Saturday, February 16, 2008

B'stilla My Heart

The persistence of ice and snow this week has made me very, very glad indeed that I had planned a special treat for myself and for friends this weekend: a spicy Moroccan feast featuring a variety of local foods from my pantry and freezer.

It's been at least four years since I cooked an all-Moroccan meal, despite my appreciation for the cuisine, but I hadn't forgotten how much I loved the vegetarian version of b'stilla that I had baked once before.

One of the traditional dishes of Morocco, b'stilla is a filo-wrapped pie that usually contains chicken, almonds, and cinnamon. Some time back, though, I found a recipe that replaced the chicken with chickpeas and tofu. I had "local" chickpeas (courtesy of the fair Titania) on hand, but instead of tofu, I made a batch of paneer and crumbled that into the mixture instead. Perfect!

For me, a Moroccan meal wouldn't be complete without couscous and a spicy vegetable tagine (stew) on top. Ever since I learned to appreciate the dish while studying in France, I've been trying different combinations for the tagine, and for this meal I pulled out some of my cold storage vegetables (butternut squash and sweet potatoes) as well as edamame and an onion-garlic-hot pepper puck from the freezer, dried red peppers, and a jar of canned tomatoes (plus the whey left over from the paneer). The tagine simmered all day in the slow cooker, and it ended up spicy, velvety thick, and full of good warming flavor that seeped into the whole wheat couscous beneath it.

Even though the couscous had plenty of vegetables in it, I wanted something a little extra to accompany it, so I pulled out my zucchini-feta pancake recipe. I thawed two bags of shredded zucchini from the freezer, but when I drained them, I had very little vegetable left, so I ended up making bite-size fritters that included Bulgarian feta (yes, I'm still trying to use that up!), a local egg, dried mint from my garden, fresh parsley from my windowsill, and local flour.

I decided to try a Moroccan bread as well: grilled semolina flatbreads. I don't think mine turned out quite as traditional as the recipe indicated, but I did work in a little local spelt flour with the semolina, and I was pleased with the dense but hearty texture.

Suffice it to say that my guests, a collection of young folks with a good appreciation for food (especially local!), all devoured the food I set out and raved about how good everything tasted. One guest so enjoyed the Moroccan mint tea I had brewed as well that I ended up brewing a second pot just to satisfy him.

I cleaned up a bit after dinner and gave them all a chance to talk among themselves while I finished making dessert.

I took Bri's excellent recipe for baked dates with goat cheese and arranged those tangy-sweet bites on a plate with my homemade pistachio cookies... and then stood back to allow everyone else to tuck in. The dates went over incredibly well (oh, man, they were soooooo good!), and the cookies added just the right balance to the richness of the fruit. My guests cleaned off the plate, making me realize that sometimes the simplest recipes end up being the best of all.

They all headed home, contented and smiling, and I packed away the leftovers to enjoy later.

And for a few hours at least, we held winter at bay with our heart-warming meal.


At 2/17/2008 3:49 PM, Anonymous jasmine said...

That looks absolutely incredible -- I will have to cook up something spicey this week. Yum!

At 2/17/2008 9:19 PM, Anonymous janet said...

It sounds so good I can almost smell it. Ah...

At 2/18/2008 6:38 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Jasmine and Janet, it was pretty tasty, I admit! Leftovers aren't quite as good, but they're still pretty satisfying. I might have to make more of the baked dates just for myself, though... :-)

At 2/19/2008 3:17 PM, Blogger Ed Bruske said...

Jennifer, I am a big fan of Paula Wolfert and by extension Moroccan food. That is an incredible spread you put on. I am extremely disappointed that our local Whole Foods, in one of its many corporate streamlining measure, decided to yank the whole wheat couscous from the bulk section. Where did you study in France?

At 2/20/2008 7:30 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Ed, I haven't actually looked at any of Paula Wolfert's books, though the flatbread recipe was hers (via Epicurious)... would be interesting to see what other dishes would be worth trying!

I studied for a semester in Grenoble... a city with many immigrants and cuisines that I can appreciate more since I've been there. (Would love to go back!)

At 2/21/2008 2:07 AM, Blogger Bri said...

What a spectacular spread! Thanks for sharing it with us. I'm not surprised your friends had a great time. It's such a treat to share delicious simple food with loved ones.

At 2/21/2008 7:03 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Wish I could actually share the leftovers with you all... I'm pretty sick of the couscous at this point, having eaten it for five or six days straight! (And I had as much fun as my guests did, I would guess...)

At 2/22/2008 11:40 PM, Blogger Bri said...

Since you mentioned it in your post, I just made paneer. What a spectacularly easy and rewarding recipe. I will totally make it again. Who would have known making cheese at home would be that easy.

At 2/25/2008 6:51 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Bri! Once you know how easy it is to make the paneer, it gets awfully addicting... ;-)


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