Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fillo feta rolls for a Middle Eastern feast

Last week came one of the highlights of my culinary year. Ali and Lynn both have their birthdays near the end of July, and as we're all keen cooks and gourmets, we always get together for a themed feast. (Last year it was Spain - see here and here.) This year I had a new edition of Claudia Roden's A Book of Middle Eastern Food (my third, I've worn out the first two) and was giving a copy to Ali, so a Middle Eastern feast would work beautifully.
We had it at my place and each of us produced a starter and a main, and I also made dessert. Ali, the bread queen, made Turkish pide bread, herb fritters with haloumi, and grilled eggplant with labneh and za'ahtar. Lynn made red pepper and walnut dip and Morroccan couscous with chicken. I made yoghurt with cucumber and garlic, fillo feta rolls, and lamb and apricot stew with spiced basmati rice. For dessert I made our favourite orange and almond cake, with sliced oranges in syrup. (You may well think this sounds a lot, for lunch for three, and it was. We always cook too much - but we don't care, because we get wonderful leftovers.)
            I need to collect their recipes to share, but for now I thought it would be good to post the feta rolls. In my memoir I wrote about discovering fillo (or filo) pastries in Albania:
Rosia took the greatest pride in her byrek, small crisp three-cornered parcels of golden brown filo pastry filled with meat or cheese. But much as we loved them, we asked for them only if we were giving a proper party or coming back from a holiday, because the filo didn’t come in neat packets. Rosia and Hurimai pushed back the rugs and furniture in the sitting room and spread a white sheet over the marble tiles. They each took one end of a long thin dowel and delicately rolled out the dough into one great layer, so thin you could see through it.
The Albanian name, byrek or burek, comes from the Turkish börek described by Roden - she says the cheese one is the most popular. But her recipe is for rolls rather than Rosia's triangles. I did think about attempting the triangles, but the little cigar-shaped rolls are easier.
        As you'll see from the photo below, because of the rather broken sheets of fillo, and because there were only three of us, I was lazy and used all the filling to make three medium and three larger ones, rather than a lot of little ones - easier, and you get more filling in each one.

Sigara böregi
Little cheese rolls
(fSlightly adapted from Claudia Roden, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, 2001)
Makes 16 little rolls (in theory!)

200 g feta cheese
(I got a genuine Greek one at the Mediterranean Warehouse, but Zany Zeus in Wellington also makes a very good one. If your block is wrapped in plastic, blot it well with kitchen paper before using.)
1 egg, lightly beaten
3-4 Tbsps finely chopped mint, flat parsley, or dill
8 thin sheets fillo pastry
(I could only find Edmonds, which is very thin and tends to break when unrolled. Roden recommends using 4 sheets of a thicker one, but I don't think it's obtainable here. However, I found that using two thin sheets together worked fine.)
4-6 Tbsps melted butter or oil

Take out the frozen fillo to defrost while you make the filling. (I found I had to defrost the whole packet, but could quickly refreeze the leftovers.)
Preheat oven to 190C, or 180C fan bake.
Spread a large oven sheet with baking paper.

Filling: Mash the feta well with a fork and mix it thoroughly with the beaten egg and herbs.

Assembly: Using 2 sheets of fillo together, cut them into rectangles, each about 30 cm by 10 cm. (You are meant to get 16 of these rectangles.) Pile these on top of each other as you cut them so that they don't dry out. (It helps to have ready a damp teatowel to cover them as you go.)
Lay out one pair of thin rectangles. Brush the top sheet with melted butter or oil. Take a heaped teaspoon of the filling and place it at one end of the strip in a thin sausage shape, about 2 cm from the three edges (see diagram).
Roll up the sheets with the filling inside, like rolling a cigarette. When you've rolled about a third of the way along the strip, turn in the sides to trap the filling. (Brushing on a bit of extra butter or oil is useful to help them stick.) Continue to roll with the sides turned in. Repeat with the remaining rectangles of fillo.

Lay the rolls close to each other on the baking paper, with the ends of rolled fillo underneath, and brush the tops and sides with melted butter or oil.

Baking: Place oven sheet with rolls at the middle of the preheated oven or slightly above. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the rolls are crisp and golden. Serve hot. (If necessary they can be reheated later - mine were.)

It was such a pleasure to bite into these and recapture a favourite taste of Albanian life. So now I plan to make the larger rolls again, to serve for dinner with salad...