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Breads & Pastries – Part 1

chicken-bastilla

Chicken Bastilla

This traditional Moroccan festival pie combines sweet and savory ingredients, a classic Middle Eastern technique. The saffron, chicken, eggs, and sweet almonds come together in a delicate balance of flavors and textures. Traditionally, fine warka pastry is used, but phyllo works well. It’s ideal for a picnic.

PREP : 40 MINUTES
COOK : 1 hour 10 minutes
SERVES : 4

  • 3 tablespoons BUTTER
  • 4 sheets of phyllo pastry
  • 2 pinches of sea salt
  • 2 pinches of pepper
  • ½ cup blanched almonds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon orange flower water
  • Chicken filling
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • 1¼ cups boiling water
  • 10½ ounces boneless chicken thighs, each cut into eight pieces
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • Egg filling
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. For the chicken filling, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the onion and soften without browning for 10 minutes.
  2. Grind the saffron in a mortar and pestle, then add the boiling water, swirl, and pour into a small bowl. Let steep. Add the chicken and saffron water to the onion and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
  3. Lift the chicken out of the cooking liquid into a dish using a slotted spoon. Increase the heat to medium–high and boil the liquid until reduced to 4–5 tablespoons of thickened sauce. Stir 2 tablespoons of the sauce into the chicken. Mix in the lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and let cool.
  4. For the egg filling, whisk the remaining chicken sauce into the eggs and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a saucepan over low heat. Pour in the eggs and cook, stirring, for 5–6 minutes, or until lightly scrambled. Transfer to a plate to cool.
  5. Mix the almonds, sugar, cinnamon, and orange flower water together in a bowl. Put into a mortar and pestle and coarsely grind.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400°F. To assemble the pie, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Brush a little of the butter around a 7-inch round cake pan, using a pastry brush. Lay a sheet of pastry over the bottom of the pan, brush with butter, then repeat with two more sheets of pastry in overlapping layers, letting it overhang the sides of the pan.
  7. Spread half the egg filling over the phyllo, top with half the chicken filling, then repeat. Place the remaining phyllo on top and brush with butter. Spread the almond mixture over the top. Fold the edges of the top layer of pastry over the almonds, brush with butter, then fold each original overlapping layer of pastry back over the pie to form a concentric pattern, brushing with butter as you work. Finally, brush the whole pie with butter. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cook’s tip : If you’re serving a crowd, double up the ingredients, using two sheets of phyllo between each layer. You will need a 9-inch dish and you may need to increase the cooking time.

beef-sambousek

Beef Sambousek

These spiced beef pies, popular in the Lebanon, make excellent snacks or party food. Use finely chopped cremini mushrooms instead of meat for a vegetarian version. You will need three to four baking sheets.

PREP : 35 MINUTES
CHILL : 45 MINUTES
COOK : 1 HOUR
MAKES : 32

  • Boreka dough
  • 4⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes, crushed
  • ⅔ cup olive oil
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten, to glaze
  • BEEF filling
  • ⅓ CUP PINE NUTS
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 pound fresh ground beef
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • ½ cup Greek-style plain yogurt
  • pinch of sea salt
  • pinch of pepper
  1. For the dough, sift the flour into a large bowl and mix in the salt. Make a well in the center and stir in the oil and water, using a fork. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead for 20–30 seconds, then bring it together in a flattened disk (it contains a high proportion of oil, so you won’t need to flour the surface). Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.
  2. For the beef filling, toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat for 2–3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
  3. Heat the oil in the skillet over low heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook for 1–2 minutes, or until aromatic. Add the onion, increase the heat to medium, and sauté for 10 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
  4. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and coriander, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the meat and cook for 5 minutes, breaking it up well using a wooden spoon. Increase the heat to medium–high and cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until well browned, stirring occasionally.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the toasted pine nuts and cilantro. Let cool slightly, then stir in the yogurt and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the boreka dough in half, then divide these halves in half again, continuing until you have 32 pieces. Roll these into balls and cover them with plastic wrap.
  7. On a clean, dry work surface, roll one ball into a 3-inch-diameter circle (it contains a high proportion of oil, so you won’t need to flour the surface). Put 2 heaping teaspoons of filling in the center of the circle, then carefully lift three edges of the pastry up toward the middle and pinch together to form a three-point star. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough balls, keeping the unrolled ones covered with plastic wrap as you work.
  8. Brush the packages lightly with the beaten egg. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until golden brown and hot through. These sambousek are best served hot, but they can be served chilled.

