Filo dough can be very intimidating to work with. It’s hard to find, not used in American cuisine, and requires patience to handle. We learned that filo dough originated in the kitchens of Topkapı Palace, where the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire once lived. When people think of filo dough, most think of decadent sweets like baklava, but filo dough is also be used for savory snacks like borek (filo layered with spinach & feta). We haven’t made borek yet, but trust us, it’ll be on the blog soon enough.
Naturally, when we started to make baklava, we had to call my father, Baba (Turkish for father), since he’s our resident Turkish food expert. He loves the blog and hopefully will love the shout out as well. He gave us some tips for how to make the best baklava possible and include how finely to grind the walnuts, how thick the walnut layer should be, and also that the best baklava sets for a couple days to really absorb all the sweet syrup. Baba also shared a great story from when he was a child and my Babaanne (father’s mother = grandmother) would make baklava, she would have to lock the finished baklava in another room so my father and his siblings wouldn’t eat it all before it was perfectly set. Of course, we had to try it as soon as we poured the syrup over it… but when we tried it again for breakfast the next day, we both agree that it only gets better as it sets for a day or two.
We hope you enjoy this decadently sweet treat, your sweet tooth will thank us.
(Adapted from the cookbook Sultan’s Table, by Ozçan Ozan with tips from Selim’s father)
2 cups cold water
3 cups + 2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 cups (~300g) walnuts
1 1/2 cups unsalted, clarified butter
40 sheets of filo dough (usually 2 packages)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
(If you have clarified butter, melt the appropriate amount. If you only have regular butter, melt it in a saucepan and then skim off the foam and slowly pour the liquid into a bowl making sure to not transfer solid milk fats which are at the bottom.)
Prepare the syrup: combine cold water and 3 1/2 cups of sugar in a medium saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, then lower heat to a simmer. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
Stir in the lemon juice and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, combine walnuts and 2 tbsp sugar in food processor. Process until “medium” ground – don’t let it get too fine.
Now brush the inside of a large cookie sheet with clarified butter.
Place a sheet of filo dough in the pan. Brush with another little bit of clarified butter. Continue in this pattern until you’ve placed half of the sheets (~20) of filo dough in the pan.
Now spread the walnut mixture onto the top layer of filo dough. Drizzle with more clarified butter.
Return to the pattern of layering dough and clarified butter until you use all of the rest of the filo dough sheets. Brush the top layer and the edges with clarified butter.
Take a very sharp knife and dip it into hot water. Slice down halfway through the height of the dough into the size and shape of baklava pieces you want at the end.
Bake for 25 minutes in the center of the oven.
Lower heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.
Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
Slice all the way through, along the lines you previously made.
What’s the first thing people think of when they think of Turkish food? Kofte is the first thing for most people, but there’s so much more! Don’t worry, we’re going to keep cooking our way through them and sharing with you here. Gözleme is one of the many great Turkish street foods. (Lahmacun is another that if you haven’t tried from our blog, you should soon!) So good in fact that it has spread from Turkey to the rest of the world. In Australia, there’s a fast food place, called Gözleme King, devoted to making different types of gözleme. This spinach and cheese preparation is a fairly traditional one, but gözleme can contain pretty much anything! In the future we’re definitely going to throw in some sucuk (Turkish sausage). But as is, this dish is amazing. The dough is soft, light, and just a bit crispy on the edges. And it essentially goes without saying that the warm feta brings it all of the flavors together perfectly.
*So speaking of feta… Let’s talk about feta. I know so many people who loooove feta. I’m one of them, obviously. We could form a fan club if y’all want? But here’s the thing, a lot of people I know have only ever had the pre-crumbled, standard grocery store feta. I used to be one of them. As with many other things, when I started dating Selim, my narrowly bounded world of feta expanded. If you think feta only exists in its pre-crumbled form and you love it anyway, please go out and find some block feta in brine. Your world will be changed forever, I promise. (Mine was!) The flavor and texture are so much better – you’ll never go back. Sadly, not all of your standard grocery stores will have feta like this. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods usually do, but if yours doesn’t, try an international grocery store, a halal market, or a Middle Eastern specialty shop. While you’re there, try all the different types of feta and Middle Eastern cheeses, your cheese-world will be forever changed.
We have two go-tos when it comes to making Turkish recipes. The first is Ozcan Ozan’s cookbook that I’ve referenced on here before. But the second is a blog called Ozlem’s Turkish Table. Tonight’s recipe is adapted from there. It is a wonderful resource for all things Turkish food!
Begin by making the dough. Take 1/2 cup of warm water and stir in the pinch of salt and yeast. Allow to sit for a few minutes until it begins to bubble.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast mixture, yogurt, and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add additional water by the tablespoon. (I used an additional 2-3 tbsp). Using your hands, form into a big ball of dough.
Once you have a ball of dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for several minutes.
Divide into 4 similarly sized smaller balls. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for ~30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Pour 2 tsp of olive oil into a pan over medium heat.
Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and onions. Sprinkle with the spices and stir.
Cook just for 4-5 minutes until soft and fragrant, but not starting to brown.
Add the spinach and a couple drops of water to the pan and cover. Leave covered for just a minute or two, until the spinach has wilted just a bit.
Remove the lid and stir together well. Allow to cook for another minute or two with the lid off to get rid of any excess moisture.
Remove to a bowl on the side. Mix in the feta.
Now roll out the dough balls into large, thin, rectangular segments.
Divide the mixture from the pan among the dough segments, placing in the middle of each piece of dough. Make sure to leave plenty of room around the edges for folding.
Fold the dough around the mixture as pictured. (You want to end up with a little rectangular envelope.) Brush the edges with olive oil to help them stay together.
