Sunday, September 13, 2009

Birthday Bastilla

Over 30 years ago, I had friends living in the Bay Area. On one of my visits, we went to Mamounia, a Moroccan restaurant, for dinner. I still remember that meal: Green Hungarian wine, couscous in a tangine, mint tea, and, best of all, bastilla. One especially fun thing was our tour of the kitchen after dinner. When the waiter brought the couscous, he lifted the lid of the tangine dramatically and I said, "Voila!" He immediately assumed I knew French and was quite excited. Since voila is about the sum of all my French, I hated to disappoint, but the connection had been made and he ushered us into the kitchen later in the evening. There, the chef was creating the bastilla, making the phyllo, as I recall, by cooking a very thin batter on a pan and pulling it off with his bare fingers.

Needless to say, when I decided to attempt bastilla myself, I passed on the homemade pastry and used frozen phyllo instead. Bastilla is a pie-like dish made with chicken, eggs, almonds, onions, parsley and cinnamon, sugar and other spices. The pie is topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon, giving it a sweet crust. At Mamounia, we ate it with our hands, but tonight we used more traditional implements.

The occasion was our dear friend Ron's birthday. Ron, his wife Sarah and Emma, their daughter and our goddaughter, were good enough to let us host the birthday dinner, giving me the perfect reason to make something different. Plus, they are really good about being guinea pigs!

The menu:

Pre-dinner noshes of hummus, pita, and halloumi, a sheep and goat milk cheese from Cyprus, made to be grilled before eating. Halloumi is quite salty, so the pita is a good counterpoint.

Tomato, avocado and mango salad with spicy seasoning, courtesy of Sarah. Are those colors glorious or what! Just makes you want to start eating RIGHT NOW.

Bastilla, based on a recipe from Sunset magazine, circa 1984. I've had this recipe carefully saved for 25 years and this is the first time I've tried it. Well, the only excuse is that it needed to be made for just the right occasion and this is the first time Ron has celebrated his 59th birthday.

Pie pops were the "birthday cake" for Ron. This little dessert deserves a little more discussion, so watch for another post, probably tomorrow, about their origin.

Happy Birthday, Ron!

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