January 14th, 2010


Duck, Onion and Date Pastilla

When it’s cold and miserable outside, my body does not seem to want to co-operate and function as it should. It feels as if I want to go into hibernation, curl up under a blanket and not move. After 17 years my body still has not completely adapted to the cold and with the temperatures hovering round zero you can understand why it’s even harder for me to jump about. Over the festive period I was doing a lot of curling up, watching endless weird TV, mostly on food and cooking.I paged through hordes of the last decades magazines and paid recognition to the shelves of cookery books that we have collected over the past 10 years.

My cookbook favourites seem to change every 6 months and  appear to follow the seasons. One of my seasonal favourites is ‘Saha’ by Greg and Lucy Malouf. Not only do I love the stories but the photography is so beautiful that it transports me to that magical world of mystery, spice and romance. There are four books in this range and they all have the same magical effect, however I do not necessarily follow the recipes but I draw inspiration from them. They seem to make me feel a bit warmer and more content every time I need inspiration, almost like a safety blanket.

This duck, onion and date pastilla recipe is 100% inspired by Greg and Lucy Malouf. About 3 months ago Mr.P brought me  two very old and beaten up wooden bowls that he found at a Middle Eastern furniture store. At first I loved the look of them but they felt really sticky, as if they have been around for sometime without a wash or a dust, so I was not incredibly thrilled to make use of them. I soaked and scrubbed them but it seemed as if the dirt would cling on forever, but along with Greg and Lucy they inspired me to develop this absolutely delicious recipe.

These pastillas take you on a taste adventure but surprisingly they are not spicy at all. However the mixture of savory with  the sweetness of the medoul dates and the incredible moreish-ness of the confit duck wrapped in crispy filo pastry laced with wild sumac,creates a Middle East illusion. The white onion and tamarind chutney is a master piece of a recipe in it’s own rights, who would have thought that the humble onion could make this outrageously delicious chutney?


I have a special affection for dates as you most probably would have noticed that I  use  these in a few of my recipes. When I spent time in Israel,about 16 years ago, working at a field school in Gidron, near Hatzeva, I remember the journey to Eilat. The road was long, dusty, dry and hot but most of all I remembered the incredible medoul date plantations that seemed to stretch for miles. The trees were incredibly green and stood tall in the desert, I used to wonder how they survived as nothing else seemed to withstand the desert conditions, still mind boggling.

This recipe took my spirit to the warmer climates, not only did it encourage me to cook and warm up but it took my taste buds on a wonderful taste adventure. I froze half of the pastillas before baking them for a “rainy day” and the rest made a delicious supper. These pastillas will make the perfect partner for a party and a glass of Martini!

White Onion and Tamarind Chutney

  • 4 tamarind pods, peeled
  • 250ml cold water
  • 600g finely sliced white onions
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • Pinch of crushed dried chillies
  • 150ml white wine vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 20g fresh ginger, peeled and grated

First make a tamarind paste: Peel the tamarind pods and place the tamarind in a small saucepan with the cold water, bring to a gentle simmer and cook the tamarind for 6 -7 minutes until it starts to dissolve. Use a spoon or a fork to mash the pulp and remove the tamarind seeds, mix the tamarind pulp with the water to form a tamarind paste. Pass the tamarind paste through a sieve to remove any remaining seeds and strings. Make sure you end up with 80 g of the tamarind pulp. Alternatively buy ready prepared tamarind paste.


Peel the onions, use a mandolin to finely slice the onions. Place the sliced onions, crushed garlic, tamarind pulp, crushed chillies, vinegar, cinnamon stick, saffron, ginger and sugar into a large saucepan, place the pan over low heat. I normally start the cooking process with the lid in place, until the sugar has dissolved, stir regularly.

Remove the lid and cook the chutney over medium heat, stir occasionally and do not let the chutney burn. Cook until the chutney is the correct consistency, preferably dry and sticky for this pastilla recipe. If the chutney is too wet the pastry will go soggy.

Remove the chutney from the heat, transfer it to a clean container and let chutney cool completely before using it in the pastilla recipe.

Food Fanatics Tip

This chutney keeps well and develops a delicious flavour if left to mature for a couple of days. Transfer the chutney to sterilized jars and keep for up to 3 months in a dark but well ventilated space.

Confit Duck Legs

  • 2 duck legs
  • 1tsp Maldon Sea Salt
  • 500ml duck fat
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Pat the duck legs dry with kitchen paper, rub the salt into the duck flesh and over the fat, add the star anise and cinnamon stick, place the seasoned duck legs in a container cover with cling film and refrigerate for 6 hours. I normally leave the duck legs over night to develop flavour.

