The city of Tangier – perched on the northwestern tip of Morocco – was declared an International Zone after World War I and was jointly...Read More
Paleo Chicken Bastila
In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I share the history of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier paleo lifestyle. This is a reprint of a previous article; in this edition, we’re off to a celebration in Morocco.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about the cookbook Middle Eastern Cooking by Rose Dosti and how my dad and I bonded over an illicit photocopying session of recipes from the book. One of the treasures I found inside its pages was a recipe for Chicken Bastila, a traditional Moroccan dish usually prepared for holidays and weddings. It’s a sweet-savory pie made from layers of phyllo dough stuffed with spice-infused chicken, cinnamon-scented almonds, and soft scrambled eggs. When the pie is done baking, it’s sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar (!) and cinnamon. I made it in its original form twice in my life and both times, it was transcendent. Seriously. Like nothing else in the world.
Morocco sits on the western coast of North Africa, at the intersection of the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea and at the crossroads of European and Arab cultures. With cities like Fez, Tangier, Marrakech, and Casablanca—places that dance from the pages of romance novels and fairytales—it has an exotic aura that makes it both alluring and mysterious. Morocco’s cuisine reflects its multicultural heritage, marrying the refinement of European technique with the spices, olives, and nuts found in the markets of the Middle East.
Everyday meals in Moroccan homes begin with an array of cold vegetable salads, followed by couscous and braised meats cooked in the cone-shaped, clay pot known as a tagine. On holidays and other celebratory occasions like weddings, skilled female cooks, known as dadas, display their culinary prowess with a pie called bastila (pronounced bah-STEEL-ah).
Traditionally made with pigeon (squab), bastila is a flaky, savory-sweet confection, wrapped in fragile pastry called werqa (which translates to “leaf”). The phyllo-like dough is stuffed with layers of tender shredded poultry, eggs seasoned with ginger and herbs, and a dusting of ground almonds and cinnamon. The finished pie is then sprinkled lavishly with powdered sugar and more cinnamon. It’s said that the pie is served to newlyweds in hopes that their lives together will be as sweet as the bastila.
When revising this recipe, I figured that since the traditional version included crushed almonds with cinnamon, an almond flour crust wouldn’t stray too far from the original. And if I “cheated” a little bit and used a few dates instead of sugar as a sweetener, I could make a pie that’s technically paleo. I suspect Moroccan cooks would say this doesn’t measure up because it’s less sweet than the traditional recipe, but I’m very pleased with the result—especially because it means I haven’t had to bid Chicken Bastila adieu. The pie is crispy, has just the right touch of sweetness, and is very filling and rich. The perfect celebration of family and food.
Don’t be put off by the steps involved in making bastila. It’s not difficult, and making this pie is a lovely way to spend a lazy afternoon. It’s a delicious celebration of food, family, and friends. I like to think the dadas would approve.
Paleo Chicken Bastila
Makes 8 large slices so share with friends! There are a lot of steps, but none of them are complicated, so don’t be intimidated by the lengthy list of ingredients and instructions. This is a “project” recipe – it takes some time, but it’s art, so relax and enjoy the process. It takes about 2 hours to create this masterpiece.
For the chicken:
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 1/2 pounds chicken breasts & thighs, bone in, skin removed
1/2 tablespoon powdered ginger
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup water
2 large egg whites
For the almond dust:
1 1/4 cup dry roasted, unsalted almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 dates, pit removed
For the crust:
2 cups almond flour or almond meal
2 dates, pits removed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons coconut oil, chilled until it’s solid, then cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 egg, beaten
For the eggs:
1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced
2 large eggs, beaten
1 large egg white
Prepare the chicken. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the coconut oil. When it’s melted, add the chicken and brown well on both sides, about 3-5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a bowl to catch the juices and return the pan to the heat. Add the onions and saute until they’re translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the ginger, salt, pepper, and cinnamon sticks to the pan and stir to combine. Return the chicken to the pan and pour in the water and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered for about an hour, until the chicken is very tender
While the chicken is simmering…
Prepare the almond dust. Place the dates in a food processor and puree on high until they form a paste. Add the almonds and cinnamon, and process on high until the almonds are chopped very fine and the dates are incorporated. Allow yourself one small bite, then set the dust aside.
Prepare the crust. In the food processor, blend the almond flour, dates, salt, and baking soda until combined. Sprinkle the top with the coconut oil cubes and gently toss them in the flour with your fingers so they’re coated in flour. Using the pulse button on the processor, give the dough 5-7 pulses for about 1 second each. You do not want the coconut oil completely blended into the flour; the mixture should resemble coarse sand. Turn the dough out into a large bowl and using your hands, gently mix in the beaten egg. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 day.
When the chicken is cooked…
Cool the chicken. Remove the chicken from the pan and set in a bowl to catch the juices. Measure a 1/4 cup of the liquid from the pan and pour into the bowl with the chicken. Reserve the liquid in the skillet and let the chicken cool completely while you make the eggs.
Prepare the eggs. Measure 1 cup of the cooking liquid from the skillet and discard the rest. Return the liquid to the pan and add the parsley. Bring to a boil, then simmer until most of the liquid is evaporated. It should almost look like a sauce or gravy. Beat the eggs and pour them into the pan, stirring gently until they’re set and all the liquid is absorbed. Set aside to cool.
When all the ingredients are cool to the touch…
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Shred the chicken. Using your hands, pull the chicken off the bones and shred it, mixing it into the liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Add the two egg whites and stir until the chicken is coated.
Prep the scrambled eggs. Add the remaining 1 egg white to the scrambled eggs and mix with your hands until the eggs are coated. (The egg whites are a stand-in for sugar and act as a binder during baking.)
Make the crust. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and smush the ball into a large, flat disc with your hands. Place it in the center of a 9-inch pie pan and using your fingers, gently press it into the bottom and sides of the pan to form an even crust. This is not as difficult as it sounds; the dough has a texture like playdough.
Assemble the pie. Layer half the chicken in the bottom of the pan and top with all of the scrambled eggs. Sprinkle the top of the eggs with half of the almond dust. Add the remaining chicken then top it with the remaining almond dust, gently pressing the dust into the surface. It should end up looking like a traditional crumb-topped pie. Place the pie in the center of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is very well browned and the edges of the crust are crisp. Let it cool for 10 minutes, then cut into wedges with a very sharp knife. To re-heat leftover, cover loosely with foil and heat in a 300 F oven for 10-15 minutes.
If you try your hand at Paleo Chicken Bastila, please let me know. I’d love to hear what you think of it! This was a giant experiment for me – I think it’s literally the first time I’ve ever made pie in my life – and I’m really pleased with the result. I hope you like it!
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That looks AMAZING!!!
Wow! Haven’t tried the original version but this recipe reads far superior. Will try it soonish, hopefully, thanks!
Wow, that looks REALLY good!!! I will try this soon and report back!
Licking the screen right now! WOW, that looks tasty. 🙂
Mel, that looks delicious. I was hoping to run into you at the pie-luck – haven’t seen you since pizza night a while ago.
I was really bummed to miss it! Cookbook production is in high gear, and I just couldn’t afford to take the afternoon off last Saturday. The photos from the Pie Luck were amazing. Did you take a pie? Tell!
You had me at soft scrambled eggs.
You’re funny. I like you.
