I love the crisp delicate nature of filo pastry. We mostly see it in desserts from the Middle East but I particularly love it in savoury dishes. Here is one of my favourites that I recently made.
I was originally concerned that this was a very European-style dish but was very pleasantly surprised with the results. The earthy spinach is brought alive with the Lebanese 7-spice mix and complimented beautifully with the sweet caramelised onions and the walnuts. Sweet, earthy and a beautiful balance of spices is how I would describe the dish. This is coming to my table again and often.
Lebanese 7-spice blend, aka Baharat spice blend, is a combination of sweet spices that add a lovely aroma and flavour to food. It is the most common spice blend in Lebanon and the region with countless variations. It can be used as a rub for grilled meats, or as a flavouring for stews. Cooking the blend brings out a subtle sweet aroma and adds a delicate flavour to the dish. ready blends are easily available in any Middle eastern store, and in India can be purchased from Doyen Foods.
The Lebanese Cookbook is a massive volume, 500 recipes, by an authority on Lebanese cooking. This book is the definitive guide on Lebanese Cuisine by James Beard award-winning author Salma Hage. That brings together hundreds of diverse dishes, from light, tempting mezze and salads, to hearty main courses, grilled meats, sumptuous sweets, and refreshing drinks. Salma Hage is from Mazarat Tiffah in the mountains of the Kadisha Valley in north Lebanon. She has over 50 years of experience in family cooking – learning to cook from her mother, mother-in-law, and sisters-in-law while helping to raise her nine brothers and two sisters. This massive volume is a collection of her work and a lovely book to have on your shelf.
For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon butter
1 lb baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon Lebanese 7-spice mix
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cream
Filo pastry, thawed and cut to size
3-4 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup walnut halves
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Mini muffin tray
Lebanese 7-spice mix:
5 tablespoons allspice
3 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
5 tablespoons cloves
4 tablespoons fenugreek seeds
4 tablespoons ground dried ginger
4 tablespoons nutmeg
To make the Lebanese 7-spice mix, dry roast all the whole spices individually till aromatic and lightly coloured. Cool and grind to a fine powder in a spice mill. Mix with the nutmeg and ground ginger. Store in an air-tight container.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onions and sugar. Fry on medium heat till the onions are caramelised and richly golden. Remove and cool. Set aside.
Add the butter to the same frying pan and add the spinach. Cook till the spinach has wilted and the liquids have dried out. Remove the spinach and drain on a fine-mesh sieve. When cooled press out all the liquids getting it as dry as possible. This is important otherwise the tarts will not set well and be mushy. Mix in the spices, nutmeg, Lebanese 7-spice mix, salt and pepper and set aside.
Beat the egg into the cream. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375° F.
To assemble the tart, melt the butter in a small bowl and oil the muffin tray. Add 2 layers of filo pastry followed by 2 layers at a 90° angle. Lightly butter the pastry. Follow with two more layers at a 45° angle. Lightly butter the pastry. You want a nice covering of the base and some of the short ends for the filo pastry sticking up. Lightly butter the pastry. Fill each base with 1 tablespoon of the spinach filling followed by 1 1/2 teaspoons of the egg-cream mix.
bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes till the filo is browned and the centre of the tart is completely cooked.
While the tarts are baking, add the walnuts to a small frying pan and toast lightly. Add the honey and turmeric and toss well to coat the walnuts well. Cook for 30 seconds to caramelise the walnuts a bit and remove and cool.
To serve, remove the tarts from the muffin tray. Top with the walnuts and the fried onions. Serve immediately while still warm.