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Borough Belles: Sophie Backhouse

Categories: Reflections and opinions

The Borough Belles, Borough Market’s neighbourhood branch of the Women’s Institute, is packed with keen cooks, happy to share their ideas and insights. This month: Sophie Backhouse

I joined Borough Belles a year and a half ago. I had moved from one area of London to another and I didn’t really know anyone, so I thought it would be a great way to meet people, get involved in interesting activities, and provide me with an opportunity to talk to people and make friends—I’ve made some really good friends out of it, so it’s been worthwhile.

Sophie BackhouseI am the campaigns officer on the committee, which involves communicating with other organisations and charities, overseeing any actions we want to bring forward that month in meetings, running food banks, that kind of thing. We quite regularly work with Dimbleby Cancer Care, as they are local to us—we volunteered at their Christmas carol concert, for example, and we are planning an event with them this summer. When they need volunteers, our squad will go and help out. We’ve also done things like river bank clean ups, so it’s a real mix.

I would say I’m not a huge baker; I’m not the first person to bring a cake to a meeting—I have had a lot of baking disasters! But cooking I really enjoy, I’ve always done so. I think it’s really important to know what it is you’re eating, and I find cooking quite therapeutic. I really like having friends round for dinner and hosting dinner parties when I can.

The dish I want to share is like a fragrant Middle Eastern pie, but the pastry’s quite light because it’s filo. The filling is cooked with lots of herbs and spices, so it’s really tasty. We first tried it in Marrakesh, then when we came home we wanted to try and recreate it.

The recipe I use is based on Sabrina Ghayour’s chicken bastilla from her book Persiana, but we’ve adapted it—I reduce the amount of sugar and I don't use mace, so I use different quantities of other spices, depending on what we have in the cupboards. It’s a bit of a feast meal—weeknights we try and keep it quite simple, usually Italian type food, but at the weekend we might spend three hours cooking something a bit bigger, then sit down together to eat. We’re knackered by the time we eat it! But it’s a fun process.

This recipe serves 6, but you can eat the leftover parcels for lunch the next day.

Chicken bastilla

Sophie’s chicken bastilla
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line a baking sheet with baking paper. Roast a whole chicken in the oven until it is cooked through, then shred the meat.

Dice six onions, fry them in a little oil until caramelised, then add 1 tsp cinnamon and nutmeg to the pan. Peel and grate 2½ inches of fresh ginger and add to the onions, along with 1 tsp caster sugar and 6-8 finely chopped dates. Stir and cook until any cooking liquid has been absorbed.

Lightly toast 70g pine nuts, then hard boil 6 eggs and roughly chop. In a large bowl, place the shredded chicken, the pine nuts, the eggs, some chopped flat leaf parsley and coriander and mix. Add 2 tsp honey and the onion mixture and season with salt and pepper.

Separate the yolk from the white of one egg, then beat the white.

Take 6 sheets of filo pastry and cut each sheet in 2 to make 2 squares. Take 2 squares and overlap them to create a star shape and repeat until you have 6. Divide the filling mix into 6 then pop 1 portion into the centre of each filo star.

Flatten the mix a little with the back of a spoon and then brush the edges of the pasty with the egg white before bringing the corners of the pastry to the centre, brushing each point with egg white before overlapping them to close and secure the parcel. Seal with a little more egg white and then place on a baking sheet the other way up.

Repeat with all the parcels and then brush the tops with the egg yolk before putting in the oven for 20-25 mins (or golden brown).

Once removed from the oven, dust with icing sugar and a sprinkling of cinnamon before serving with salad or other simple side dishes.

Borough Belles WI meet the third Wednesday of every month at Better Bankside—details of how to join the Belles and of upcoming meetings and clubs can be found on their website and via Facebook