Friday, April 25, 2014

The 'We knead to bake' project 2014 - Flaounes (Cypriot Savory Easter Cheese Pies)


 Aparna Balasubramanian's selection this month is Mediterranean, perfect for spring weather. Flaounes  are a traditional Easter dish made on Good Friday to break the fasting for Lent. A signature dish in Greece & Cyprus, Flaounes have a filling of Sheep's milk cheeses (that are referred to as Flaounes cheese) that are typically made by the local Cypriot shephards. Tangy and salty, the cheese makes for a perfect pairing with little nuggets of raisins embedded in the filling.

It isn't absolutely necessary of course, to hunt around for these special cheeses, sharp Cheddar, combined with mozzarella makes a great substitute. I used Ricotta Salata and a Greek 'melting' cheese called Kasseri.





Two other in the ingredients that are characteristic of Flaounes are Mastic and Mahlab


Mastic is the resin from a Middle Eastern shrub, while Mahlab is obtained by powdering the pits of a wild cherry. It adds a rather musky aromatic flavor to the dough. There are no acceptable substitutes, Omit the ingredients if you don't have any. The original recipe calls for eggs, but I opted to make an egg-free version.






Flaounes (Cypriot Savory Easter Cheese Pies - Makes 8 pies)





For the dough:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon instant yeast

3/4 teaspoon salt


1 1/2 teaspoon sugar


½ teaspoon mastic, ground in a mortar (optional)

¼ teaspoonground mahleb,

1/4 cup milk

60 grams butter, melted and cooled

About 1/4 cup (or less) lukewarm water, or as needed

Olive oil, for greasing bowl and rolling dough



 For the filling:

1 cup grated Ricotta Salata

1/2 cup grated Kasseri cheese

2 tsp all-purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina (not semolina flour)

1 tbsp Greek Oregano

1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper flakes (optional)

1/8 cup Chopped sour cherries

 3/4 tsp baking powder

1 to 2 tbsp milk




1 tbsp flour + less than 1/8 cup milk (for sealing paste)

1/3 to 1/2 cup un-toasted sesame seeds



A little milk for brushing


Combine & whisk together the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, Mahlab & Mastic  (if you have them) into the bowl of the stand mixer (Fitted with the dough hook). Whisk together the  milk and melted butter in a small bowl and add it to the flour. Knead till you have a soft, smooth and elastic dough, which is just short of sticky, by adding just enough water.

Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl, turning to coat it well. Cover loosely and let the dough proof for about 1 to 2 hours, until it  doubles in volume. Once it has risen, deflate the dough by pressing it out and folding it a few times. Then place it in a container (the dough will rise so use a large enough container), cover loosely and refrigerate for about 2 hours.  At this point you may refrigerate the dough overnight if opting to make the pies the following day. 


While the dough is proofing, Get the filling ready by combining all the ingredients. Mix with a fork until its the consistency of a thick paste.


Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Lightly oil your work surface and rolling pin., and roll each piece into a 5 to 6” round. The round of dough should be thinner rather than thick. If it is too thick you will have a very “bready” pie, but make sure that your round of dough is not too thin to support/ carry the weight of the filling..




Scoop the filling out into 8 portions (~ 2.5 tablespoons each). Place each round of the dough on a large plate spread with sesame seeds Fold over the sides to make a square shape with some of the filling exposed. Using the flour and milk paste seal the corners together and press down with the tines of the fork.



Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper keeping a gap of about 4 inches (4 pies to a regular half sheet pan). Cover with plastic film and allow to proof a second time for about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Brush the surface of the  pies with the milk and place the trays to bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Transfer onto a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.



Bon appetit!
This recipe is being Yeastspotted.



Monday, April 14, 2014

Bitter, Sweet,Sour, Spicy & Salty - Thats what life is all about!


One definite advantage of not being a W.A.S.P (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) and claiming origins from a former third world country is that you get to celebrate almost  everything twice. Two names, Two Birthdays (one on the official date you were born, the one that you register at school with, the other, your star birthday, which is calculated according to the Hindu Calendar ), and festivities of cultures from the mother land & adopted home. Who says life can't be a string of events to celebrate?

