The Spice Rack

"There is no love sincerer than the love of food." Join me as I explore this love with reckless abandon. Each week try a new recipe from a different region. Read a little about each recipes' history and a lot about what it took to get it from the pages of the cookbook to the dinner table.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Baklava

Yum, this is one of my favorite deserts. I was first introduced to Greek cooking on a high school trip to the country and have loved it ever since. Baklava in its earliest forms was created in the Middle East, but it was the Greeks who first began using filo dough, and thus made baklava the flaky pastry we all know and love. These gooey ultra-rich triangles make my mouth water. I realize that two recipes using filo dough in a row might be a lot to ask. But you'll have practice from the last recipe and will have mastered the finicky stuff by now, so this one will be a piece of cake. Here's what you'll need:

1/2 pound shelled walnuts
1/2 pound almonds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 pound melted butter
1/2 pound filo dough (refrigerate it overnight to thaw)
plus one batch of the syrup:
1 cup honey
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

This recipe should be easy if you've mastered working with filo. If not, just handle the filo sheets as if they were delicate pieces of 100-year-old parchment and you should be fine. The layering can get a little tiresome but it's worth it in the end.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Finely chop walnuts and almonds. Mix together the cinnamon, allspice and sugar. Combine this mixture to the nuts and mix well.

Brush 9X13 pan with some of the melted butter. Line the bottom of the dish with about 10 sheets of filo, coating each with a layer of butter before adding the next. Spread a little of the nut mixture evenly over the filo sheets. Cover this with about two filo sheets, again brushing each with butter. Spread a little of the nut mixture over and repeat with the filo sheets. Continue the process until all the nut mixture is used. Cover with the remaining filo sheets, again brush each with butter as you layer.

Cut diagonally, making diamonds, through only the top layer of filo. Bake until browned and crisp. 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile make the syrup.
Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, stir constantly to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks and let cool. When you remove the baklava from the oven let it cool slightly, then poor the sugar mixture evenly over the top. Allow it to cool fully before you cut all the way through.

Hope you enjoy!

This recipe was adapted from the book
"Greek Cooking for the Gods" by Eva Zane

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bastilla

Ok, today I thought I would do another of my favorite recipes, and one that I am still working to perfect.

On my first trip to Morocco I sat down at a small restaurant in Tangier with a group of friends and was served Moroccan Bastilla for a first course. This was my first introduction to this spicy pie encased in a deliciously flaky and crisp crust, which is famous in Morocco. As soon as I returned to the states I got online and hunted down a variety of bastilla recipes to try. Traditionally made with pigeon, I have been working on perfecting the chicken variety, and that is the recipe I will share here. I found the recipe intimidating at first but it really isn't all that difficult. The hardest part by far is working with the filo dough, which just takes a little practice. Make sure you thaw it correctly, or it will stick together and tear, a lesson I learned the hard way the first time I tried this recipe.

3 large bone less chicken breasts
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons tumeric
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 large cinnamon sticks
3 cups chicken stock
4 egg whites
1/3 cup finely chopped almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 package phyllo dough - thaw overnight in the refrigerator

The night before you are going to serve combine the tumeric, saffron, ginger, coriander and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan with the chicken stock. Bring to a gentle simmer and then add the chicken breast to the pan. Cover and poach the chicken in the sauce until cooked (about 10-15 minutes). Remove from heat and allow entire mixture to cool. Remove the breasts from the sauce mixture and shred in a food processor, return shredded chicken to bowl with sauce and refrigerate overnight.

The next day strain off the sauce mixture from the chicken, and remove the cinnamon sticks.
Combine about half of the sauce mixture with four egg whites and scramble. Fold mixture into the shredded chicken. This will help it stick together.

Combine the almonds, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and put to the side.

Ok, here comes the hard part. You can either make about 20 small, finger food pies out of this recipe or you can make about 10 larger pies. I prefer to make the larger pies as they are easier.

Layer three to five sheets of filo on top of one another with a little oil in between each sheet. Cut sheets into squares, the size will depend on how large you want to make your pies. Put a little of the chicken mixture in each square and top with a sprinkling of the almond mixture. Then fold over so the finished product is a triangle.

Place the triangles on a baking sheet and bake for about 15-20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.
When they come out sprinkle the top of each with a little more of the cinnamon and sugar mixture and enjoy!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sopapillas

Hello fellow cooks,

For my first post in this new cooking blog I thought I would start with a tried and true recipe, one that has received rave reviews in the past. Since the theme of this blog is to try a recipe from a different region every week I thought I would start out with a regional cuisine that I know well, New Mexican.

Most people think that New Mexican and Mexican food are the same things. These people have obviously never been to New Mexico and tried the food or met a New Mexican, we are quick to point out the subtle differences. To illustrate those differences I will give you the recipe for one of my favorite New Mexican foods, sopapillas.

Sopapillas have a special place in my heart. The soft pillow of fried dour drizzled with honey made a weekly appearance at our dinner table when I was growing up and I have fond memories of stuffing myself to near explosion on them.

New Mexican "sopas" are a little different than their Mexican counterparts. Ours are not a dessert and are not rolled in cinnamon and sugar. They are traditionally served as an appetizer, at many New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque you will sit down to a basket of warm sopapillas before your meal arrives. And they are served drizzled with honey. In our house, and at many restaurants, we make stuffed sopapillas turning them into a main course. When I tell people about this I generally get a disgusted look, as they are used to the Mexican variety of sopapillas. But I strongly suggest you try this, it is one of my favorite New Mexican meals.

After you have made the sopapillas, tear off the top of one and stuff it with refried beans, ground beef, cheese, salsa, tomatoes etc. It becomes something like a taco, but with a delicious twist.
Here's my moms recipe and the one I have been wowing friends with since moving to Missouri.
Sopapillas:
4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon shortening
1 package (about 1 tablespoon) dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/4 cup scalded milk

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Next dissolve the yeast in the warm water. To scald the milk put it in the microwave or on a stovetop until it is on the verge of boiling. Let the milk cool and then add the yeast and water mixture and stir.
Make a well out of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid ingredients slowly mixing together until you have dough.
Knead the dough 10/20 times until it is slightly elastic and let rise for about 10 minutes.

This recipe makes about 3/4 dozen sopapillas. From here I suggest dividing the dough into quarters, roll out each quarter into a square that is about 1/8 of an inch thick and cut the dough into nine squares. Each of these squares will become a sopapilla.
Warm vegetable oil in a large sauce pan to about 420 degrees (you want it hot but not scalding or you will they will cook to fast and not have time to puff up, medium heat on a stovetop works well) You can use however much oil you want, but it should be deep enough in the pan so that the piece of dough can be submerged.
Now here's the fun part. Drop one of the squares of dough into the hot oil and let it submerge. Here's my trick to get it to puff up (the hardest part of the recipe, nobody like flat sopas) tap the side of the piece of dough gently but consistently with spatula, or whatever you are using to remove the sopapilla from the oil. Once it has puffed with air, flip it and cook the other side. Continue to flip and cook until both sides are golden brown and repeat with all dough. When you get really good you should be able to cook more than one at a time.
Serve while they are still warm with honey, or try the stuffed variety suggested above.
Hope you enjoy!