Thursday, January 1, 2009

It's Greek to Me, #1

Several Greek dishes have been Christmas staples in my family for almost as long as I can remember. But here's the thing: we're not Greek. Not even close. So how did these Mediterranean delights come to be so ingrained in our holiday traditions? I never knew, until this year when I actually thought to ask my mom "Why all the Greek food"? Her answer: "Because I like it." So there you have it. Some traditions don't have to be passed down through the generations, but started simply because you can. My mom's homemade baklava is probably the most anticipated dish of the Christmas season. She doesn't make it any other time of year, and what she does make goes fast (I personally horde my stash, but I never seem to have any past the New Year). Making baklava is not difficult, only time-consuming. But the effort is more than worth it - there's nothing quite as decadent as fresh, homemade baklava... promise.

Contributed by Judy Angell
  • 4 cups walnuts, finely ground
  • 4 cups almonds, finely ground
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 pound phyllo dough
  • 1 pound butter, melted
Honey syrup
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 20 ounces fresh honey
  • 3 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3 teaspoons lemon zest, finely grated

In large bowl, mix nuts, sugar and cinnamon. Brush the bottom of a 12x18-inch lipped baking sheet with melted butter. Start layering the phyllo dough, one sheet at a time, brushing each layer with melted butter until you have six layers of dough. On top of the sixth layer of phyllo, sprinkle a thin layer of nut mixture. Cover with another layer of phyllo; brush with melted butter. Continue layering accordingly (single, thin layer of nuts/single layer of phyllo/melted butter) until all nuts have been used. Finish with another six layers of phyllo, buttering each one.

With a serrated knife, cut baklava in 1-inch strips in each direction to form diamond-shaped pieces. Bake at 275 degrees for 1-1/2 hours.

While baklava is baking prepare the honey syrup. Boil syrup ingredients for 12 minutes on medium heat. When you remove the baklava from the oven, pour the hot honey syrup over the top. Cover lightly with aluminum foil and let rest so the syrup gets absorbed. Let set 6 hours before serving.

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