Phyllo dough is used in a variety of Middle Eastern pastries - most notably in the beloved baklava, famous throughout the world for its amazingly flaky buttery layers that hold syrupy crunchy nuts. Phyllo (aka filo) dough is also used in quite a few savory Middle Eastern dishes like my rendition of the Palestinian meat pie, the sfeeha yafawiye, or ouzi surrar, that are palm-sized individual parcels of aromatic rice, ground meat, peas and nuts, encased in a bundle of crispy phyllo dough, or puff pastry. The first time I ate ouzi was at my sister’s house in Jordan, and it was so good that it’s forever on my must-eat requests from her.
I’m definitely drawn to pies, and really anything that’s wrapped in dough, so my love for the Moroccan chicken and almond bastilla that my aunt Leila (she lived in Rabat, Morocco for most of her life) deftly prepares, is a given. Bastilla, or b’stilla (pastilla), is originally made with pigeon meat, but these days using chicken is more the norm. In terms of savory pies, b’stilla reigns supreme in its’ ability to successfully blend savory notes with sweet notes. The shredded and spiced chicken marries so well with the lightly sweetened cinnamon laced ground almonds and light-as-air phyllo, so much so, that between bites, you second guess yourself as to whether you’re eating a sweet dish, or a savory one. The beauty of phyllo dough is its versatility. I’ve subbed out many a recipe that called for puff pastry and in its place effortlessly used phyllo.
I’ve been missing my family, and like the rest of the world, trying to come to terms with the difficult coronavirus pandemic that’s plaguing the world. My family has been on the forefront of my thoughts more than ever, and because many of my happy memories are associated with food, my sister, and her tasty ouzi surrar, came to mind. Memories of eating paella in sunny Spain several years ago, also flashed in my head, so, and in honor of both dishes, people and places, I decided to combine my family’s favorite vegetable pilaf dish with a quick tomato seafood stew and make seafood rice phyllo parcels. They came out great and everyone loved them. They’re impressive looking and like the traditional ouzi surrar (normally served at special occasions) perfect for a special family gathering or dinner. They also keep well and can be made ahead of time and slightly re-heated in the oven to get back the ‘crispiness’ of the phyllo shell.
Seafood Rice Phyllo Parcels
Prep Level: Medium-Hard
18 sheets of phyllo dough (I like Athens readily available in the U.S.)
4-5 tablespoons melted butter/ghee/olive oil or a mix of oil and butter
1 lb. frozen seafood mix, thawed and drained
1 red bell pepper, diced small
1 green bell pepper, diced small
1 onion, diced small
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery stalk, finely minced
1 tomato, diced small
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon rind
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 anchovy fillet
1 teaspoon (heaping) tomato paste
½ teaspoon sugar
Pinch chili flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup vegetable/chicken/seafood broth
3 - 4 cups of leftover vegetable rice or, see the recipe for my special pilaf
In a saucepan, and on medium heat, put 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Add all the: vegetables, tomato paste, spices, herbs and anchovy. Sauté and stir for about 10 minutes. Add to the pan: the seafood mix and vinegar. Sauté and continue stirring for 5 minutes. Add the broth of your choice to the pan and cover until the shrimps (or prawns) turn pink which should take less than 10 minutes. Close the heat and set the stew aside to cool down to room temperature. Add the seafood stew to the vegetable rice and mix slightly. Use the seafood and vegetable rice to stuff the phyllo parcels.
Heat the oven to 370 F. Grease a large baking pan. Brush 3 phyllo dough sheets with the melted butter. Cover the unused sheets with a slightly damp cloth to prevent them from drying. Place the buttered sheets on top of each other and gently lift them together towards a (about) 4 inch small bowl (see video on my Instagram post @thegoodtastelama). Try to center the sheets to the bowl and press them lightly to conform to the shape of the receptacle. Work quickly and add the seafood vegetable rice ¾ full or close to the brim of the bowl. Take the overhanging phyllo and close them over each other. Place your palm over the phyllo parcel and flip it so the ‘seams’ are on the bottom. Brush the shell with melted butter. Repeat the same steps for the remaining 5 parcels. Bake in the oven for around 25 minutes or till the phyllo parcels become golden brown.