Lemon Baklava

All served up, best with some hot tea or coffee.

All served up, best with some hot tea or coffee.

  • 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) butter, melted, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (sauce)
  • 1 cup of water (sauce)
  • 1/2 cup of honey (sauce)
  • 1/2 fresh lemon juice and zest (sauce)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 cups walnuts, and other nuts you like
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 package (16 ounces) frozen phyllo dough thawed

It has been a very long winter for sure, and in this drafty and scenic season I find that citrus can brighten any day. I have always wanted to try Baklava, and this recipe worked out pretty well, although there are some things I might do a bit different the second time around. For one, I would not add quite an entire lemon zest as it can overpower the flavors of the nuts.

Andrew Wyeth watercolor

Andrew Wyeth watercolor

Andrew Wyeth is one of my favorite figurative painters. Not many would know this about me, but what I find so fantastic about him is the range of color variation and texture he achieves within a seemingly simple scene. This painting could have been made on our farm right about now. It seems simple in composition, subject, and material/technique, he makes it look easy – and yet there is so much detail. This is how his painting depicts a rich sense of not only place, but mood.

Our deepest snow fall this year - schools cancelled again!

Our deepest snow fall this year – schools cancelled again!

We awoke with a marsh mellowy fluff blanketed on all the things that are typically familiar to us. This is what I love about snow, it makes the world a new visual place to discover. The way the white of the snow cuts ‘negative space’ into objects is endlessly interesting. The contrast makes for unusual forms and implied or broken lines. It makes me think of one of my favorite children’s book writers, Hans Christian Andersen.

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The nut mixture can be anything you like. There are lots of great recipe suggestions out there, but honestly, you can use anything as long as the mixture is chopped or ground up to tooth size bits. I also used pecans, because I heard that it really helps with flavor. You will also find walnuts and almonds in this mixture. Good tip, if you use whole almonds and break down your  mixture with a food processor, do them separate from pecans and walnuts since they are significantly harder to break down.  Add brown sugar, cardamon (perfect with citrus), nutmeg and cinnamon (optional).

The sauce should be prepared while the dish is baking. Combine one cup of water, a half cup of sugar and a half cup of honey. Squeeze and zest half of a lemon. Simmer till it thickens a bit on medium for about 30 min – stir often. You’ll want to spoon the sauce on the baklava hot when it comes out of the oven. Important – when it comes to sauce, make sure you taste it before spooning it on – so that you don’t have too strong a lemon flavor and ruin the overall taste of the baklava with no turning back.

photo-7My sister Renee use to make spinach pie, and had mastered working with this paper thin dough. I decided to give it a try in memory of her and could just hear her chuckling at my clumsy rushed attempt to separate the layers. She had it down to an art. One thing I learned from this is, place plastic wrap, or wax paper and a towel over the dough once out of the package and unrolled. Do not take a break and walk away, or it will dry up and crack away. Butter the dish and and melt two bars of salted butter in a bowl. Preheat the oven to 350.

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Use a glass or metal 9″x12″ or similar dish. If you use glass the dish will cook faster so keep an eye on it. With each layer of phyllo, paint it entirely with butter. This is what makes the flakes pastry consistency when it bakes in the oven. Put down two layers of pastry, then sprinkle with nut mixture. Fold over sheets on the edges so it fits the dish. Repeat till you use about 17 sheets. Of course you can use more or less if it fits. Place in the fridge for 10-15 min, remove and cut into small squares. Now you are ready for the oven, and ready to prepare the sauce.

photoHere is the finished result. Duane helped with this one by keeping Arlo entertained while I destroyed the kitchen. What a messy but rewarding dessert to make.  I like that it has plenty of protein and a blast of vitamin C from the lemon.

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Persian influenced yuca anyone?

I must say Katt’s dehydrating adventures are inspiring me to cook up something both unconventional and portable for brunch, a celebration of the kind of food you can eat while walking, or multi-tasking (which I do a lot of).

I am also excited about my new cook book by Lilia Zaouali entitled: “Medieval Cuisines of the Islamic World” which is filled with amazing artwork and recipes that the ancient Arabs tediously recorded by hand, creating a legacy unique to Persia. I find the dishes combine flavors that still hold up to today’s palate, but for some reason are less commonplace. Some of these flavors include cinnamon, dates and rosewater (my favorite, used as a reduction or as a part of gravy, yum! I’ll have to revisit that.)

A couple of these flavors have worked their way into what I now call Sweet Yuca Patties, an experiment that stemmed from my desire to discover ways to cook yuca root ( or manioc), which I recently picked up from a local market. It is somewhat similar to potato and in traditional South American cuisine is sometimes complimented by sweet citrus flavors.

Typically I make a potato/onion/cheese patty that is savory and dips into sour cream or applesauce. For this dish, I created a sweeter (not too sweet) version of my brunch fav by combining about 1 1/2 cups of finely shredded yuca (which I peeled the bark from first), a scoop of my favorite fig and ginger jam, lime zest, sea salt and a light dash of cinnamon. I browned the patties in extra virgin olive oil and served them up with a dollop of sour cream and spoonful of fig jam.


Artwork and images by Lori Esposito