle-flavored potato chips got my wheels turning again…

To impart that characteristic vinegary bite, cooked chickpeas are soaked in a classic pickle brine overnight before being slowly roasted to crunchy perfection. A full battery of herbs and spices join the mix, creating a balanced flavor profile that’s far more satisfying than your average salty snack. Full of good stuff like fiber and protein, a handful will happily keep hunger at bay, and help you resist the urge to plunge into the pickle jar for a direct injection of sodium.

Even if sugar is not your racket, I still have your number… I’m secretly a salt fiend too, after all.

Dill Pickle Chickpea Crunchies

Basic Brine:

1/2 Cup Cold Water
1/2 Cup White Vinegar
1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
2 – 3 Teaspoons Light Agave Nectar

3 Cups Cooked Chickpeas

Seasonings:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Roughly Chopped Fresh Dill
3 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Coarse Sea Salt or Kosher Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Mustard Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/4 Teaspoon Celery Seed
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
Pinch Red Pepper Flakes

Place all of the ingredients for the brine in a medium-sized jar, including the chickpeas, shake it up, and place it in the fridge. Allow the brine mixture to infuse into the beans for 12 – 24 hours. As one might presume, the longer the chickpeas soak, the more strongly they’ll be flavored with vinegar. It’s up to you whether that’s a good or bad thing. Bear in mind that the bite will mellow significantly after a trip to the oven, so don’t be afraid of having very vinegary beans at this stage.

Once the chickpeas have been “quick pickled,” drain them thoroughly but do not rinse. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees while you measure out and prep the seasonings. Toss the chickpeas into a bowl along with the oil and all of the aromatics, stirring so that every last bean is thoroughly coated. Transfer to a jellyroll pan or large baking dish (anything with sides- These edible marbles will want to roll right out otherwise) and spread them evenly in one layer.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, stirring every 15 or so, until the chickpeas have shrunken in size and are golden brown, with darker spots in some areas. It can be hard to tell when they’re done since the chickpeas will continue to crisp up as they cool, but listen closely and they should rattle when you shake the pan. Remove from heat and let cool completely before snacking and/or storing in an airtight container.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Cups Chickpea Crunchies

Printable Recipe


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Pantry Purge

“Keeping a well stocked pantry” would be a very generous way of describing my penchant for collecting odd ingredients. A certifiable food-shopaholic, any interesting spices, unusual beans, new strains of rice that catch my eye are destined for the cart, no questions asked. Entirely new dishes could be unlocked with that one secret ingredient, and I’ll be damned if I let it slip through my fingers, just because I couldn’t see the final results right then and there. Vegan “skallops“? Sounds crazy, so I’ll take a can! Asafoetida? Translated roughly as “devil’s dug,” that simply sounds too enticing to walk away from. And thus, the pantry shelves at home groan beneath the weight of my bizarre, allegedly edible treasures, a collection of odds and ends that inspire, but fail to make it into the daily rotation.

Come spring, my inner neat freak pops back out of hibernation, and is horrified at the stock pile that’s been accumulating, slowly but steadily, for years. Living in the same home for nearly two decades allows one to hold on to many more possessions of dubious value than you’d think, as I’m now learning. Though the Skallops continue to mystify, horrify, and intrigue me, this latest round of pantry purging still failed to find a proper use for them. Instead, it seemed like a more worthwhile venture to tackle the easy stuff, the pantry staples that have simply overgrown their allotted space. Prepared for either an unannounced party of 30 or the coming apocalypses, whichever comes first, there are plenty of perfectly good foods buried beneath the oddities, and it’s a shame to let them gather dust.

Taking out numerous canned goods and both dried beans and pasta in one dish, my Moroccan-inspired chickpea creation turned out to be the best thing I ate all week. Rather than merely an easy way to “take out the trash,” so to speak, and clear out the pantry, this was a genuinely delicious surprise. Spicy, but more warmly flavored and highly aromatic than merely hot, this is the kind of recipe that a well stocked pantry and spice drawer was made for. A study in contrasting flavors, the salty, briny olives pair beautifully with the gently acidic tomatoes, all blanketed in a thermal blanket of paprika, cumin, and coriander. In such a simple dish, the star players matter immensely, so make sure you have excellent green olives that can pull their weight in this jovial riot of flavors.

Moroccan-Style Olives and Chickpeas

1/4 Cup Olive Oil or Coconut Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Ginger
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Garlic
1 Tablespoon Ground Coriander
1 Tablespoon Ground Cumin
2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Hot Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes, with Juice
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
1 14-Ounce Can Whole, Pitted Green Olives, Drained and Rinsed
4 Cups Cooked Chickpeas
Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste

Zest of 1 Lemon
2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Parsley

Cooked Israeli Couscous, Regular Couscous, or Another Small Pasta or Grain, to Serve

Heat your oil of choice in a medium or large pot over moderate heat on the stove. Add the chopped onion, and saute gently for about 5 minutes to soften. Toss in the garlic and ginger next, and continue to cook, stirring periodically, until the onion begins to take on a light brown, somewhat caramelized color; around 10 minutes more. Next, incorporate all of the spices, from the coriander through cayenne, and stir well. Keep everything in the pot moving so that the spices don’t burn, and saute for an additional 5 minutes to toast and temper them.

Pour in the entire contents of the can of tomatoes, along with the vegetable stock, green olives, and chickpeas. Give it a good mix to distribute all of the ingredients throughout the stew. Turn down the heat to medium-low, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, to allow the chickpeas to take on all that spicy liquid and for the flavors to further meld. Add in a splash of water or additional stock if the liquid seems to evaporate too quickly.

Add salt and pepper to taste, but be careful with the salt- Olives bring a lot of sodium to the party already, so you shouldn’t need more than a pinch.

Serve over a bed of cooked couscous, and top each serving with a pinch of lemon zest and chopped parsley.

Serves 4 – 6

Printable Recipe

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