Nutritionists and food experts alike suggest that not only do Americans need to be consistently making better food choices, but we also need to be regularly involved in the process of creating our food, whether that’s by growing or preparing it. (Hopefully it’s both.) Making food can be much more than just the act of getting nutrients into our bodies, too. It can be a meditation—a truly spiritual experience. Working with phyllo dough is labor intensive, but it’s a fully rewarding way to connect with your food, too.
Phyllo dough is made from paper-thin sheets of unleavened dough. It’s the crispy layered stuff of Turkish and Greek cuisine from the savory spinach pies (spanikopita) to the sweet nutty dessert, baklava.
The practice of stretching raw dough into thin sheets dates back to the Ottoman Empire and has been a favorite food ever since. The layered sheets separated by milk and oil crisp to perfection when baked, which gives phyllo its fun crunch.
But like any good thing in life, you must work for it.
I spent most of my teenage years in a Turkish house watching women (and quite a few skilled men) layer each thin sheet of phyllo dough with a brush full of oil and milk. Sometimes it was layer upon layer in a baking dish and sometimes each sheet was folded and individually filled with meat, cheese or spinach (borek). However it was made, transforming that thin and delicate dough into a crisped delight always seemed an impossible skill—one that was only inherited through bloodlines. I watched in awe. Ate in envy. But over the years I learned that it was not an unachievable skill at all, simply one that took practice and time and lots of patience—an attribute not common in our food culture…yet.
Phyllo is a gluten product. There are wheat-free spelt options but no gluten-free as the gluten is what gives it the ability to hold together in such thin sheets. It is incredibly fun and easy one you get the hang of it. But above all, it is most certainly a great way to tune in and make your food preparation a true meditation as you work carefully and slowly with each thin and delicate layer.
For first timers, try baking a spinach pie casserole style rather than individual pieces. You do this by layering sheet on top of sheet, separated by a generous brushing of an oil and milk mixture. I use olive oil and almond milk. Like lasagna, add your filling—sautéed spinach, vegetables, tofu, etc. in the middle. This is a great recipe.
If you really want to go deep into the meditation of phyllo, on a dry work station, spread out a sheet of dough and brush generously with the oil and milk mixture. Fold into thirds lengthwise. Put a dollop of your filling mixture at the bottom and proceed to fold the dough like a flag (triangular). Brush the folded dough with oil and milk and bake at 375 degrees F for about 25 minutes until crisp and golden.
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Image: Vegan Feast Catering