Orange-Scented Baklava with Almonds and Hazelnuts

Baklava 1

In about 2 weeks, my husband and I will be departing for Athens, Greece, to explore cruising for the first time. We decided on a week-long cruise that begins in Athens and ends up in Venice, Italy. We’ve also added a few extra days at the beginning and end to extend the trip. It’s a vacation that we have been looking forward to for a long time.

With the Mediterranean on my mind, I’ve been reading a lot of Mediterranean cookbooks lately. The upcoming trip has definitely had an influence on my cooking as well.

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This baklava is a little different than what you typically find in a standard Greek restaurant. It includes the addition of cinnamon, cloves, and orange, which gives it an almost exotic flavor. Additionally, rather than the usual walnuts, it includes almonds and hazelnuts. Do not be put off by working with filo; yes, it can be a little tedious, but the end result is so worth it.

I used Flor di Sicilia in this dessert. It’s an orange and vanilla flavoring available from King Arthur Flour. It’s wonderful in this baklava, and I can’t wait to try it in other dishes. It’s pretty strong, so a little goes a long way.

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Orange-Scented Baklava with Almonds and Hazelnuts

18 Pieces

If you don’t have or can’t get the Flor di Sicilia, you can substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons of orange flower water. Allow frozen filo to thaw for 24 hours in the refrigerator. It will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours to bring it to room temperature.

1 cup whole almonds

1 cup hazelnuts

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 pound filo, room temperature

6 tablespoon butter, melted

3/4 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon King Arthur Flour Flor di Sicilia

Place the nuts in a bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Take out 3 tablespoons of the nuts and set them aside to be used for garnish. Add the spices and the sugar to the nuts in the processor bowl and pulse to blend. Transfer the nut mixture to a medium size bowl.

Remove the filo from the box and trim it so that all the sheets fit in an 8-inch square baking pan. (I used a standard Pyrex one.) Use one of the filo sheets to check the size of your pan. You don’t want it creeping up the sides of the pan. Cover the stack of filo with plastic wrap and a damp towel. You’ll need to make sure you keep it covered as you are working with it, so avoid having it dry out and break.

Place a sheet of filo in the bottom of the pan and brush it lightly with melted butter. The six tablespoons should be just enough butter to assemble the baklava, without it becoming a greasy, soggy mess. Add another layer of filo and brush with butter. Continue until you have six sheets of filo in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the filo with 1/3 cup of the nut mixture. Top with three more sheets of buttered filo, then another 1/3 cup nut mixture. Continue with the three sheets of filo and 1/3 cup nuts until you have used all the nuts. Ideally you will have seven layers of nut filling. Top the last layer of nuts with 6 more sheets of buttered filo as you did in the beginning. Place the pan of baklava in the freezer for 30 minutes. This will make it easier to cut.

Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and pre-heat it to 350 degrees. Remove the baklava from the freezer. The butter is now cold enough to cut the baklava without smashing it or having it bounce out of the pan. If a piece does come out, just place it back where it belongs. Using a long thin serrated knife (a steak knife or a tomato knife is good for this) cut the baklava into thirds all the way through to the bottom. Rotate the pan 90 degrees and cut it into thirds again. You should have nine squares. Cut each square in half on the diagonal. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees and bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes more. Allow the baklava to cool.

When the baklava is almost cool, make the syrup by heating the honey in a saucepan on the stove until it begins to simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and add the Flor de Sicilia or orange water. Pour this mixture over the cooled baklava and sprinkle with the remaining nuts. Allow the baklava to sit uncovered at room temperature for at least 2–3 hours; however, 8 hours is best.

To serve run a knife along the cut marks and gently lift the baklava out of the pan. Allow one to two triangles per serving. You can store the baklava loosely covered at room temperature for 5 days. You can also double-wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it.

Adapted from Desserts – Mediterranean Flavors, California Style by Cindy Mushet

Greece on My Mind — Fish with Ouzo

Ouzo Fish 1

During my military career I had a wonderful opportunity to live in Athens, Greece, for 3 years.  I remember Athens as a big city with lots of traffic and lots of angry drivers.  But I didn’t care.  It was Greece! 

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Greece has been in the news quite a bit lately and it hasn’t exactly been portrayed in a positive light; however, during my time there, I made friends who are still special to me to this day.  I experienced a culture unlike any I had ever encountered.  But, most important, I discovered a cuisine that has pretty much driven the way I cook and eat since that time.  When people ask me what my “specialty” is, I usually reply: I don’t really have one, but I cook Mediterranean food more often than not. 

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I love Greece and Greek food.  Even when living there and eating it almost everyday, I never tired of it.  And as for that terrible traffic?  I learned to drive and shout at the other drivers just like the locals.  Besides, where else can you eat “small fishes fried” (smelts) washed down with an ice-cold Mythos beer while gazing upon the blue ocean and equally blue sky?

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Years later I became friends with a man who was encountering some personal difficulties.  I advised him to think about what he wanted to be doing 5 years later and use that goal to formulate his decision. A couple of weeks later he told me he had decided what he wanted to be doing 5 years down the road.  When I asked what that was, he told me he wanted to be discovering Greece with me.  Say what?    

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I wasn’t exactly looking for a mate at the time — I’d just returned to the U.S. after a long period overseas, had just bought a house…excuses, excuses.  Well, he did something right, because in November we will have been married 13 years.  And yes, we did go to Greece together.

Nafplion

Today’s recipe reminds me of everything that I love about Greek food, but it’s not as heavy as some of the typical dishes can be.  It’s wonderful for summer and is ideal for a weeknight meal, as it’s a snap to make.  This dish can be served over rice or with some hearty bread to soak up the delicious sauce. 

Ouzo Fish 4 Fish with Ouzo

4–6 servings

I used halibut for this dish, but any white fish filet will work, such as cod, tilapia, or even catfish.  Ouzo is an anise-flavored Greek liqueur that is usually diluted with water until cloudy and served as an aperitif with a bowl of olives.  It really is the ingredient that sets this dish apart.

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 onion, diced

2 bay leaves

1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, not drained

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1 red bell pepper, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup water

2 pounds halibut filets or other white fish

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 bunch dill, chopped

1 tablespoon Ouzo

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the garlic until fragrant, but not brown. Add the onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes, then add the bay leaves.  Add the tomatoes, mushrooms and bell pepper, and season with salt and pepper.  Add the water and simmer for two minutes.

Season the fish with salt and pepper and place on top of the simmering vegetable mixture, nestling the filets down into the sauce.  Simmer for 4 minutes.

Add the lemon juice, dill and ouzo to the pan and simmer an additional 2 minutes.  The fish should flake easily with a fork.  Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Inspired by Culina Mediterranea by Daniel Rouche

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