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How I learned how to make pigeon pastilla, one of the most elegant dishes in moroccan cuisine.
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When we reached this stage I had a big disappointment. The dada pulled out a stack or bought warka sheets, sorts of ultra think oiled crepes. The reason I wanted this course was to learn how to do what I couldn't learn in a book. After all, there are tons of pastilla out there, but making your own warka is a very tricky business. So tricky in fact that they didn't know how to do it at home - they just buy it at the souk. Sure, warka-making would be worth its own course, but I was rather disappointed. Back home you could use industrial brik or filo dough bought at the ethnic store, but real warka is much thinner and more elegant. You can see a very similar process to Morrocan warka-making on this video shot in Asia.

Fold two sheets of warka in half, then in half again two times until you can grab them with one hand. Cut the excess length off if too large. The ideas is to minimize the warka-to-filling ratio.

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Oil a dessert plate and unfold both warka sheets on top.

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Sprinkle sugar and cinammon.

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Add the pigeon flesh and cover with the scrambled eggs and sauce (other photo).

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Sprinkle enough ground almond mixture on top to cover (other photo).

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Fold the excess warka from the top warka sheet in a pentagon...

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... then turn over.

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Now fold the bottom warka sheet over the pastilla in the same pentagon shape.

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Gently press with a flat hand to close.

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Fill a third of a frying pan with peanut oil and increase the heat to high. Test the temperature by dipping a piece of warka in the oil and see if it fries properly.

 

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Gently let the pastilla slip into the oil and fry over high heat, stirring from time to time.

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When the bottom has turned golden, use a wooden paddle and plate to delicately flip the pastilla.

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The dada took care of my own pastilla while I was busy taking pictures for you guys.

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insert a knife into the pastilla and feel the tip for heat. The inside is already cooked but may be cool - the pastilla is ready only when the knife exits warm.

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After all this frying it might sound ludicrous to try and pat the excess frying all away, but if you have a roll of kitchen paper around I recommend you do it. Sprinkle icing sugar on top the pastilla. Remember this is a Moorish dish of Persian descent and sweetness is welcome with meats.

Draw lines on the pastilla with powdered cinammon

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Serve as a memorable first course - one pastilla per guest. Another view. I tried pigeon pastillas at 3 of the most expensive restaurants in Marrakesh and none tasted better than the one I made under the dada's direction. They all looked just the same. I suppose the warka was better in some places, but this is compensated by the fact that most pastillas are reheated just prior to serving. We ate our pastillas under the trees and all spent a very pleasant day at la:

La Maison Arabe
http://www.lamaisonarabe.com
1, Derb Assehbe Bab Doukkala, Médina
Marrakech, Morrocco
+212 24 38 70 10

Published 31/01/2008
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40 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by Gfron1
  • on: 31/01/2008
Thank you for this demonstration - and for insisting on a more exciting and unique topic for the workshop.  You suggested substituting filo for warka.  Warka looks much softer, not as fragile as filo.  If one were good at making thin crepes, would that be a more appropriate substitute, or a crepe in lieu of two sheets of warka?
  • #2
  • Comment by Sherri
  • on: 01/02/2008
I didn't even know phyllo/filo could be fried. I've only baked it.
  • #3
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 02/02/2008
Sherri, filo is quite often fried, for instance in the various sigari and borek made by Turkish cooks. And what about samosas in India? Give it a try if you have a chance, it's really easy to make if you buy the filo dough.
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 02/02/2008
I think good warka is definitely thinner and more fragile than industrial filo. I suppose that if you can turn out very thin flour-and-water crepes, they should work too, but have never tried myself. Will you let me know how it works if you try that approach?
  • #5
  • Comment by nyari duit di internet
  • on: 04/02/2008
Mmm, it's a nice cuisine. I like that!
  • #6
  • Comment by Chris
  • on: 05/02/2008
So out of curiosity, which cook is you?
  • #7
  • Comment by cheese_puff
  • on: 05/02/2008
Chris, I am sure he is the one in blue sweater. He just doesn't wanna go public, I guess.
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 05/02/2008
Ah, you wonder about where I am in the picture. What made you think I am the lean English doctor in the blue sweater? Perhaps I am the large Moroccan gentleman? Or maybe this is all a hoax and I am the blond American lady on the right? Be calm, thou wedding guest, this blogger is not on any of the pictures but behind the camera.
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 05/02/2008
Chris - sorry to disappoint you but even with my fish eye lens I am not yet big enough to show up on the pictures I took myself.
  • #10
  • Comment by Stephen
  • on: 06/02/2008
Great article but please consider putting the photos back into the text of the article.  A hassle to have to click back and forth between the text and photos.
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 06/02/2008
Stephen, do you mean the occasional text-linked images or can't you display any of the images of the article? If the former, then it is by design, sometimes I have selected too many pictures or some are not so nice or just repetitive. I link those with a text link for keen readers who wish to see it all. Bear in mind some days I get 10Gigabytes traffic. Pictures are worth a thousand words but text links just download faster!
  • #12
  • Comment by Mike
  • on: 17/02/2008
FXI just have to say, you are an inspiration. Your recipes are interesting without going over on pretentious, and your writing style is a pleasure. If you ever decide to publish a book, I'd be the first to buy.MikeStockholm, Sweden
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 18/02/2008
Thanks for your kind comments Mike! I am not sure what theme I should have for a cookbook - what do you think?
  • #14
  • Comment by cris
  • on: 23/02/2008
Thank you to share the recipe of the bastella with your fantastic photos. I was looking for this recipe for years but this is really authentic. Congratulations for your blog.
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 26/02/2008
Cris, thanks for visiting. It is indeed the real pigeon bastella/pastilla, unfortunately we can't really get the warka sheets out here in the West. Filo might be a substitute, but not quite the same. To compensate for this we get much better spices than the Moroccans do!
  • #16
  • Comment by patrick
  • on: 26/02/2008
I loved eating pastillas when I was in Morocco a few years ago...I've tried to do some Moroccan cooking since then, but haven't done very much beyond trying to replicate the ubiquitous mint tea without great success.  Your post is inspiring, though, and I'll have to give it another shot.  The pictures are great!
  • #17
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 27/02/2008
Patrick, thanks for visiting! For the Moroccan tea try to use quality green tea rather than the appallant gunpowder tea they sell to tourists. Just mix it with the mint leaves and don't forget to empty the teapot into another one to stop the brewing. Then you can steep a second time and you won't have that woody, tongue-wrenching tannin taste.
  • #18
  • Comment by james vaughnn
  • on: 07/03/2008
I think I know of a crepe-making technique we do here in the Philippines and it produces really thin crepes (ours look THINNER than the pastry sheets you use there).We call them lumpia wrappers (egg roll wrappers), and i've seen the lumpia ladies make them fresh at the market (where the groceries/supermarkets buy them- then they just repackage the whole lot and sell 'em for twice the original price). You basically make this really wet dough (I think it's just rice flour, water, and maybe a bit of oil, but you can change the starchy ingredient to suit whatever crepe you plan on makin) and then heat up a large flat pan that's been oiled lightly. take your wet dough- as much as your hand will hold- and "bursh" it on the hot surface, making circles of thin crepes as you go along.Cooking time is about 10-20 seconds.the sheets are ready when the surfaces bubble and the edges start to lift off of the pan.Then lumpia wrappers don't really stick to each other and don't need oiling as long as you keep them dry (saving you those calories too. hehe) and can be stored for a long time in the freezer.You can adjust the thickness and diameter of your dough circles of course-you just have to experiment on the technique that works for you.Good luck!I hope I helped out a bit.please tell me what happens to your "experiment", should you decide to try it out.:-)It really helps juvenile cooks (such as myself) to have beautifully-done and very helpful references we can go back to in order to improve our dishes, and your blog is a really wonderful source of inspiration to a lot of people. God bless you.
  • #19
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 09/03/2008
James, thanks a lot for your lumpia recipe! It sounds like a worthy Filipino cousin of the Morrocan warka. Have you tried to do it yourself? In Morroco they make it sound like you need a rocket science postdoc because you can even go near the warka pan, but you make it sound more amenable to us amateur chefs.
  • #20
  • Comment by james vaughnn
  • on: 09/03/2008
I HAVE tried it out before, and i discovered that a wetter dough works better- though the trial and error process is really taxing. Haha. but it's worth your while. Some recipes call for eggs (and tilting the pan as you would a crepe), but I find the texture/composition different (it's thicker and less coarse than the average lumpia) and the resulting sheets stick to each other.
  • #21
  • Comment by parshu narayanan
  • on: 17/03/2008
Fascinating, like your splendid pix of the Moroccan food market. Just as Europeans have a mediterranean connection with the Moroccans, (e.g. escargot) we Indians have an Islamic connection with them. My Pathan friend Faisal's mum makes the same thing, except the stuffing is mincemeat - and it is called a Warki Samosa!
  • #22
  • Comment by dean
  • on: 21/06/2008
i love this entry. I just had some briwat at this little moroccan place in new york city and i since i've always been a fan of sweet and savory foods, this dish tickled my palate well. just a couple of questions: that picture of the dada dropping the pat of clarified butter on top of the almonds, is that brown powder cinnamon? and i see some .. white powder as well or is that just the flash from the camera?

