Food of the Gods
Baklava goes New Mexican
I fell in love with Greek food in my high school years in Detroit’s Greek Town. Among the recipes I’ve made my own is this one for baklava—rich with butter, crispy layers of phyllo and sweet New Mexico honey. It’s one of my favorites. My friend Marissa Evans and I got on a baklava jag and, over two weeks, made piles of the stuff.
Marissa created a Southwestern version. To try it, use the recipe below and add 1/2 cup medium red chile powder, an additional 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to the filling mixture. Surprisingly, that much chile only adds a slow, mild heat. Change the nuts from pecans to 1 pound of piñon nuts plus 1/2 pound of pistachios. Everything else is the same.
Phyllo sheets can dry out quickly, so it’s important to keep them covered while you work. You can do this by placing a layer of plastic wrap over a damp kitchen towel. Put the stack of phyllo on the plastic wrap, then cover it with another layer of plastic wrap, removing phyllo sheets as needed.
Makes 40 pieces
1-pound package phyllo dough (about 50 sheets), thawed if frozen
3/4 pound unsalted butter
1 3/4 pounds shelled pecans
1 cup plus 1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup local honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1) Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter until liquid but not bubbling. Generously butter a 9-by-13 inch baking pan. Set the pan and melted butter aside.2) For the filling: Chop or food-process the pecans into a coarse meal. In a large bowl, combine the nuts, 1 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Mix well and set aside.3) Put 2 sheets of phyllo in the bottom of the buttered pan. Using a pastry brush, coat the top sheet with butter. Repeat, buttering every other sheet, until there are 8 sheets of phyllo in the pan. Evenly sprinkle a generous 1/2 cup of the nut mixture on top.4) Lay down 4 phyllo sheets, buttering every other layer. Sprinkle with another generous 1/2 cup of the nut mixture. Repeat 7 times. 5) Cover with 8 phyllo sheets, buttering every other sheet. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.6) Cut the baklava into 20 squares through to the bottom of the pan, then cut each piece in half diagonally, forming triangles.7) Bake until golden, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Turn the pan halfway through for even browning.8) While the baklava is in the oven, make the syrup: Combine water, honey, remaining sugar and cinnamon, and lemon juice in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand. 9) Remove baklava from oven. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then drizzle the just-warm syrup over the baklava, being sure to cover it completely and in between all the cuts. Use all of the syrup.10) The baklava should rest for about 2 hours, but people usually dig in with the excuse that someone needs a taste to be sure it’s right. I feel another batch coming on.