Licorice is not my favorite of flavors. I am not sure I know anyone who really likes the flavor of black licorice, except my dad, and even then, maybe not. Dill is in this family and I try to avoid dill whenever possible. I know that it goes well with lots of things like salmon, but I find it completely overpowering.
Some of my readers (ahem Mama) will be happy to know that I attempted to embrace this herb in all of its glory last Wednesday when I attended a cooking class at a place in West LA called Hipcooks. I wanted to get out there and try my hand at some foods I do not usually cook with, and I was immediately drawn to a class called “My Big Fat Greek Cooking Class.” Perfection because I love Mediterranean flavors. In Greece, they fry feta cheese. I mean seriously: how much better can you get than fried cheese?
Apparently, however, dill + Greek food = love. I did not realize this when eating my way through Santorini and Athens. Maybe I subconsciously avoided it, but I do not ever remember seeing dill listed as an ingredient in many dishes, nor do I remember bluntly tasting the flavor. Perplexing.
Anyway, the class was great: we made a feast of babaganoush, stuffed grape leaves, spanikopita, grilled veggie salad, grape/halloumi/tarragon salad, grilled lamb skewers (of which I obviously opted out), tzatziki, and baklava. It as about fifteen people, all of whom came with a set of friends. I found the instructor knowledgeable but extremely patronizing so I do not think I will be going to another class with her.
Everything was really easy to make, and they do not use measuring utensils. I have a hard time guesstimating measurements in general, be in how far it is from point A to point B or how much a “pinch” of salt really equals out to be. I was challenged by having to throw handful after handful after sprinkle after sprinkle of things into the dishes, but it all turned out to be wonderful. But every time someone put a handful of dill in something, I cringed.
At the end of the class, we sat down at this gigantic square table and devoured our hard work in about fifteen seconds. We hardly had any leftovers! I sucked it up, ate everything on my plate, and hardly picked the dill out of my food. It wasn’t that bad. I did abstain from the shots of ouzo that were being passed around, though. I wasn’t ready to start throwing back schlook after schlook of that super concentrated licorice flavor.
The spanikopita and baklava are my two favorites so I will share the recipes with you all. Happy cooking. Opa!
½ lb frozen spinach
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lemon, zested
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ cup feta, crumbled and/or
¼ cup parmesan, finely grated.
¼ cup toasted pine nuts (optional)
¼ cup chopped kalamata olives (optional)
2 T sour cream or Greek yogurt
½ package phyllo dough
For the filling, thaw the spinach and drain of excess liquid. To this, add what you fancy! Some chopped garlic, some lemon zest, salt, pepper, a spoon of two or freshly grated nutmeg. You can add a handful of crumbled feta, or what about an addition or substitution of grated Parmesan? Pine nuts can never be a bad idea. Or olives? This is your party! An egg will be necessary to hold it all together, and perhaps a tablespoon or two of sour cream or Greek yoghurt for tartness.
You’ll need phyllo dough, again available in most supermarket’s despite the staff not knowing what or where it is. Look for the frozen pie shells, which I hope you never buy. If you want to use lovely organic phyllo with no partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (but there is no need for you to be as big a geek as me), then check at Whole Foods, Surfas, or New Seasons.
When your filling is ready, roll away! You can make tiny little triangles, little parcels, egg-rolls – make whatever shapes you fancy. If these spanikopita are to be appetizers, remember to make them not-too-large, by using only about a tablespoon of filling. Brush your phyllo dough with butter before you roll, and brush the tops when they are complete.
Now, you can bake immediately – or you can pop in the freezer, well-covered, to bake when you are ready. Bake at 400 until golden. Do serve these fresh and hot.
This recipe is for an amount the size of which we made in class, which works well for any occasion. Baklava is rich, so you serve little slices. It keeps really, really well for a week or so, so don’t worry about leftovers. In fact, make it at the beginning of the week if you plan on serving it over the weekend. Excessive refrigeration can dry out the baklava, so avoid the fridge. For the pastry:
½ pack phyllo dough
¼ lb. butter, melted
2 cups mixed nuts (walnuts, pistachios, or almonds)
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cardamom
For the syrup;
2 cups sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
1 T. whole cloves
2/3 cup honey
When working with phyllo dough, remember to work quickly or cover with a damp towel while you are not working to prevent the phyllo from drying out. You’ll also need a pastry brush (most grocery stores carry them.)
Finely chop the nuts – try walnuts, pistachio or almonds. To the ground nuts, add a generous pinch of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg or even cardamom like we did in class. Set aside.
Assemble the baklava by buttering and laying sheets of phyllo inside a baking dish. When you have about 10 layers., sprinkle 1/3 of the nuts evenly over the phyllo. Repeat 3 more times, and then cover to the brim with more sheets of buttered phyllo.
Cut the baklava into triangles. Fear not!
Bake at 350 for at least 45 minutes or until all golden brown. While it is baking, make your syrup…
Combine sugar, 2/3 cup water, the juice of one lemon, the juice of one orange, cinnamon sticks (or 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon), a small handful of cloves (or a teaspoon ground) and melt over heat, until it bubbles nicely for about 5 – 10 minutes. Remove from heat and swirl in honey until nicely dissolved. Put through a strainer and set aside. When the baklava is cooked, pour over the syrup. Careful with this recipe – you may not need absolutely all of it. Allow to stand for 8 hours, if you can stand it, ha ha ha.