The restaurant was like entering a Moroccan palace. Made entirely of handpainted tiles in blues and greens, yellows and reds, with a fountain in the lobby and carved screens separating the diners. We sat on tasseled silk pillows on the floor and the tables were made of etched brass trays. There were belly dancers and waiters in Aladdin costumes with pointy toed slippers and fezes served course after course of the most exotic foods, which we ate and fed each other with our fingers.
Last night I made bisteeyah for my family.
Accompanied by chicken with lemon and olives and curried vegetables with cous cous.
Here are my own recipes, developed over the years and always subject to creative interpretation:
Chicken With Lemon and Olives1 large chicken, whole
6 - 8 fresh garlic cloves
1 jar green olives with pimentos
Lowery's Seasoning Salt
3 - 4 small lemons (I use the ones from my Myer's lemon tree, if available)
Thoroughly wash chicken and place in roasting pan. Peel and quarter onion and stuff into chicken's cavity. Squeeze juice from lemons, pour juice over chicken and stuff remaining lemon halves into chicken's cavity. Pour entire contents of olive jar over chicken, including brine. Season chicken with Lowery's, black pepper and cayenne.
Place in pre-heated, 350 degree oven for 3 hours, basting frequently (about every 15 minutes)
To serve, remove skin, onions and lemons, slice and spoon drippings with roasted olives over meat on a platter.
Curried Vegetables2 - 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 - 3 dozen baby squashes or zucchini
1/2 onion, chopped fine
2 T olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
Lowery's Seasoning Salt
Preheat wok, add olive oil and butter. Stir fry vegetables for a couple of minutes on high heat, then reduce heat and add chicken broth and seasonings. Cover and simmer to desired degree of softness. Serve over cous cous.
Bisteeya1 small chicken
1 small onion
5 or 6 cloves garlic
1 bunch chopped green onions, including stems
1 - 2 chicken livers (Optional but they do add a certain texture you won't get without them)
1 package philo dough
2 - 3 sticks of butter (did I say this was a healthy dish?)
Clean chicken and place in roasting pan. Cut garlic cloves in halves and place under chicken skin evenly all over the chicken. Peel onion and put into chicken cavity. Salt and pepper. Roast in preheated 350 degree oven 2 or more hours, basting frequently and adding water if necessary to keep chicken moist. Roast until meat falls off the bones.
Remove chicken from pan and allow to cool. Remove skin, garlic cloves, onion and bones and shred chicken with fingers into bite sized pieces. This can be done the day before, up to this point.
Melt about 1/2 stick butter in saute pan. Gently saute chopped green onions with chicken livers, until liver is pink. Remove livers from pan and smash with a fork.
Beat eggs with spices and scramble in butter with onions on very low heat. Add smashed chicken livers and scramble together. Do not over cook.
Use a round pyrex bowl to assemble the bisteeya. Melt remaining butter and with pastry brush, coat inside of bowl with butter. Unroll layers of philo dough that has been warmed to room temperature. Place one sheet in bowl and press gently to sides, leaving remainder of each sheet draped over the edge of the bowl. *Brush the surface of this sheet with butter, being careful not to tear the tender sheet. Place another sheet in, forming an 'x'. In other words, one sheet goes north south, the next goes east west, followed by another north south, etc. Every 4th sheet, sprinkle some powdered sugar from a sifter over the bottom. Rep from * until you have assembled about 15 or 16 sheets, being careful not to use too much butter, but just enough to stick the sheets together. Do not be skimpy with the powdered sugar. This seems like a lot, but the sheets are thinner than paper and the crust will be thin, even if you use the entire package, which I never do.
Butter last layer and *sprinkle in a handful of pine nuts and a handful of slivered almonds. Cover with powdered sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Add a layer of chicken pieces and then half the egg mixture. Rep from * one more time, then wrap with the layers of philo dough that are hanging over the edge of the bowl, sticking them together with brushes of butter. Wrap everything up tightly. It is not essential that these layers be totally stuck together, as this will be the bottom of the finished pie when removed from the bowl.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, (the last 45 minutes of the chicken with olives)
To serve, place serving platter on top of bowl and invert. If you used the right amount of butter, it will come out clean and dry. If you used too much, you will have to pour the excess off before inverting. (ask me how I know this)
Sprinkle powdered sugar on top. After everyone has admired it, cut into wedges and have everyone eat from the serving plate with their (clean) hands.
I recommend only making this for someone you really love, as it is a huge PIA and takes up a lot of knitting time!