FLAVOURS: Drop the Balaclavas, Let’s Make Some Baklava!

Welcome to Flavours, Fluster Magazine’s brand new series on the wonderful world of food. Each month Flavours will introduce you to unique and tasty ingredients, dishes and beverages from across the globe via short blog posts that combine humor, infinite knowledge and a slew of photographs borrowed from our generous and heterogeneous Flickr group. Our main goal is to highlight one or two native foods from each country and build a database of flavours, their photos and recipes with the help of willing contributors scattered throughout the six continents. In addition to developing this comprehensive library of cuisines, Flavours will do its best to report from culinary events, review products and food-related establishments, and engage in bizarre or grueling scavenging activities (like tracking down wild truffles in, say, Italy!) all in the name of
research and that heavenly first morsel of whatever it is we found coating our gums, sliding down our tongue and forcing us to grin.

Here’s our message to you:

If you enjoy writing, traveling and discovering new foods, get in touch with Fluster Magazine and pitch your idea to us, so drop us an email or leave a comment in this page. We are always on the prowl for culturally sensitive, animal friendly, highly creative and somewhat humorous writing that covers a specific country’s culinary riches or other more random food-themed topics. If you don’t write but revel in all-things edible, we urge you to let us know what you would like to read and see on these pages.  Flavours is a collaborative effort and we are all quite good listeners. With that out of the way, as a message of peace of sorts during these perilous times, keep an eye out for our first piece, “Drop the Balaclavas, Let’s Make Some Baklava.

Seriously now.

Drop the Balaclavas,

Let’s Make Some Baklava

by Mateo Jarrín Cuvi

The sole thought of making baklava, that syrupy and nutty Middle Eastern pastry, might spark a bout of nightmarish bedwetting in a novice baker like me. Working with phyllo, the paper-thin sheets of dough that require a “Handle With Care” warning, has always frightened me, maybe because I would picture myself bungling the dessert’s layering with my thick hands and leaving the kitchen—dirty, sticky and destroyed—like a cartoonish intergalactic warzone. But, as popular culture has it, there’s no better way to face your fears than head-on, so I enlisted the help of my wife’s aunt, her baking prowess and whichever Catholic saint watches over pseudo-chefs to take a stab at preparing a tray of baklava.

As with most other Cypriot activities, we fired the first shot in our battle against baklava by consuming copious amounts of food. My wife’s aunt, who revels in loading and frequently reloading everyone’s plate on the dining table, offered me homemade lemonade, sliced apples, pomegranate and cloyingly sweet preserved fruits. After all of this, she lamented she hadn’t saved one of the chocolate cream cheese muffins she made with much love for her grandchildren. Lucky for me, if she had, I would’ve required a gurney or shot of insulin on my way back home.

DSCN0907

The filling and syrup is child’s play. Our aunt had already finely chopped 3 ½ cups of almonds, and it was my duty to toss them with 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground clove. She poured a healthy ½ cup of sunflower or vegetable oil in the almond-laden bowl and stirred until the nuts were thoroughly coated. For the syrup, all we did was simmer 1 ¾ cups of water with 1 ½ cups of sugar, 5 to 6 whole cloves and 1 cinnamon stick for 10 minutes, adding 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice as soon as the liquid reached its boiling point. We then allowed it to sit so that it cooled.

Dealing with the phyllo, of course, posed a greater challenge. First, we melted about 200 to 250 grams of butter (basically, a brick of cholesterol) in a sauce pot. Next, she carefully spread out 2 sheets of the dough on a flat surface and gently brushed them with some of the melted butter. We placed 1 additional sheet over the first 2 and buttered, repeating one more time until we had a short stack of 4 buttered sheets. With a large spoon, we dropped some of the filling along the edge of the buttered phyllo, creating a small mound of almonds that traveled the length of the pastry. We then slowly yet tightly rolled the pastry using our finger tips—not the palms of our hands—to create a tube compact enough to hold in the filling. In this instance, I applied the same technique a coiffeur uses to massage countless scalps and not that of a home cook flattening pizza dough with a rolling pin. By the end of this process, we had 6 nut-stuffed tubes that fit perfectly side by side in a rectangular 22 x 35 centimeter baking dish. We cut the tubes into 48 pieces, brushed them with whatever butter was left in the pot, and placed the baklava in a preheated 180 °C oven to bake for between 55 and 60 minutes, practically until it was golden brown and crunchy.

DSCN0902

As soon as we removed the piping hot tray from the oven, we poured the cool syrup all over the baklava followed by a handful of coarsely chopped pistachios.

The warm scent of caramelized, buttery dough and spicy almonds wafted throughout the kitchen. Finally, time to dig in and hopefully confirm our victory over baklava. What I really like about this Cypriot version is that it neither feels heavy nor unpalatably sweet, allowing me to indulge in two or twelve morsels without later cursing myself for putting my organs through so much unnecessary strain. There’s a wonderful balance between the sugar, multiple spices, butter and dough. Personally, I would cut down on the amount of cloves used in this recipe, but that’s because my love for cloves slots immediately behind that for dental work, tight airplane seats, guavas and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. When I asked our guide how Cypriot baklava differs from the traditional Lebanese kind, she mentioned that the latter, at least in its commercial versions, utilizes greater amounts of butter, sugar and nuts, and far less spice.

This begs the question—why on earth did we not organize a blind tasting of baklava and have the two duke it out for supremacy in our palates? I guess I could use Fluster Magazine’s staff members, a few of our brave readers and my devoted wife as guinea pigs, all in the hope that they like mine better.

DSCN0909

Mateo Jarrín Cuvi is Flavours` editor and contributor: “You might be wondering what I bring to the table. For one, my multicultural upbringing and lifestyle is somewhat of a plus. Thanks to my father’s nomadic job, I was raised on a steady and healthy diet of Ecuadorian, Scottish, Colombian, Brazilian, Argentine and Texan food. Later, I added to this gluttonous disposition through my extensive travels in Latin America, the United States and Europe, and developed a continuously growing passion for wine and beer, haute cuisine, street food, cooking and the use of fresh local ingredients. Now I live in Cyprus where the meze is plentiful and my waistline and lower body fight a losing battle against plumpness. Besides participating in the launch and evolution of Flavours, for the past three years I have run an island wine blog called Whine on The Rocks, written a multitude of food and wine articles for a now unfortunately defunct Cypriot culinary magazine, and dabbled here and there in the art of the short story”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: