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 grâce 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.
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