My very favorite pub closed last year. This was the place where DP and I would go when everything else seemed stupid or irritating and we didn’t want to cook. We always agreed on it. I think Valentine’s Day is a stupid manufactured holiday, but DP could always convince me to go to Favorite Pub. And we would have a nice, low-key dinner, and bourbon and chocolate cake, and we would be happy.
The closing of the pub the first credible threat to my marriage.
So it was stupid Hallmark season and not only was Favorite Pub gone, it was supposed to snow and gale and blizzard and the sky filled with locusts. What was a poor Clause to do? Well she decided to make dinner for the man who usually makes dinner. Back in my bachelor days, I ate mostly vegetarian food because I can’t really cook meat.
Baking chicken or fish fills me with insecurity. But give me chickpeas, squash, dried apricots, chicken breast, home-made harissa, and a shit-ton of spices, and I can make a stew, and whistle while I work. So it was chicken tagine, Turkish salad (cucumbers, radishes, scallions, carrots, parsley, feta, lemon, oil, zatar), and baklava.
Baklava! You would think that it would be difficult, that your Greek grandmother would have to hand down the recipe to you, that the average human being would be unable to complete the complicated pastry. But this is not so! It is easier than pie and slightly more difficult than cake. And because I love you, dear readers, I’d like to share the recipe.
Baklawa as per Claudia Roden, Queen of Middle Eastern Cookery
First make the syrup. Dissolve 2 1/2 c sugar into 1 1/4 c water and add 2 Tb. lemon juice. Simmer until it thickens. Then you’re supposed to add 2 Tb. of orange blossom or rose water. I could find neither in the two neighboring supermarkets (one of which is in an area so white they think taco “shells” are ethnic foods). Interwebs said that you could marinate orange zest in sweet white wine for 24 h, but of course I left no time. Vanilla extract or triple sec were other suggestions. I went with the vanilla bourbon we use instead of vanilla extract.
Roden mentioned that Greeks will add honey to this syrup. So I did (heaping dinner spoon), because I like honey. I sort of imagine you could make a Canadian version of this and add maple syrup, and it would still taste good.
Put the syrup in the fridge to cool.
Take out frozen fillo dough. (I imagine Greek grandmas make their own, but I wasn’t not in the mood to give myself a nervous breakdown.) You should have done this two hours ago (sorry).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large casserole or baking sheet with sides, lay out the first fillo sheet. Brush with melted butter (I would melt 2 sticks of unsalted butter to work with) and spread with ground nuts (3-3 1/2 c. or 1 lb. pistachios or walnuts ground fine).
Because Roden is a culture maven, she says that some people use ground blanched almonds mixed with sugar (in which case you use half the above syrup). The recipe itself calls for ground pistachio or walnuts. I imagine any ground nut would be good here. In Iraq and Iran, they put 1 Tb. ground cardamom with their almonds. I used pistachios, and DP and I agreed cardamom would have been good too.)
Work quickly and lay out the first half of the fillo sheets with butter and nuts. Then the remaining sheets of fillo should be brushed with just butter.
Cut diagonal parallel lines 2 in apart into diamond shapes.
Bake for 30-35 min. Faint from the delicious smells emanating from the oven. Come to and taunt DP about this mystery dessert, and didn’t he want to know what I was making him. DP is wise to my ways and demurred. Take out the baklava and pour your syrup along the cut lines. Serve once cool.
What do you love?