For years, Warren and I have talked about making bisteeya--a gorgeous sweet and savory Moroccan chicken pot pie--but always put it off because it seemed like so much work. Even after eating our weight of bisteeya when we visited Morocco last year, we kept making excuses. So when Meriem of Culinary Couture invited me to participate in a virtual Eid party, I knew exactly what dish to make.
If you aren't familiar with Eid, it is the celebratory feast that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Before moving to Dearborn, Michigan (where nearly 42% of the population is of Arab ancestry) I knew next to nothing about Eid. Luckily, living here means that Ramadan is widely celebrated so we have been able to learn more about it, and many other Muslim holidays, from our neighbors and friends.
We also love that Dearborn has a million amazing Middle Eastern eateries where we can indulge to our hearts' content. Sidebar: our favorite hummus in town is churned for twenty-four hours. The resulting hummus has the dreamiest texture that is comparable only to eating a gorgeous cloud of goodness. And don't even get me started on the bakeries. It's like baklava for days.
(Also, Dearborn is one of the only places I've been that sells fresh green almonds at the supermarket. I had to get some to garnish this bisteeya platter because they are so beautiful!)
But back to Eid and fasting. As a child, my family fasted monthly for religious purposes but I always looked at it as a major chore. I mean, what kid willingly gives up her daily bowl of Cap'n Crunch without a fight? But as I've grown into the custom, I have learned to see the beauty behind it. Learning to go without in a life full of excess has made me more aware of those who lack such plenty, especially those in my community. Plus, each monthly fast helps to remind me of all the small pleasures in my life--a square meal being chief among them.
Each month, I break my short fast with relief and gratitude. I can only imagine that those whole celebrate Eid experience similar feelings--and then some--especially after going a month without the things they crave. After all, it is one of the singular glories of life to sit down at a table overflowing with delicacies, sweets, and heavy platters to join your loved ones in merrymaking and thanksgiving.
And now let's talk bisteeya. If you've never had it before, you will be surprised but then delighted by the sweet and savory flavors. I love breaking into the crisp, buttery phyllo shell and digging into a big forkful of cinnamon-spiced chicken, sugary almonds, and sweet golden raisins. While bisteeya is typical everywhere in Morocco (and available at any time), it often graces Eid tables because it is such an elaborate production.
We've had some bisteeya that tasted dried out. To battle that, we cooked chicken thighs (bisteeya is traditionally made with quail or pigeon) in a slow cooker (because you know how I feel about slow cookers). We also cooked the whole shebang in a rich custard bath. While there are about a million steps in this recipe, don't let that put you off. Essentially, you are slow cooking meat, then layering it between buttered phyllo dough sheets to make a crispy, juicy pie.
Using a slow cooker makes it so you don't have to worry about a thing. All you have to do is fry the almonds and whisk some eggs together. The trickest part of the whole pie is moving thin sheets of phyllo--and even then, it's okay if things rip or completely tear because you can just patch things up with another piece of phyllo! This is the perfect meal to make on a lazy Sunday. And your mouth will water like crazy smelling all those amazing spices filling your home.
Warren took one bite of this and grinned like a goofball. We had finally made bisteeya and it was so, utterly worth it.
Check out these other fabulous Eid ideas below:
Moroccan Bisteeya by Club Narwhal
Pistachio Orange Rice Pudding by A Clean Bake
Bread Halwa by 40 Aprons
Shahi Tukda/ Pakistani Saffron Bread Pudding by La Tour De Force
Double Chocolate Baklava by The Sweet Tooth Life
Soft and Chewy Tahini, Honey, and Almond Cookies by An Edible Mosaic
Cashew Baklava Fingers by Wandering Spice
Adapted from La Tartine Gourmande
- chicken filling (recipe below)
- custard sauce (recipe below)
- 3/4 cup sugared blanched almonds (recipe below)
- 3/4 cup golden raisins (you can sub regular raisins)
- about 10 phyllo dough sheets
- 1 stick melted butter (you can start with 1/2 a stick and see if you need the whole stick to butter the phyllo sheets--we did, don't judge)
- a few tablespoons of powdered sugar
- 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
- blanched almonds for garnish
For the Chicken filling and Custard Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 chicken thighs (bone in with skin)
- salt and pepper
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger paste (or grated ginger; use 1 teaspoon ground ginger if you don't have fresh)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped; plus 1 tablespoon chopped for the custard
- 1/8 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/3 cup chicken stock
- 5 eggs
Heat olive oil in a large nonstick pan. Salt and pepper chicken thighs and brown on each side for about 2-3 minutes, until golden. Transfer to a slow cooker. Add diced onion, ginger, cinnamon, paprika, cilantro, parsley, and chicken stock. Cook on high for 3-4 hours, until chicken shreds easily. Shred chicken and set aside. Discard skin and bones.
To make the custard sauce, dump remaining cooking liquid into a medium bowl. Add the eggs and 1 tablespoon remaining chopped cilantro and whisk until smooth. Set aside.
For the sugared almonds
- 3/4 cup blanched almonds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons white sugar
While the chicken is cooking, heat oil in a small nonstick pan. Add almonds and fry until golden brown. Take off heat and transfer to a bowl to stop the cooking. Toss fried almonds with cinnamon and sugar. Set aside.
*You will need to brush each sheet of phyllo with melted butter before adding it to the pan.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Layer four sheets of buttered phyllo in the bottom of an 8 or 9-inch springform pan (you can use a 9 x 9 glass pan as well). Your sheets will most likely tear in this process but you can patch tears with more dough.
Layer half of the chicken on top of the phyllo sheets. Sprinkle with half of the sugared almonds and half of the golden raisins. Pour half of the custard sauce over the chicken, almonds, and raisins. Layer two more buttered phyllo sheets (folded in half) on top of the filling.
Repeat layers--chicken, almonds, raisins, custard. Layer with two more buttered phyllo sheets (folded in half). Tuck the phyllo sheets on top of the pie and brush with a little more butter.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden. Remove and sprinkle with powdered sugar, cinnamon, and almonds.