(photo credit: Courtesy)
The word phyllo means “leaf” in Greek. But from a culinary standpoint it refers
to tissue-thin layers of pastry dough used to make delicious savory and sweet
baked goods. Unlike puff pastry, it contains no margarine, and no trans fats,
and the results are impressive.
Phyllo (also spelled filo) is popular
throughout Greece and the Mediterranean (as well as in Europe in various types
of strudel), and factory-made phyllo is sold frozen in
Whenever I have a question about phyllo, my primary
consultants are Avi and Eli Cohen of Leon & Sons in Jaffa.
little place on Rehov Olei Tzion, just off Sderot Yerushalayim, is a mecca for
phyllo connoisseurs and true-blue Bulgarians who want to use the real McCoy –
The Cohens (“we are kohanim from both sides!” says Avi
proudly) are not only Bulgarians, they are the family that brought Bulgarian
phyllo to Israel 48 years ago, when as a new immigrant, Grandma Julie decided to
create her special handmade phyllo dough and sell to the locals, to help family
finances. She was the first “manufacturer” of fresh phyllo dough – no easy task,
because phyllo is no ordinary dough to just mix, knead and roll out with a
rolling pin, but a pastry dough that requires gentle stretching and careful
drying to create paper-thin strudel sheets.
That’s why every morning,
after the family was up and out, Savta Julie would turn over the family’s beds,
and use the frames to stretch her dough. Later, to help the drying process, she
would put small kerosene stoves under specially created wood tables, and
initiated her son Leon as her right hand.
When he finished school, Leon
decided to expand the family heritage and open a store of his own, using his own
technological improvements. In the 1980s his sons Avi and Eli joined the
business. Leon died in 2004, but his sons have proudly kept up family tradition,
recreating the sweet and savory Bulgarian pastries for fans, and selling their
homemade phyllo to connoisseurs.
With Shavuot just around the corner, the boys are recreating some traditional Bulgarian holiday baked goods for their
customers, like phyllo stuffed with Bulgarian or Kashkaval cheese and roasted
eggplant or peppers, cheesestuffed strudel and phyllo blintzes, apple stuffed
pastries and more, and for list of longtime customers, fresh phyllo dough (“you
can’t compare with frozen” says Eli), for creations made at home. A bargain, at
only NIS 30 a kilo.
NOTE: Fresh phyllo can be kept up to 1 year in the
freezer, and up to two weeks, unopened, in the refrigerator. Remove it from the
refrigerator 1 hour before working, and keep covered with a sheet of plastic
wrap topped with a damp towel while working. To separate between the leaves they
are usually brushed with melted butter, but I use a combination of melted butter
and olive oil, or just olive oil. Avi and Eli suggest preparing the pastries and
freezing them before baking. They do not require defrosting before
baking.PHYLLO STUFFED WITH ROASTED EGGPLANT AND GOAT CHEESE
Although he is Yemenite, my friend Chef Hanoch Bar-Shalom makes this fabulous
phyllo spiral like an authentic Bulgarian.
✔ 600 grams phyllo dough
✔ 1 large eggplant
✔ 150 gr. crumbled goat cheese
✔ 1 Tbsp. each
chopped fresh mint and parsley
✔ 1 egg
✔ Salt and black pepper
✔ 1 Tbsp nigella seeds or black sesame
1. Filling: Roast the
eggplant directly over the stove top burner (I make a collar of aluminum foil
around the burner to help clean up). Peel and crush coarsely with a fork, then
drain well. Mix with the other ingredients for the filling.
the oven to 200º. Cut the phyllo into strips of 25 x 7 cm.
3. Put a row
of filling in the bottom third of the dough, leaving 1 cm. on all sides, and
roll it up firmly into a tube shape. Pinch one end to close and curl the
tube around like a spiral or snake. Pinch the other side closed. Repeat with the
rest of the dough and the filling.
4. Place the spirals in a parchment
paper lined baking pan, brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle the seeds on top
Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.