“The women even started participating in horseback riding competitions, after Tamou arrived from the North. Women had ridden horses on the farm before Tamou, but only discreetly, when the men were away, and they’d never really gone very far. Tamou turned riding into a solemn ritual, with fixed rules, and drills, and ostentatious awards ceremonies and prizes. The winner of the race would receive a prize made by the last one to cross the finish line: an enormous pastilla, the most delicious of all of Allah’s varied foods. At once a pastry and a meal, pastilla is sweet and salty, made of pigeon meat and nuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Oh! Pastilla crunches when you munch on it, and you have to eat it with delicate gestures, no rushing please, or else you will get sugar and cinnamon all over your face. Pastilla takes days to prepare because it is made of layers of sheer, almost transparent crust, stuffed with roasted and slightly crushed almonds, along with a lot of other surprises. Yasmina often said that if women were smart, they would sell the treat and make some money, instead of serving it as part of their banal housework duty.” from Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi
A little more freedom for women on grandma’s family farm.
For the filling:
About 2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp of olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
a pinch of saffron
About a half cup of slivered almonds, roughly chopped
About a half cup of powdered sugar
Heaping 2 tbsp of cinnamon
4 cups of chicken stock
4 beaten eggs
About 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
For the pastry:
About 12 sheets of Phyllo
Melted butter mixed with cinnamon and brown sugar
Melt the butter in the olive oil over medium heat. Brown the squab on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove the squab, and add the onion to the pan to saute until tender. Add the almonds, sugar, saffron, and cinnamon. Saute about a minute longer. Return the squab to the pan and add the chicken stock. Braise the squab with the lid on for about 15-20 minutes and then with the lid off for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the squab and set aside to cool. Reduce the sauce by about 1/3. Mix in the eggs until it becomes a thick, creamy sauce. When the squab has cooled, remove the skin and bones and shred the meat. Mix the squab and the parsley into the sauce and allow the mixture to cool.
Prepare your phyllo. I have had no end of trouble getting phyllo to do what I want it to, and getting it to the point where I can make beautiful triangular pastries is a feat I have not even attempted. I have the best luck by starting with one sheet, folded in half and buttered, topped by another sheet folded in half and buttered, topped by yet another sheet. Then I added about 1/4 of the filling and wrapped it into a neat rectangle. My first attempt was a flop, but the other three worked well. Brush the outside of the rectangle with more of the butter and sugar mixture. Bake at 375 until golden brown.
This pastry is just as amazing as it was described by Fatima and I imagine I made it half as well as her grandmother would have.
A quick note about why phyllo is so tricky: It dries out fast and crumbles in your fingers. I have gotten better results by keeping a damp paper towel over the sheets while I’m prepping, but not too damp, because it will make the sheets stick together. I worked on a sheet of wax paper which seemed to help keep the phyllo from sticking. I welcome any and all advice about how to better tame this culinary monster.