July, August, September – 3 months in a row birthdays in our house. My husband is not a gift giver. We went out to dinner for mine in July and had a nice evening.
My gift for his special day is a meal, an extra special meal often with special company. This year, we celebrated twice. A few days before the special day an old friend was in town, so he was invited for dinner #1. My husband knows him from Peace Corps days in Morocco long ago. His friend went on to the diplomatic corps and lives now in Paris. So he’s very particular about food. They’ve remained in touch all these years.
Dinner #1 was a light summer meal. This friend is a drinker, so I made appetizers, something I usually don’t bother with. They accompanied the nice Spanish cava he brought. We started in the kitchen with a tuna tapenade from a fun Moroccan cookbook I’d bought my husband a number of years earlier and taramasalata as requested by my husband. I used a different brand of fish roe this time (see July 7 post), so it was much brighter than one taken to a pot luck a month ago! The tapenade had canned tuna (rinsed) with black olives (I used Californian), capers, 4 anchovy filets, Dijon mustard, and olive oil, all mixed together in the food processor.
Dinner was an Iranian herb omelette (kuku) along with Moroccan glazed carrots and a tossed salad. Kuku is a special dish because my husband had lived in Iran before we met. It’s a bunch of eggs beaten with one cup each of chopped cilantro, parsley, dill, and several tablespoons of chopped walnuts and hydrated currants. I had recently purchased what was labeled “black mulberries.” When I got them down I read “goji berries” in the small print – and tried them (hydrated, of course); they worked, too. Everything is mixed together and started on top of the stove. After the eggs solidify a bit, the skillet is put into a medium over for about 15 minutes.
Dessert, selfishly I did not make a flourless chocolate cake – I’d be faced with leftovers for too many days. Instead, I made an easy plum galette. It’s easy and good. Open a store-bought pie crust on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Carefully cut the plums (about 5) in thin slices. Arrange in concentric circles on the crust with about a 2 inch margin all around. Fold in the edges and lightly dust with sugar. Bake about ½ hour in a moderate over and … enjoy. And so we all did with crème fraiche.
Dinner #2 took a more complete Moroccan theme. I invited 2 couples whose company we enjoy for the birthday meal. The main course was a bstilla, a chicken pie served with an assortment of salads. I’d been making bstilla for the birthday dinner for a number of years. Traditionally, it’s made with pigeon or squab. One year in Norman, Oklahoma, I actually made it with squab, thanks to our friend Ruth Townsley whose grandson raised them.
It’s really easy to make this layered pie despite the many steps. I use ready-made filo for the “crust.” First, I boil the chicken (and save the broth for another meal later in the week). I make a chermoula (a sauce of chopped parsley and cilantro mixed with cumin, paprika, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil) in which the cooked and chopped chicken is marinated overnight. Next, I scramble eggs with some of the broth til they are lightly set. Next step, mix together powdered sugar with cinnamon and toasted, sliced almonds (one guest is allergic, so no almonds).
Then the assembly, this is a rough direction. I recently told a friend I follow the recipe with a few deviations. Layer about 3-5 sheets of filo in a high sided, buttered pan. Butter in between each layer (remember my husband is sensitive to dairy, so I use olive oil). Sprinkle about half of the almond-sugar mixture next. Then 3-5 more sheets and the rest of the almond-sugar and more filo. Add about half of the chicken mixture and top with the eggs (make sure all the liquid is absorbed). Again, more filo, 3-5 sheets, followed by the rest of the chicken. Fold in the overlapping filo sheets, remember to butter or oil each layer. Top with 3-4 more sheets, tuck the edges in around the circumference. Mix an egg with a little water and brush on top. And – following the recipe – bake. After the bstilla is cooled, using either only powdered sugar or the sugar mixed with cinnamon, dust a pattern on top. And voila.
One of our guests does not eat meat, so as it was pie night, I deviated from the Moroccan theme to make a salmon kulebyaka. This was the most beautiful I’ve made yet! Start with browning chopped onions with sliced mushrooms. Add a cup of cooked rice, 3 chopped hard-boiled eggs, chopped dill, and parsley to this mixture. Poach a salmon filet with garlic and thyme; when cool flake it. Now the assembly – open one pie crust and place it on a parchment paper or Silpat. Carefully, place the mushroom mixture down the center, leaving ample margin to be able to seal the crusts. Next, add the salmon layer on top of the mushrooms. A real cook makes crepes to put between the two layers; I do not! Top with the second crust. I cut off excess on the edges to use for decorating. Then crimp the edges to seal. Top with an egg wash and decorate with extra crust. Bake as directed in the recipe or until the crust browns.
Salads accompanied these amazing pies – eggplant and pepper, chickpeas and cucumber, another carrot salad and one with fennel with celery. All were good supports for the two main dishes.
To end the meal, I made a pavlova (I remembered to use the egg yokes in the egg mixture in the bstilla). It’s still lovely berry season so it was accompanied with strawberries.
Yes, my husband was pleased with the 2 special dinners and … we’re still enjoying the leftovers! Happy Birthday!