My Persian New Year baklava

by Scotty Irani
Food Columnist

March in the food and beverage world typically celebrates anything Irish…well, because of that one Irish holiday. However, this column you are reading and the Chef behind it happens to be one-half Persian. A very proud one-half Persian and first generation American on his father’s side (see “immigrant”).

He also rarely writes in third person!

Persian New Year or “Nowruz” falls on the Spring equinox of every year. This year, it’s March 21. It’s a time for family and friends to gather together and celebrate life, light and rebirth.

The celebration began centuries ago by the Zoroastrians (an ancient religion of the area that I could really get into), Nowruz has not changed too much and yet has progressed through the centuries. There is still good music and laughter to be heard, songs to sing, reflection on those lost and those born and of course my favorite Nowruz pastime… food! 

My version of baklava is the perfect Persian New Year treat. Sweet while full of texture and flavor.

From me to you…wishing you a very Happy and Joyous spring season, full of life, light and love. Eide shoma mobarak (Happy Nowruz!)

Ingredients: makes around a dozen two inch/3 layered squares

30 sheets of phyllo dough +/-

10 ounces plain halved walnuts, lightly roasted

10 ounces plain whole almonds, lightly roasted (traditionally use blanched almonds. I like the flavor in whole roasted)

Fine chopped roasted pistachio

2 cups granulated sugar

2 full tablespoons In The Kitchen With Scotty “More Than Pumpkin Pie Spice” (or ground cinnamon)

3 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the syrup:

1 cup sugar

1 cup honey

2 tablespoons rose water 

6 ounces water

3 strips orange peel, pith removed

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 large star anise

Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer slowly for 20 minutes to concentrate. Pour over the hot baked baklava fresh from the oven. Let set and cool before serving (preferably overnight).

To make:

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Set out a roll of frozen phyllo dough in its package, and let it thaw. Remove from the package, unroll and cover with a lightly dampened kitchen towel to prevent from drying out while you work on the ground nut filling.

2. Place the roasted almonds and walnuts in a food processor, and pulse down to a coarse ground blend. Not dust and not “chopped nuts”, but something in between. Pour out into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, More Than Pumpkin Pie Spice (substitute plain Jane cinnamon if for some crazy reason you don’t have my magical blend of More Than Pumpkin Pie Spice). Blend the sugar, nuts and spices thoroughly.

3. Butter the bottom and sides of a deep-dish baking pan. I use a small rectangular deep casserole dish. For the first layer, I like a thicker base. Start with eight sheets of phyllo dough, trimmed to the size of the dish. Lightly brush on butter to the phyllo. Add two cups of the ground nut mixture. Spread out and pat down lightly and evenly. Sprinkle a little melted butter on top. Add five sheets of phyllo dough trimmed. Brush with melted butter, and add two more cups of the filling. Again, evenly pat down the filling. Continue the process, ending with five sheets of the phyllo, buttered. This will be the top of your baklava.

4. Gently score the baklava into two inch square pieces evenly, then cut through to the bottom. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.

5. Spoon the syrup over the top of your baked baklava; enough to let the baklava gently soak up the syrup through the layers. Let the baklava cool completely before serving. Sprinkle the top with finely chopped pistachio. Best with hot flavorful tea on a cold afternoon or in the middle of the night while sleep-eating. Enjoy!

Copyright 2017 The Gayly - 3/21/2017 @ 9:40 a.m. CDT