Now, bring a large pan, preferably a griddle one, up to medium heat. [Don’t start until the pan is hot!]
Brush both sides of each gözleme with more olive oil. Once pan is hot, place them on the pan. (You can do one at a time or if you’re more confidant in your skills than I am, as many as will comfortably fit in your pan.) Cover the pan and do not touch for three full minutes. At this time, flip to the other side, re-cover, and again, do not touch for three minutes!
After this point, you may flip back and forth a few times, cooking another 4-5 minutes until dough is cooking and the outside crisped to your liking.
Do you love soup as much as I do? Are you looking for a little variety in your soup life? Then this might be the soup for you. A few years ago, we were in Turkey visiting Selim’s family. Over there, I basically hit the soup jackpot. Not only does Turkish cuisine include soup with most meals, which I think is a great idea, but I also got to taste several homemade varieties from Selim’s aunts and grandmother. These women sure know how to cook. While they didn’t make this particular soup while we were there, the flavors bring me right back to their kitchens in Istanbul.
If you’re reading the ingredients, you might be thinking two thoughts… 1) “Umm… isn’t yogurt supposed to be cold?” Or 2) “Uhhh… that sounds pretty simple. It’s probably not worth my time.”
Move past those thoughts. This soup is delicious! It’s creamy and comforting. It also has amazing flavor, belying its few ingredients. The flavor profile is unique, one not particularly familiar to the American palate. Give it a whirl; I’ll bet you’ll appreciate the introduction.
Update 9/19/16: We were invited by Genie, at Bunny Eats Design, to add this recipe to her monthly link-up. Once I got over the surprise that someone out there actually read our blog (much less someone who’s blog I’ve enjoyed reading prior to this point!), I read about her link-up. It’s called Our Growing Edge and encourages participants to attempt food-related personal challenges. I love this! This post and recipe certainly fit into that goal, as I’m always wanting to create dishes true to Selim’s Turkish heritage. This month’s link-up is hosted by Chrystal at The Smallwood Parsonage, with the theme of Family Recipes. You don’t have to be invited to join – see here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be reading through posts from past link-ups instead of studying.
High Plateau Soup
(Recipe adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook, by Özcan Ozan)
4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup plain yogurt
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp flour
10 fresh mint leaves
Place the stock, rice, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Stir in the paprika and salt.
Decrease heat and cook at a low simmer for 20-30 minutes, until rice is cooked.
Meanwhile, mix the yogurt, egg yolks, and flour together.
Stir the yogurt mixture into the soup slowly. Chop up the mint leaves and add to the soup. Turn the heat down to low and cook for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
Makes 2 meal-sized servings or 4 servings as a starter or side to another dish.
What is lahmacun you ask? Let’s start with pronunciation. If you’re American (or not Turkish, really), I can almost guarantee your guess is wrong. In Turkish, the pronunciation of ‘c’ as we English speakers know it, doesn’t really exist. If you see a ‘c’ in a Turkish word, think of it as an English ‘j.’ Easy enough? But wait! If you see this letter: ç, forget what I just said. Ç = ‘ch.’ The ‘c’ in lahmacun doesn’t have a tail on it, so it is pronounced as a ‘j.’ Therefore: “lah-mah-june.”
Now that we can all say it, what is it? Well it’s the epitome of delicious Turkish street food. It originates from Southeastern Turkey (although that is debated by some, as is the origin of pretty much every beloved food I’ve ever heard of…), and is popular in Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Lebanon, and other surrounding areas. It is essentially a meat-topped flatbread. In the US and Europe it is sometimes referred to as a “Turkish pizza.” That’s a reasonably accurate description I suppose, although to me the biggest and most obvious difference is that lahmacun isn’t covered in cheese as your traditional pizza is. Lahmacun can have a variety of toppings and therefore recipe variations, but at its core it is pita dough, baked with spiced meat on top. When purchased from a street vendor, they are commonly rolled up around a salad of sorts, but can also be eaten flat as we did tonight. Lamb is more traditional than beef, but since I had beef at home, that’s what we went with today.
(Recipe adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook, by Özcan Ozan)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 3/4 cups hot water, divided
4 cups flour
2 tsp salt
12oz ground beef (or lamb)
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 can (14.5oz) diced tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
10 turns fresh ground pepper
First, prepare the dough. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup of warm water. Let sit for ~10 minutes until frothy.
Add 1 cup of flour to a larger bowl. Pour the yeast mixture over top and stir. After combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.
Now add the remaining flour, remaining water, and salt. Mix with a spoon in the bowl until you have a well-combined ball of dough. Then turn out onto a lightly floured, clean, dry counter-top. Knead the dough for 10+ minutes. The dough should be firm and elastic.
Pour just a tiny bit of olive oil onto a paper towel and swipe around the bottom and side of a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to sit for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size.
While your dough is rising, prepare the meat topping. Combine all of the rest of the ingredients. (Note: the ground meat used by Turkish cooks for this dish is more finely ground than how it is generally sold in the US. I used the back of a fork and smashed the meat a little bit to make it a bit finer.)
After the dough has risen, roll it out on your floured counter-top, so it is a long log. Using a sharp knife, cut into 8 equal chunks. Meanwhile, preheat your over to 450 degrees.
Smash each chunk of dough with the heel of your hand so it is fairly flat. Then roll out with a rolling pin. The dough should end up slightly smaller than the size of an average dinner plate.
Top the dough with your meat mixture, leaving ~1/2 inch edge.
Place on a pizza stone or a flat cookie sheet. Bake on top rack for 10-12 minutes. The meat should be browned and the edges of the dough golden and a bit crispy.