#ThatTranslatorCanCook Week One: Moroccan Pastilla

Moroccan chicken pastilla in a baking tray.

I recently discovered the amazing HannahTranslates’ instagram page and was instantly taken by her #ThatTranslatorCanCook challenge! In this challenge, she picks a recipe in French each week for a year, translates it into English and then cooks it! Afterwards, she writes up her translation and cooking experience on her blog and I thought, you know what, that sounds like something I could do! I decided, however, to alternate my recipes between Arabic and French, as I work in both languages.

My inspiration for this week’s recipe was actually The Great British Bake Off. During pastry week, Paul and Prue asked the contestants to make a Moroccan Chicken Pie with warqa pastry (although Paul pronounced it ‘Walker’, making it sound distinctly Scottish, not North African!) and, as I lived in Morocco for eight months in 2016, I desperately wanted to try it! I think I may have eaten one of these in Morocco, but I don’t really remember it. However, unlike the GBBO contestants, the recipe I chose (thankfully) calls for ready-made pastry!

This recipe actually contained quite a few words that confused me. I’m not sure if that’s because they’re very specific cooking terms or if they were actually in Moroccan dialect, but I had to use educated guesses for quite a lot of them! Here are a few things that stood out to me that I think could be applied to translating Arabic recipes in general:
– you may need to add the numbers 1 and 2 in your ingredients list, as Arabic has singular, dual and plural nouns and often omits these numbers where English doesn’t
– you will probably want to remove unnecessary repetitions (including parallelisms), as these are very common in Arabic, but sound clunky in English!
– you may need to rearrange some adjectives, as Arabic doesn’t always use the same adjectival order as English (e.g. this recipe called for [literally] roasted ground almonds, but I thought ground roasted almonds sounded better)
-Arabic has some very specific verbs like ‘ أدخلي ‘, which you may need to replace with phrasal verbs in English (‘to put in’)
– your final translation will probably be longer than the source text, because, despite repetitions, Arabic tends to be quite a concise language!

There was one specific part of the translation that caused me some issues:
‘ أعيدي ماء سلق الدجاجة إلى قدر ‘
I initially misread this and thought that it said ‘put the chicken in boiling water in a pot’, but once I read further and realised that the chicken and the boiling water needed to be separate, so you could cook eggs in the liquid, I discovered that it is actually an iDaafa phrase and means ‘put the boiling chicken water in a pot’. However, this sounded a little odd in English, so I changed it to ‘cooking liquid’, though I think ‘stock’ would work too!

It turns out that Moroccan pastilla is time-consuming, but surprisingly easy to make! However, stay tuned to the end to find out why I probably won’t be making it again…

Chicken, parsley, onion and garlic in a slow cooker.

My first issue was how I was going to cook a whole chicken in a pot…my husband suggested using the slow cooker, which was (just!) large enough. Then I realised that the recipe didn’t actually specify how much water to cook the chicken in, so I looked up some other recipes, which said to use 500ml. However, even after adding that, it looked too dry, so I added about a litre in total and then removed some of the liquid at the egg cooking stage. I also added garlic, as my husband and I both love garlic and the other recipes I saw included garlic.

Moroccan pastilla being assembled

The rest of the recipe was fairly easy to follow, but when it came to the assembly (where you alternate layers of an egg and ground almond mixture and a chicken onion mixture, with filo in between), I discovered that there was no hint about what size of pan to use. I opted for a fairly large pan, but think this may have been a mistake. The recipe called for ten sheets of filo pastry, but I only ended up using five, leaving me to think that the pie should have been narrower and taller.

Finished Moroccan pastilla

I actually prepped the pie early so I could just pop it in the oven when my husband came home. Again, the recipe was somewhat lacking as it didn’t specify how long to leave it in the oven, so I just played it by ear. In the end, it took about half an hour. The final step was to decorate with cinammon and icing sugar (how odd does that seem?!) and I ended up using less than the recipe recommended, because it seemed like a lot!

Final Verdict: I was glad that I tried it, but in all honesty, my husband and I both thought it was a strange combination. I even had to reassure him that I hadn’t made a mistake in my translation and that it should, in fact, contain sugar and cinnamon! It’s a very traditional Moroccan dish, but the combination of the ultra sweet icing sugar and filo pastry with a chicken and onion mix was a little confusing on our palates!

Next week: I tried my hand at traditional Breton cake ‘Kouign Amann’!

If you have any suggestions for recipes I could try, let me know on social media, via email or in the comments below!

Published by verityroat

Verity Roat BA CANTAB MA TRANSLATION CIOL Career Associate is a UK-based Arabic and French > English translator, Copy-writer, Copy-editor, Transcriber, Role-player & Tutor.

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