Sunday is typically reserved as a long, leisurely day spent primarily wafting in and out of the kitchen to cook and graze. However, the entire day found me out of the house, so food and relaxation were the least of my priorities. Somehow, between yesterday and this morning, I squeezed in a brief trip to Syria--in the culinary sense, at least. In lieu of physical travel, I borrowed inspiration from a woman's reflection on connecting with her Syrian heritage through its culinary traditions and molded it into a few scrumptious interpretations of some recipes shared in the article.
Grilled Winter Squash Flat Bread
These doughy, orange-colored discs were created on a whim, preceding my single-day "trip" to Syria and happening to coincide with the Middle Eastern-inspired food theme of the weekend. The heat wave had effectively dissipated and I wanted homemade bread, but hesitant to crank up the oven just yet, I resolved the dilemma by opting to cook flat bread on the stove-top. Winging it, I tossed together a handful of ingredients that amazingly resulted in soft, tender, subtly sweet-and-tangy flat bread (recipe follows at the end of this post).
This is a go-to savory spread or dip. I consulted the recipe provided at the end of the aforementioned article, with slight adjustments, reducing the amount of tahini and olive oil required in order to cut back on the fat content. I have used this recipe multiple times and it has never failed to yield smooth, creamy, flavorful hummus. Making it from scratch, using dried chickpeas, makes for hummus that rivals store-bought concoctions. I enjoyed my homemade hummus with fresh flat bread, of course.
Walnut and Pistachio Baklava
Prior to this morning, a long time had passed since my last attempt at homemade baklava. It isn't difficult, but requires patience and a delicate hand when working with phyllo pastry--at times, a frustrating task. Continuing with the Middle East-inspired food theme and having relieved space in the freezer by thawing the remains of a package of phyllo used for some long-forgotten purpose, I opted to attempt my first vegan baklava. I based it loosely on the above article's recipe, using the following components (I didn't measure):
Most of a 16-oz package vegan phyllo pastry sheets, thawed
Melted vegan butter and vegetable oil for brushing the pastry layers
Filling made from chopped pistachios and walnuts, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg
Syrup made from sugar, agave nectar, water, orange zest, orange juice, and rose water
I stacked and buttered ten phyllo sheets before adding the first layer of nuts, then alternated two-sheet-thick phyllo with nut layers until all the nuts were distributed, topping the pastry with an eight-sheet stack of phyllo. I brushed the top with more of the vegan butter and oil mixture, cut it into 12 squares, then baked the pastry at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 minutes, until golden brown. As the pastry baked, I heated the sugar, agave nectar, water, and orange zest in a pan until the mixture reached a syrupy consistency, then stirred in the orange juice and rose water. To finish the dish, I topped the pastry with the cooled syrup. Although very sticky, the baklava was a sweet, nutty treat with a pleasant combination of spice and citrus. It was a nice way to end my brief moment of food travel.
As promised, here is the process I used for making the flat bread:
Grilled Winter Squash Flat Bread (printable recipe)
Yields 10 pieces
1/4 c warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 c winter squash puree
1/4 c soy yogurt
1 tsp salt
1 c unbleached bread flour
1/2 to 3/4 c whole wheat flour
Oil to coat the bowl
In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water. Briefly stir in the yeast and allow it proof for approximately five to ten minutes. Add the squash puree and yogurt, and combine well. Add the bread flour and 1/4 c of the whole wheat flour, incorporating them well, then add more whole wheat flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Knead on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth, form it into a sphere. Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover it with a towel or plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm area until doubled, approximately one to one-and-a-half hours.
Gently deflate the dough, then divide it into 10 equal pieces. Form each piece into a sphere and allow the dough to rest. In the meantime, heat a nonstick pan over medium-low flame. After the dough has rested for five minutes, begin rolling each sphere into a thin disc (approximately 1/8" to 1/4"). Cook each piece in the dry pan for a few minutes, until the underside is opaque but not browned, flip, then cook the other side until it forms golden brown spots. Press the top gently with the back of a spoon to encourage the bread to puff up. Flip the disc again and cook until the remaining side has browned slightly. Remove to a plate and cover with a towel to keep the bread warm. Repeat the cooking process for the remaining dough. Serve warm and enjoy!