Thanks for another wonderful recipe Mel! Just in time to start thinking about the menu for our Iftar at the end of Ramadan, maybe with your Paleo Kibbe too. Sounds super decadent but would be awesome to celebrate with things that won’t make my stomach hurt the minute I bite into them. You’ve inspired me to maybe play around with ma’amoul as well since now is once per year I usually make it. Maybe almond or coconut flour could be used instead of semolina? Will probably keep my efforts to myself before telling my future mother in law that I’ve butchered her recipe 🙂
I felt a little bit bad about messing with such an old recipe — but the times are changing! 🙂
I just looked up the ma’amoul recipes. I bet if you replaced the white flour with fine almond flour and the semolina with coconut flour, it would work. I haven’t used coconut flour yet, but I’ve read that you need to use less and it really soaks up liquids. You might try taking a coconut flour cooking recipe and comparing it to a traditional ma’amoul recipe to adapt the traditional one. Or send your recipe to me, and I’ll give it a go. I love figuring that stuff out!
Ooh! I’ve had bastilla exactly twice, too. Once at a Moroccan restaurant in Salt Lake City, where I was transfixed by the weirdness/amazing deliciousness of it, and once when I attempted to make it from a recipe in a Ruth Reichl book. I am so glad you did the work of trying to make it *more* acceptable. Maybe I’ll try it for Christmas, on a year I’m not doing carrot pudding.
I didn’t know about the Ruth Reichl version. I’m very curious about all the traditional recipes now. Have fun playing around with it!
I make bastila every year for my husband’s birthday, and I was just thinking about how I would pull it off paleo-style this year. I’m going to try a hybrid of your recipe and the recipe I’ve used from epicurious. I’ll report back in December!
That is an excellent birthday treat! I’m so excited to hear how it goes — definitely give me a December report!
too bad i’m starting a whole30 tomorrow 🙁
you should really give ma’amoul a go. i made them for christmas last year, using semolina and they turned out super crumbly. the semolina didn’t soak up anything. coconut flour can not possibly turn out clumblier. if you don’t have a soaking problem with the orange flower water the recipe is as easy as it gets. i recommend microwaving the dates a little before mixing to soften. i worked with a deglet nour dates brick and it worked out fine with some spoons of hot water. if you use fresh madjoul dates, you’re probably good without it.
i’ve been trying a couple of recipes lately and found all of them amazing. looove the comfort food/mock take-away. count me in on buying your cook book! can’t wait!
Sofie, best wishes for a great Whole30. All the nut-encrusted recipes will be waiting for you when your 30 days are up 🙂
Thanks for the tips on ma’amoul. I might have to give them a shot during the holidays. YUM.
Thanks for your sweet words about my recipes — can’t wait for everyone to see the cookbook!
I think I’m going to make this when Ramadan is finished. I started my Whole 30 when Ramadan started so this would be really good to celebrate the end of Ramadan. I haven’t had B’stilla since my wedding IN MOROCCO 4 years ago 🙂 Thanks so much for experimenting. I’ll let you know what the Moroccan ‘jury’ in my house thinks about it.
Fantastic! Can’t wait to hear what the experts think of my attempt.
Made it! Perfect timing! The Soldier got a promotion and so I made it! AND IT WAS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO GOOD!!! I made that and then made mashed califlower…perfection!! THANK YOU!!!! 🙂
Oh… hooray! Congrats to The Soldier on the promotion. I’m glad you got to celebrate with a special dinner.
Can’t wait to try!
Haven’t completely jumped into going Paleo, but I’m probably at 80-85%% right now. I just saw bastilla on TV last night and thought to myself, ‘oh that’s off limits. DAMN.’ But…now I can make this the next time I want to make an extra special dinner for me and hubby! 🙂
I have always wanted to make bastila. I think I’ll have to try this out.
Wow. This looks amazing. Bastilla is on my list, along with harcha of all things, of food I miss from Morocco. I’ve also eaten this exactly twice, and it really is amazing. It’s been five years and I still remember how good it was. Although, the second time, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t chicken…
Ha! That’s funny. As I understand it, the traditional ingredient is pigeon… but I’m sticking with chicken 😉
I’m really interested in starting the paleo lifestyle, but I have found throughout my research that coconut is used for Everything and I’m extremely allergic. Any suggestions or substitutions? I’m desperate and starting to feel hopeless. Thank You!!!
Hey, Kate. Coconut is absolutely not a requirement for eating a paleo diet. Lots of us choose to eat coconut products because they taste great and are so versatile — but you can totally eat paleo clean without coconut.
If you’re using any of my recipes that call for coconut oil, you can substitute olive oil or organic, grass-fed butter.
The only area where you’ll run into some challenges is curries that use coconut milk to make the creamy sauce. Some people who eat paleo use organic, grass-fed, full-fat cream or yogurt instead of coconut oil, so you could try that if dairy doesn’t adversely affect you.
Don’t hesitate to ask if you have more questions. Paleo eating is very flexible within some kind of strict guidelines – and I’d be glad to toss around ideas to help you find ways to make it work for you.
I’m shopping for this today and I’m going to make it tomorrow. I’m so scarednervousexcited! I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a date in my entire life. Why not? I don’t know especially since I’ve eaten everything else that’s edible and some things that very likely are not.
I’ve just discovered your blog (I feel like Spain) and I’m so happy I have another to put in my Stalk bookmark.
I’m glad you found me! Good luck with the recipe — let me know how it turns out!
Dates are pretty magical — and also, a once-in-a-while food for me because all that ‘magic’ comes from sugar. Stupid sugar!
On Saturday when I was making this my husband called and asked what’s for dinner. I told him Chicken Bastila and of course, his response was, what’s that? I told him it’s Moroccan and he said so is it like Italian? No, said I. Is it like Greek? No, again. So, then, he said, is it like Egyptian? And I said, what’s Egyptian food like? He said, no idea. So I said, it’s chicken pie. It’s a teeny bit sweet, a little cinnamony, really nutty and full of delicious chicken. You’re going to love it.
And you know what?
He did! And so did I.
It did take me almost 3 hours to make but it was so worth it. Although the steps were many, none of them were particularly difficult. My tip to anyone who is thinking of making something like this for the first time is to read through the recipe a couple of times first and make absolutely positive you have all the ingredients. I had coconut flour, not almond flour, so I had to pull some whole almonds out of the cupboard and turn them into meal.
Thanks again for the wonderful recipe!
Congratulations on making this monster art project! Glad you liked it! Isn’t it fun to invest the time then have it turn out awesome!
Love the description of your conversation of Moroccan vs. Greek, Egyptian, etc. So funny!
I stumbled across your website today, and I love it!! I have a friend who found out she has hashimoto, and I shared a few of your links today w/ her to read over. I am slowly trying to get her to transition to eating a paleo lifestyle. Hopefully she’ll feel inspired reading your webpage. Keep up the great writing funny & heart felt stories/experiences.
Glad you found me! I have thyroid issues, too, so if your friend wants to ask questions/talk about how paleo helps, she’s welcome to send me email. email@example.com.
Um, ok, I just have to tell you that you are amazing. Seriously. You have definitely topped my girl-crush list now. 🙂 I had been on your blog several months ago, and got distracted and wandered off, but remembered you today, for some reason. When I saw that you had a book, I immediately had to order my copy! Cannot wait to get into the kitchen!
I’m a powerlifter and a personal trainer (who also has a 9-5, yikes!) and eating is a BIG deal. I have gotten most of my clients to transition to a Paleo lifestyle with great success, but I find a handful of them still get stumped on what to cook. I think I may have just have to order a few copies to hand out for xmas gifts!
Wishing you a great Christmas and huge success with this!
Rebecca, you are a sweet talker — and I like it!
So glad you found your way back here. Love that you’re working to get your clients on the paleo path. YAY! Let me know if you want to buy a bunch; we might be able to work out a wholesale thingy.
That would be terrific! Thanks! I assume my email comes thru to you via your blog? Just shoot me a note and let me know. I have 3 people in particular who would really benefit from this!