And so, today was New Years, the religious one. As with many of the different communities in India, New Years is celebrated in April, which was the case with the Western world until some pompous  Roman figurehead decided that the New Year should begin in the middle of the freezing winter. (and gave us April Fool's day as a rather lame substitute). This day is venerated as Bihu in Assam, Baisakhi in Punjab, Poila Baisakh / nabobarsho in Bengal, Vishu  in Kerala and Varsha pirappu in Tamil Nadu.

Among the Tamil Brahmin community, especially those who have a connection with Kerala, there is a beautiful tradition to kick off the day & consequently the year. It begins with setting out large trays of fruit, flowers (traditionally its flowers from the golden shower tree , but any bright yellow flower will do, its the color that matters, the golden hues), Rice, lentils, unrefined sugar,  Money, new clothes, Jewelry and in the midst of it all, a mirror.



Children are led to the display with their eyes closed and are asked to open them to view themselves in the mirror. The significance behind this is to literally open your eyes in the New Year to see yourself surrounded by wealth and prosperity.

AS with any other culture, such occasions are celebrated with food, and PLENTY of it. At home there is the classic three course South Indian Feast , here's a partial list:
plain dal,  Sambar with freshly blended spices,

 

 a light Rasam broth tempered with Neem blosssoms (more on that coming up),

 A vegetable (usually winter melon or pumpkin) stew spiced with coconut & cumin,



A stir fried vegetable dish


Deep fried Lentil fritters (aama vadai)


Salad of course;



The list goes on for about half a dozen more dishes, all freshly prepared , without any tasting in between. You had better remember to salt the dish & do it just right, there is no such thing as adjusting the seasoning!
 The signature dish for this feast however is not a main entree, but a condiment - 'Mango Pachadi'.  Its a sweet sauce made with raw green mango, spiked with smoky fried Arbol chile and finished with a tempering of mustard, curry leaves and Neem blossoms. I don't know how this genius of a dish came to be invented, but its significance is deep. Its a reminder of how life is a mix of all different kinds of experiences, sweet, sour, bitter, spicy & salty and that one must be prepared for whatever life tosses at you in the coming year. Needless to say, Its usually the first serving dish that gets polished off. Since Neem blossoms are not easy to come by in the US of A, I resort to toasted and crushed fenugreek seeds to supply the bitter component. This is a dish with 5 different tastes & one huge mother load of pure Umami!

Mango Pachadi: (Makes 1 cup)

You need:
1/2 a raw green mango
1 cup water
1/2 cup  Jaggery or dark brown sugar
1 fresh green (or ripe red) chili, slit lengthwise
Salt to taste

for the tempering
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1 red arbol chile, whole
1 pinch asafetida (optional)
10-12 fenugreek seeds 

Peel off the green skin of the mango. Cut off the 'Cheek' of the mango and run the peeler along the length of the piece of mango. This will yield thin strips. Alternatively you could dice the mango into small pieces. Add the water to the mango strips in a saucepan along with the split chile and bring to a boil. Cook down until the mango is completely mushed.


Now add the jaggery (powder it before hand so that it dissolves easily) and salt to taste. Continue cooking on low until the jaggery has completely dissolved. Fish out & discard the split fresh chile

In a small cast iron skillet, toast the fenugreek seeds until they turn a deep reddish brown, add it to a mortar and crush it coarsely.  Heat the oil in the same till it just begins to smoke and then toss in the mustard seeds, once they pop, add the curry leaves & the red arbol chile. Once the chile browns remove the skillet off the heat and add the asafetida and crushed  fenugreek. Pour over the mango and stir to combine. Serve as a condiment to any spicy rice dish.



Here's wishing everyone a wonderful year ahead (AGAIN), filled with all the delicious UMAMI enriched flavors that life offers!
Bon appetit!

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