Fun with filo (I promise!)

My godmother is Greek-American, and when she babysat for my brother and me growing up, I used to bug her to teach me about Greek language and culture. I didn’t do so well on the language front — we never got beyond the words for “hello” and, inexplicably, “octopus”. Happily, I learned much more about Greek food, which was prominent at the large parties she hosted and the Greek Orthodox church events to which she sometimes brought us. One afternoon, she agreed to teach my mom and me how to make baklava. We spent what felt like hours layering the delicate filo and gently applying melted butter to each layer. The product was worth it, but the process seemed a bit torturous to a seven-year-old!

Nowadays, my adventures with filo are not particularly intense. My philosophy for working with filo echos the saying: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” A pastry made with filo has so many layers that one or two torn layers make no difference in structure, and the pastry is going to flake apart in your mouth anyway, right? I simplify the process by using a canola oil spray to coat the filo. This is much faster and less messy than brushing on melted margarine, produces a pastry lower in fat (if that is important to you), and still tastes delicious!

It’s apple season, so when I recently ended up with leftover filo after making vegan kale spanakopita (look, more Greek food!), I decided to have some fun with filo, apples, and spices. When you next find yourself with some leftover filo, try this out! Alternatively, open a new package of filo and make an extra large batch of the filling. 🙂 I recommend using an apple variety that cooks down, like the Paula Reds I had on hand; the soft texture of the filling will contrast well with the crisp filo. Chinese five spice powder is an interesting mix of flavors, some of which are traditionally seen with apples and some of which are not. You can find it at Penzey’s or make you own (here’s one example).

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Apple Fusion Filo Triangles

Makes 8 pastries.

Ingredients:

  • ½ Tbsp vegan margarine
  • ½ lbs apples (2 small or 1 very large apple), peeled if desired, chopped
  • ¼ c finely chopped walnuts
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • ½ Tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 16 sheets packaged filo, thawed if frozen
  • spray oil, or more melted margarine
  • powdered sugar (optional)

In a small saucepan, melt the margarine over medium-low heat. Add the apples to the saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, until the apples are soft. Add walnuts, sugar, five spice powder, lemon juice, salt, and vanilla; cook another minute. Remove saucepan from heat.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Find a flat work surface on which to fold the filo triangles, such as a large cutting board, a clean counter top, or a large baking sheet. Open the package of filo so that the sheets lie out flat. Gently cover the stack of sheets with a clean damp cloth, damp paper toweling, or plastic wrap so that the filo stays moist until you are ready to use it.

For each triangle pastry, remove the damp cloth from the filo stack and carefully peel off the top sheet of filo. Place the sheet of filo flat on your work surface and spray the top of the sheet with oil (or brush with melted margarine). Peel off a second sheet of filo and place this one on top of the first, matching up the corners as much as possible.

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Recover the filo stack with the damp cloth. Spray oil over the top of the second sheet of filo. The two sheets of filo on the work surface should now be stuck together. Keeping the sheets together, fold them into thirds lengthwise and spray the top surface one more time.

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Place a generous tablespoonful of the apple mixture near one end of the folded filo.

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Take one corner of the filo near the filling and fold it up towards the opposite side of the filo strip, forming a triangle shape over the filling.

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Next, take the new bottom corner of the filo strip (the one that did not move in the last step) and fold that corner up towards the top of the filo, flipping the triangle of filo-wrapped filling away from you in the process. Repeat.

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This process will gradually wrap the filling in a pocket of filo. Wrap only tightly enough for the filo to hold the filling securely.

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Place filo triangles on a lightly greased baking sheet. Spray the tops of the filo triangles with oil or brush with melted margarine. When all the triangles are prepared, bake for about 8 minutes, or until golden brown. If desired, dust the pastries with powdered sugar before eating.

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