Don’t Fear the Phyllo

Just a quick, somewhat pointless, post about food on an unfortunate day that I can’t eat any. Think of this as a public service announcement, to encourage people to make things at home that they might normally reserve only for restaurants and parties: phyllo.

Phyllo (or filo or fillo) is something that I have cooked with a few times, and each time I’ve been amazed at how well it stands up to my carelessness in the kitchen. As anyone who has lived with me can attest, I am a messy cook. The kind that preps as I go and can’t be bothered with specifics. I love cooking more than baking in part because I can get away with this imprecision.

Spanakopita from Vegan with a Vengeance, braised figs with arugula (aka 'rocket') from Vegan Table.

Before I cooked with phyllo for the first time, I had often heard people talk about how afraid they are to cook with it. Every time I went to Greektown in Detroit for my beloved spanakopita, I heard people say this. Many cookbooks, such as Vegan with a Vengeance, have long tutorials on how to work with phyllo. I noticed that the tone is normally like that of a pep talk, and I can understand why. Apparently, this little roll of dough you can buy in the supermarket can cause a lot of anxiety.

So it was with some trepidation that I made a dish with phyllo for the first time, but it turned out brilliantly (see right). It wasn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. The beauty of any pastry, including phyllo, is that it’s really easy to cover up your mistakes, especially if you choose the triangle shape like I did here.

The other day when I was making phyllo, it occurred to me that there were a few places where things could go wrong and really ruin things, but that there were many more places where you could do the wrong thing with little consequence. For example:

  • Don’t fear the oil. This is not a time to make a low fat dish. Layer the olive oil on every sheet (a thin layer, but a layer nonetheless). In the true spirit of the dough’s origins, don’t be afraid of the olive oil if you want the phyllo to be flaky and delicious.
  • Cover the dough with a damp cloth or towel. I have put too much water on the towel before, only to end up ruining the top sheet. This last time, I even accidentally got every corner of my dough soaking wet due to my small counter space and a pool of water. It ruined that corner, but I simply tucked that bit in as I was making my triangles. Problem solved!
  • Don’t overstuff, but you can get away with more than you think. One of the reasons things like homemade ravioli annoy me is that you have to put so little stuffing in to ensure the edges stick together. As someone who is more interested in filling than bread, I find this irritating. Phyllo is very forgiving in this sense. I overstuff them, but because I am folding it over so many times, I can cover up any areas where it tries to escape.

That’s it. As I said, a rather pointless post, but I hate to see people fear using certain ingredients or making certain dishes. Maybe one of these days I’ll write a post on bread, as it’s yet another dish that I find so incredibly easy and forgiving. I just can’t understand why people would bother with a bread machine when your own two hands make better bread than any appliance ever could.

I will leave you with my latest phyllo creation: Moroccan Phyllo with Curried Tomato Sauce from The Vegan Table. They aren’t perfect and the lighting is terrible, but I think you get the idea. These were the batch where I ruined one corner of the entire stack!

Moroccan Phyllo with Curried Tomato Sauce from The Vegan Table with Sweet Sweetback Salad from Vegan Soul Kitchen

 

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