I just made this tonight and it was nothing short of ethereal. A big hit… with my husband, and even with my sons and their friends… all under the age of 12. I knew it was worth it when they said “Mrs. Hill, you are a really good chef!” Of course, you deserve the credit Melissa!
Possibly the best entree I have ever made. Thank you!!!
Sarah! That is awesome! I love that the kids were into it. I was really excited when I tested this recipe and it worked. I had the “real” thing at a Moroccan restaurant in Paris that blew my mind — but this grain-free version is a really awesome substitute that won’t kill us 😉
Do you have any suggestions for what to substitute almond flour with, because of an allergy to almonds? Other nuts are fine though.
It seems to be used in a lot of paleo recipes in place of grain flour. Thanks!
For the crust and inside the pie, I think you could use crushed walnuts or pecans, or a mix of the two. Almond flour is almonds ground super-fine, so the other nuts should work great. If you try it, let me know how it turns out!
Awesome thanks! I’ll give it a try!
It is sitting in my oven right now!!
I am very excited…was craving it since i read ur recipe a couple days ago !
Wanted to try it once before eid and then make it for eid 🙂
This is amazing!!! I’ve never had the “original” but this is certainly quite a delicious treat!!! I love the sweet and savory!! Excellent flavor combo and pairing!! Adding this to our special meals!! Thank you!!
Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed it! I had the original for the first time in Paris last year, and it was crazy-good… but this recipe is pretty darn close,too!
Bless you a million, billion times over for this recipe 🙂 And all your others, but Bastilla? Seriously? One of my all time fave foods and I can’t wait to try this. I love Well Fed but if you ever came out with a Paleo cookbook that just had Mid Eastern/Mediterranean dishes, I would snap it up. Thank you!!!
I hope you enjoy it! I think it’s pretty darn good.
I think only you and I would be excited about a Middle Eastern cookbook, but I have toyed with the idea of doing a little ebook of my favorite Middle Eastern recipes. Maybe in 2014 🙂
Nope — not just you and Rae. Count me in too. I love Middle Eastern food, and I love your recipes, so a Middle-Eastern-themed cookbook would be amazing! I probably make your Lebanese Onion Salad with Sumac dressing at least once a month… sometimes two or three times, especially in the warm months (when it compliments grilled lamb so nicely)!
Hooray! There are a few new Middle Eastern recipes in Well Fed 2, and I’m really excited about them. And I’ve been working on an update of my kibbeh recipe because I figured out how to make it even better.
This looks… incredible. It’s on my Thursday menu!
My partner and I just completed the whole 30 which became an experiment in the kitchen as we adjusted. Good for me because I feel so much more confident in the kitchen; good for him as he would not have lasted 30 days without the variety.
2 weeks after finishing, I rediscovered this recipe. We loved it! This is now going to be our go to for dinners with friends. We had sides of roasted broccoli and grilled asparagus, which I thought worked out all right. Do you have other suggestions for sides?
No matter, this was hands down the best recipe we tried! For those who are hesitant, give it a try! I made a couple mistakes and it still turned out amazing.
Congratulations on finishing the Whole30 — hope you feel great!
I’m so glad you made this! I was just thinking about it myself the other day and made a self-promise to make this as a celebration meal when photography for Well Fed 2 is finished.
As for sides, I usually just eat it with a big green salad: butter lettuce, mint, scallions, parsley, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. But roasted broccoli and asparagus sounds lovely!
We tried this recipe tonight. It was soooo convulsively delicious and worth the time put in (although it took me closer to 3 hours than 2). It did remind us of the Moroccan pastry course with egg and nuts. Next time I’ll put a little more scrambled egg and a little less chicken – but this recipe is definitely one of the best we’ve had! Thank you for figuring it out!
Hooray! I’m glad you liked it. It is definitely a labor of love, but in its original form, it’s something of a project, too. I just love the combo of savory/sweet/nutty — and the tradition behind it. Happy cooking!
