Green Eats: A dough story

Unlike puff pastry, it contains no margarine or trans fats but phyllo pastry, in either sweet or savory dishes, creates impressive results.

Phylo dough_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Phylo dough_311
(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 supermarkets.
Whenever I have a question about phyllo, my primary consultants are Avi and Eli Cohen of Leon & Sons in Jaffa.
Their 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 – fresh phyllo.
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.
Makes 15-20 Although he is Yemenite, my friend Chef Hanoch Bar-Shalom makes this fabulous phyllo spiral like an authentic Bulgarian.
✔ 600 grams phyllo dough Filling: ✔ 1 large eggplant✔ 150 gr. crumbled goat cheese ✔ 1 Tbsp. each chopped fresh mint and parsley ✔ 1 egg ✔ Salt and black pepper
For brushing:
✔ 1 egg, beaten ✔ 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.
2. Preheat 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 to garnish.
Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.