If you’re looking for some easy recipes this holiday season (and beyond), consider stocking up on some phyllo dough.
While you can make it yourself, as my Hungarian grandmother did, you can buy it frozen at most supermarkets. It comes in easy-to-use 9” x 14” sheets, which fit easily into a standard 9” x 13” pan.
Phyllo dough is less brittle and less likely to tear if it has not been frozen. Though harder to find, unfrozen phyllo dough can be purchased at Middle Eastern markets.
Phyllo dough (also spelled filo) is the original pastry used for strudel, the Hungarian pastry classic usually filled with apples, cherries, or cabbage. Phyllo is the Greek word for leaf, signifying how thin this pastry is. It has been used for centuries in Greece and the Middle East to make sweet and savory dishes.
Phyllo dough’s golden color and crunch might be familiar to you from baklava or Greek spinach pie. It’s often confused with puff pastry, a dough that is layered with butter to create flaky pastries, whereas phyllo is brushed with a light coating of oil or melted butter before layering or baking.
Phyllo dough is tissue-paper-thin and made from just flour, salt, water and a bit of oil. The dough is easily layered and shaped (don’t worry if the sheets are slightly torn). The sheets can be cut and made into packets, cones, and triangles; stacks of whole sheets become a crust for pies.
Phyllo cups are available to be filled with dessert or appetizer fillings. They make perfect bite-sized crunchy finger foods for holiday parties.
How to use phyllo
Thaw in the original box in the refrigerator overnight, then bring to room temperature for two hours. If sheets are cold when you unfold them, they will crack along the folds or stick together at the corners.
Do not unwrap sheets until you’re ready to handle them. Rewrap unused sheets; refrigerate for up to four days. Do not refreeze.
Before you open the phyllo, make sure everything is ready. You want to be able to work quickly. Phyllo sheets become dry and brittle when exposed to the air.
To keep the sheets you’re working with from drying out and crumbling, cover them with waxed paper (often you can use the large sheet that is wrapped around the phyllo in the package) or plastic wrap topped with a damp cloth. Don’t let the cloth touch the phyllo because the sheets will become too wet and they’ll stick.
To add just the right amount of melted butter or oil; put it in a spray bottle and spritz away at the sheets.
Mushroom, Veggie, and Feta Phyllo Purses
This recipe is adapted from “The Mediterranean Dish” by Suzy Karadsheh, published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House ($32.50).
The holidays are the perfect time of year to celebrate with a glass of bubbling sparkling wine. Martini & Rossi Sparkling Rosé from Italy ( $14.99) is a crisp wine with an elegant infusion of fresh berries and a touch of black pepper. It pairs perfectly with the vegetables and cheese in this recipe and says “welcome” to the season.
Karadsheh writes, “If you haven’t used it much, let me start by saying: do not fear phyllo! I know the paper-thin sheets can be intimidating to work with, but this recipe is a fun one to try because you don’t have to worry about a perfectly shaped pastry. Here, the sheets are whimsically wrapped around an herby mixture of tender sautéed veggies and feta. Once baked, what might have looked like a crumbly mess magically turns into a crispy little purse—a delightful, savory surprise for company! “
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound baby bella mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ cup creamy feta cheese, crumbled (from a 2½-ounce block)
18 frozen phyllo sheets (about half a 1-pound box), thawed if frozen
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chopped mushrooms, bell pepper, zucchini, onion, and garlic. Season with a big pinch of salt (about ½ teaspoon), the black pepper, and oregano. Cook for about 25 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the veggies soften and fully release their liquid (there should be no liquid in the pan when you’re done). Stir in the parsley and feta, then set aside.
3. Unroll the phyllo sheets on a work surface and cover with plastic wrap, then top with a lightly dampened cloth. (This will keep the phyllo from drying out and breaking while you work.)
4. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly brush with some olive oil. Place 3 sheets of phyllo on top of each other in the sheet pan and brush the top sheet with a little olive oil.
5. Place 4 generous tablespoons of the veggie mixture in the middle of the phyllo. Pull the sides of the phyllo up and gather at the top (yes, it will crumble, and that is OK). Brush the top layer of phyllo, including the crumbled top, with a little olive oil.
6. Set this first “purse” of phyllo in one corner of the sheet pan. Repeat 5 more times to make a total of 6 phyllo purses stuffed with the mushroom and veggies mixture.
7. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the purses are golden brown and crispy.
Yield: Serves 6 as a side dish or appetizer