Preheat the oven to 160C. In a medium oven proof dish or saucepan melt the duck fat. Pat the duck legs dry with kitchen paper, place the duck legs, cinnamon stick and star anise in the melted duck fat, place a layer of parchment paper on the surface of the melted fat (this is called a Kartouche) and cover the dish with either a tight fitting lid or foil. Place the dish in the preheated oven and cook the duck legs for approximately 2 1/2 hours. To test if  the legs are cooked,  insert the back of a fork, if it goes in and come out easily the meat is cooked,  if this is not the case continue cooking the duck until it's soft and flaky.

Drain the duck legs from the duck fat, let it cool slightly before removing the skin, fat and bones. I normally wear disposable gloves. Flake the meat and let it cool completely before mixing with the rest of the ingredients for the pastilla.

Sous-Vide Duck Legs

Alternatively cook the duck legs in the water bath. Heat the water bath to 82C.

Pat the duck legs dry with kitchen paper, rub the salt into the duck flesh and over the fat, add the star anise and cinnamon stick, place the seasoned duck legs in a clean vacuum bag and seal the bags on hard vacuum.

Cook the legs in the preheated water bath for 8 hours. Let the duck legs cool slightly before opening the bag, remove the skin and bones and flake the cooked duck meat. Keep the cooked duck meat refrigerated until needed.

Duck, Onion and Date Pastilla Mixture

  • 200g flaked cooked confit of duck meat, roughly chopped
  • 100g diced Medoul dates
  • 200g White Onion and Tamarind Chutney
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 medium free range egg

Roughly chop the chilled cooked confit duck meat and dice the Medoul dates.

Mix all the ingredients together and season to taste.

Keep the mixture refrigerated until you are ready to make the pastillas.

Duck, Onion and Date Pastilla

  • 100g unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 filo pastry sheets; 42cm x 29cm each sheet
  • Sumac
  • 4 tbs finely chopped English parsley
  • Duck, Onion and Date Pastilla Mixture

To make the pastilla: Place one piece of the filo pastry on a large chopping board or a clean work surface. Lightly brush with the melted butter and sprinkle with the sumac and chopped parsley. Place another sheet on top and press down so that they stick together.

Cut it into 6cm wide strips, I get 6 strips out of this. Spoon 20 g of the duck mixture at the bottom of each strip.


Fold the pastillas into triangles, brush the end with more melted butter and fold them over, brush the outside with melted butter and garnish the pastillas with sumac. Let the butter set completely. Continue until all the mixture is used.


Place the pastillas on a lined baking sheet.

Preheat the oven to 200C and bake the pastillas for 18 - 20 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Let them cool for a couple of minutes before serving them with the lemon yoghurt and sumac dip.

Lemon Yoghurt and Sumac Dip

  • 100g Greek yoghurt
  • Zest and juice of half a lemon
  • Pinch of sumac
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Mix all the ingredients together, season to taste and keep the dip refrigerated until needed.

Makes 24

Food Fanatics Tip

These pastillas could be made  larger and serve one or two as a portion for a starter.

You could make the pastillas in advance and freeze them. Make sure you separate each layer with parchment paper to prevent them from sticking together. Cook the pastillas from frozen,but cook them  for a longer time and make sure they are piping hot on the inside.

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8 Comments to “Duck, Onion and Date Pastilla”

  1. Great recipe… I like tamarind better with the duck.. it’s brighter than the pomegranate molasses. I really want to give this a try… great photo too!

  2. [...] Duck, Onion and Date Pastilla Recipe by Madalene Bonvini-Hamel … [...]

  3. The Grubworm says:

    This looks like a complex, time consuming and utterly worth-the-effort recipe. When i can set i aside the time i am determined to give it a go because it looks delicious.

  4. James says:

    Hibernation sounds goooood. Bet you could still cook while hibernating though…..

  5. Adelina says:

    Quite a complicate dish but as always, your creativity in combining flavors, texture is always so inspiring!

    Thanks for posting and for sharing!

  6. Madalene says:

    I posted this comment on behalf of one of my readers Diana Ratzer who says……..
    “I always enjoy reading your recipes, you are amazingly inventive! I have just read your Duck, Onion and Date Pastilla in which you use tamarind paste. I used to use it but now I prefer to use pomegranate molasses as I think it has a more interesting depth of flavour and gives a very good sweet/sour tang to dishes. (The tamarind paste I used to use was the TRS concentrated paste brand, ready to use but without any additives etc.)”
    Thank you Diana, great tip about the pomegranate molasses.

  7. Choclette says:

    This has just sent me of on a book reviewing adventure of middle eastern cookery – very inspiring.

  8. Thermomixer says:

    Well done – they look superb as usual. Have you ever tried making your own filo pastry?

    It is a great book, as is their next book, Turquoise. Another is on the way, which is great, as Greg is remarrying this month (may well have happened), but the business/book partnership continues.

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