Cook’s tip : To freeze, put the filled, uncooked sambousek between sheets of parchment paper, place them in a freeze-proof plastic container, seal with the lid, label, and freeze. Defrost them completely in the refrigerator before baking.

chicken-mushroom-lemon-borekas

Chicken, Mushroom & Lemon Borekas

These Middle Eastern pies combine crisp pastry with a lemony chicken-and-mushroom filling. Boreka pastry dough is tactile and easy to use, and once you’ve got the hang of rolling and crimping it, the possibilities for fillings are endless. These are good as an appetizer or for a light lunch or picnic snack.

PREP : 45 minutes
CHILL : 45 minutes
COOK : 25 minutes
MAKES : 32

  • Boreka dough
  • 4⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes, crushed
  • ⅔ cup olive oil
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten, to glaze
  • Chicken filling
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cups finely chopped cremini mushrooms
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 preserved lemon, rinsed and finely chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons Greek-style plain yogurt
  • pinch of sea salt flakes
  • pinch of pepper
  1. For the dough, sift the flour into a large bowl and mix in the salt. Make a well in the center and stir in the oil and water, using a fork. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead for 20–30 seconds, then bring it together in a flattened disk (it contains a high proportion of oil, so you won’t need to flour the surface). Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.
  2. For the chicken filling, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the chicken and preserved lemon and sauté for 2–3 minutes, stirring. Cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the parsley and lemon juice. Let cool slightly, then stir in the yogurt, salt, and pepper. Break up any larger chunks of chicken, using a wooden spoon, then let cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the boreka dough in half, then divide these halves in half again, continuing until you have 32 pieces. Roll them into balls and cover them with plastic wrap.
  5. On a clean, dry work surface, roll one ball into a 3-inch-diameter circle. Put 2 heaping teaspoons of filling on one side of the circle, then fold the pastry over into a semicircle shape. Holding the package in one hand, pinch and twist the edges together into an overlapping “rope” shape, working clockwise from one side to the other (alternatively, you can crimp the edges together using a fork). Transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining balls, keeping the unrolled ones covered with plastic wrap as you work.
  6. Brush the packages lightly with the beaten egg. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. The borekas are best served hot, but they can be served chilled.

Cook’s tip : To freeze, put the filled, uncooked borekas between sheets of parchment paper, place them in a freeze-proof plastic container, seal with the lid, label, and freeze. Defrost them completely in the refrigerator before baking.

date-almond-feta-rolls

Date, Almond & Feta Rolls

Dates were a staple part of the nomadic Bedouin peoples’ diet, even in pre-Biblical times. The advanced civilizations that followed replaced the date pit with an expensive whole almond as a culinary joke. These little appetizers go one step further, with the addition of feta and by wrapping the dates in layers of buttered phyllo pastry.

PREP : 20 minutes
COOK : 20 minutes
SERVES : 8

  • 2 tablespoons BUTTER
  • 32 whole blanched almonds (Marcona, if available)
  • 8 Medjool dates, halved and pitted
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 4 sheets of phyllo pastry
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
  2. Push two almonds into the flesh side of each date half. Lay the dates on a work surface, skin side down. Place a small mound of feta on each, then pat it down; you should have about the same amount of feta as date.
  3. Lay a sheet of phyllo on a work surface and cut it into strips a little wider than the date halves. Place a date half at one end of each strip, then roll the date up in the pastry. Using a pastry brush, brush the end of the phyllo with some of the melted butter to stick the edge down. Repeat until all the phyllo and dates have been used.
  4. Place the packages on the prepared baking sheet and brush them well with more melted butter. Bake for 20 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Let cool slightly before serving—the date filling gets hot.

Cook’s tip : Medjool dates are known as the king of dates. They are large and particularly soft and tend to be grown in the Middle East and North Africa.

THE MIDDLE EASTERN KITCHEN
Authentic dishes from the Middle East

Rukmini Lyer