Last week, I picked up Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon by Claudia Roden from the library. Not only is it a beautiful cookbook, but it also provides a lot of information on the cooking styles of each country mentioned in the title and how outside influences have shaped the region's cooking. The cultural information presented is really interesting. Also, the photographs are gorgeous, and I immediately picked out a dozen recipes I want to try at home.
Last night I tried the Little Cheese Fillo Rolls found on page 176. Here is the recipe:
Little Cheese Fillo Rolls
7 oz feta cheese, mashed with a fork
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp chopped mint or dill
8 large sheets of fillo
1 stick (8 Tbsp) butter, melted
For the filling, mix the mashed feta with the egg and chopped mint or dill. Take out the sheets of fillo only when you are ready to use them since they dry out quickly. Cut them into 4 rectangles measuring about 12 inches x 4 1/2 to 5 inches and put them in a pile on top of each other. Brush the top strip lightly with melted butter. Take a tablespoon of filling. Place it at one short end of the strip in a thin sausage shape along the edge, about 3/4 inch from it and 3/4 inch from the side edges. Roll up the fillo with the filling inside, like a cigar. Fold in the ends about one-third of the way along to trap the filling, and then continue to roll.
Do the same with the remaining strips of fillo and cheese filling. Place the cigars, seam side down, on a baking sheet and brush the tops with melted butter. Bake at 300 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until crisp and golden.
I had a large bunch of fresh dill in my refrigerator so I decided to use that instead of mint. The filling was very simple to make, and the fresh herbs smelled really good.
The recipe suggests that it makes 16 canape-sized rolls. I did not read very carefully and mis-cut the fillo. Instead of putting a tablespooon of filling in each roll, I put more like three.
So, I ended up with 5 very large cheese rolls.
I think the smaller rolls would be a little crunchier and would certainly be easier to eat, but I'm not sure that making a larger size is all bad. One of the larger rolls would be really nice with a salad as the start to a meal. Just the same, as an appetizer it would be necessary to make them much smaller.
My taste testers (Charlie and Mark) had mostly positive remarks. Mark commented on the nice texture, and I agree. The flaky fillo paired with the creamy filling is immediately satisfying. It's kind of a like a spring roll without the greasiness. The only real suggestion for improvement was the addition of another herb or spice to create a more complex flavor. There's definitely room for experimentation there. I also think trying out a number of soft cheeses is in order. Perhaps a peppery goat cheese, a creamy bleu, or even a brie or Camembert?
This recipe is definitely a keeper, and I believe it will make an appearance at a dinner party very soon. Does anyone have any suggestions for other fillings? I would love some fresh ideas!