I am making this today. Can’t wait to try it!
Melissa- I am a longtime fan of your blog and finally made this dish and loved it (my first bastila experience). I want to try it again with a little ghee in there and maybe a little more cinnamon on top. Here is my post about it if you want to see photos!
I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for sharing your post!
Way late to the party but I googled paleob kibbe! I M half Lebanese. The top two things I miss are kibbe and lamajoune! Thanks for this one too 🙂
Hope you like this recipe! Also, did you see my Kibbeh Sinayee recipe? http://www.theclothesmakethegirl.com/2011/03/21/kibbeh-sinayee-lamb-diamonds/
Thanks for the link. I will be honest I’ve never made real kibbe. Just what my mom makes or the one a from the family markets in my area. I am lucky to live near a very large middle Eastern/Armenian neighborhood so I always figured why go thru all the work when I can get handmade ones for a buck a pop on everycorner! But now I miss them so much I am going to try your recipe next weekend. add me as another who would buy a middle eastern paleo e book!!
Oh maybe this will make you laugh. When I looked over the whole30 approved list and saw sesame and tahini were ok that was the deciding factor to make me give it a go. I can have tahini? Ok, that means halva is ok (eventually) if I can have my dates, figs and tahini I can give up rice and lavash. 🙂
I am so amazed to find out that most of the Moroccan recipes with a little twist can be Paleo! We had Bastilla in my wedding and the lady who made it didn’t use confectional sugar but honey and almond on the top and it was delicious. We just started trying to go Plaeo and all I can say it’s not easy with a 3yrs old Boy ‘Picky eater’
I have joyfully discovered your website and now have one of your cookbooks. Your skill with middle eastern and Mediterranean recipes is wonderful and has really infused my morale with positive energy. Being on a very strict medically required diet, meals had become very boring and routine. Not anymore! Loved the Greek beef stew and Best Chicken Ever as did the hubby. My only sadness is that I can’t have sugary fruit yet due to candida. Hence, no dates as in this mouth watering recipe. Any chance you’ve cooked with stevia and would have any suggestions on how to get around using the dates?
Thank you so much for what you give the world. I have prayed in thanks to God for you and will continue to do so.
I’m really glad you found me and that you’re enjoying the recipes! It’s rough when you’re on a super strict elimination diet. I had a candida overgrowth last year and did a 120-day strict elimination diet. I thought I was going to lose my mind. NO seed spices at all for two months. Yeesh. But I survived, and it sounds like you’re making it work, too. Good for you.
This recipe uses dates to both sweeten it and to hold the crust together, so I really don’t think that stevia will work. I’ve never used that sweetener, so I wouldn’t know how to advise you to adapt this recipe. Sorry I can’t be more helpful!
I made this this weekend. It came out AMAZING!
I’m so happy you liked it!… and now I kind of want to make one 😉
I just made this and it is AMAZING! I love anything cinnamon and this is soooo good! Before going Paleo (only a few months so far) I really only cooked “ethnic” food so I’m on the look out for dishes that fit the bill and this is it! At Christmas we like to do a different cultures food every year and this is DEFINITELY going on this years menu. I am looking forward to more of your recipes. I own both well fed books and I love them! Bora Bora balls rock! Thank you for all the hard work and time that you put into developing all these awesome recipes to make others lives a little easier! YOU ROCK!☺✌
I’m so happy that you enjoyed this one! It really is a magical combo. We had an authentic bastila at a Moroccan restaurant in Paris and I just about passed out from the joy.
Thank you so much for buying our cookbooks! I really appreciate the support.
This is one of our new favorite dishes and while the rest of it really isn’t too bad for a weeknight meal, the crust is too fussy for me. chilled coconut oil is a mess. Any recommended shortcuts?
It’s a pie, so nope, no shortcuts. Save it for special occasions! If you’re not a fan of coconut oil, you can use chilled ghee instead.