PS your face and camera show up twice -- in the 2nd and 3rd pictures in the mirror opposite you.
  • #23
  • Comment by Sheila Harrison
  • on: 26/06/2008
I'll be in Morocco in December - want to take the cooking lessons - do you have an email contact?  What was the price?

By the way, wouldn't dove (all dark meat)be an effective substitute for pigeon?  It's my favorite poultry.
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 28/06/2008
Dean, thanks for visiting!
Indeed I am to be seen, to see more of me have a look at the tag FX cameos. Not that interesting, really! As for flash, I use it in the same quantity as canned raviolis, so it must be a white powder I suppose.
  • #25
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 28/06/2008
Sheila, please click on the link in the article and ask the Maison Arabe for this information. I have never had dove but I'm sure it would work fine!
  • #26
  • Comment by Sue
  • on: 02/08/2008
Pidgeon is not available here so I want to try this with chicken. Can you give me some idea of spice quantities for a chicken and what is ras-el-hanout? Well done your recipe looks very straight forward and easy to follow, especially with the accompanying pictures. Thanks
  • #27
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 03/08/2008
Sue, you could use one small chicken instead of two pigeons. The ras-el-hanout is a mix of the many spices sold in Morrocan souks. I´m afraid the Morrocans do not get the great spices they deserve and you could use any mix of cinammon, ginger, pepper, coriander seeds and cumin with whatever else you have in the pantry and get similar results. I know this will offend some but really this is my conclusion after seeing a lot of stale dried spices in Morroco.
  • #28
  • Comment by ng
  • on: 14/08/2008
You got me excited to make pastilla.  Are you able to share the recipe or can you guide me to a good one?  Thanks so much!
  • #29
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 14/08/2008
Ng, sorry but I did not write the ingredient list, I must have it somewhere. There are many recipes out there but you can follow the procedure outlined in the article and use your discretion as per the quantities.
  • #30
  • Comment by Betsi Doukane
  • on: 09/09/2008
What a wonderful article, I was in Morocco in July I tried pastilla such a delight!, now that I am back in USA it's so difficult to find the warka dough, phyllo dough does not make justice to this delicate and savory dish.
If anybody knows of a north african grocery store in Florida I would appreciate it so much.
  • #31
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 09/09/2008
Betsi, I would really be surprised to find proper warka outside Morocco, and it is no mean feat to make your own. Agreed, phyllo is far from the mark!
  • #32
  • Comment by tammy m
  • on: 14/10/2008
I thank you for your visuals for us non-culinary folk.  You did not miss one step.  My family participate in a geography club and this pastilla was a big hit for all.  I did have to substitute a few items, but the results were fantastic!!
  • #33
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 14/10/2008
Tammy, glad you had fun with my little pastilla recipe. Indeed a great dish, and there are many variations so no problem for substitution done within the spirit of the dish.
  • #34
  • Comment by Fraigo
  • on: 22/12/2008
Wow ,Thank you for sharing such a royal Recipe with us , actually I tasted it in Marrakesh some 9 years ago , most probably I have to try it again, prepared all by myself with some modification of using oven instead of frying and less sugar. by the way I had a similar dish in Istanbul once with chicken , " Waraka " & whole almonds and pinch of cinnamon but with mo sugar, the recipe name as I can remember is Sultani Kepap .
  • FX's answer→ Fraigo, I hope you get to try this, you certainly stand a better chance to get proper Warka sheets in Saudi than we do here!

  • #36
  • Comment by Paul Zwick
  • on: 01/03/2009
Great pics. where do I get info re this course?
(Also, what camera do you use. Trying to find something - a camera- good for my own food pix in class for my lesson books/files.)
  • FX's answer→ Paul, I use a Nikon D300 and some flashes. The link to the course is in the article.

  • #38
  • Comment by name  Teresa
  • on: 19/04/2009
My friend and I are on a five day visit to marrakech in May '09 and I hoping to try some cooking classes whilst out there. Can you tell me how much this particular hotel charged?
  • FX's answer→ Can't remember.

  • #40
  • Comment by Kees Koppen
  • on: 30/10/2010
Very good article with great pictures. I make mine slightly differently but I won´t argue with a Morroccan grandmother, I´m not that stupid. So my only comment is: PLEASE DO NOT FEED CHICKEN BONES TO YOUR CAT, IT WILL KILL HIM!

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