I'm celebrating today! Celebrating 200 'likes' on the Greek Vegetarian Facebook page! And I truly can't think of a more delightful little celebratory sweet to make on such a happy day than baklava. My Aunt Koula's baklava no less.
Koula's recipe was passed down to her by her mother and is a variation on the traditional squared or triangle-shaped pieces of baklava – the baklava is rolled into logs then cut diagonally. Koula says it's much quicker to make baklava this way. It also uses a mixture of three different nuts, including pistachios which are not often seen in Greek baklava recipes.
I briefly introduced you to my Aunt Koula in an earlier post, but here I would like to tell you a little more about this remarkable, beautiful and incredibly funny woman who wears a pair of Nana Mouskouri glasses better than Nana herself.
I first met Koula around 15 years ago when my sister, Melinda, and I were holidaying together in Greece. Koula and her husband (my dad's brother) George, live in Rhodes, a Greek island in the far southeast of the Aegean Sea. On that trip we only had a few days to spend with George and Koula, but the one thing both Melinda and I took away with us was the vivid memory of Koula's wonderful cooking.
It wasn't until Tony and I started spending some time in Limnos that we got to know Koula and George more intimately. Both now in their 80s, they make their annual pilgrimage to the cooler island of Limnos during the summer months when it is too hot for them to swelter away in Rhodes.
Tony and I have been fortunate enough to spend a few weeks each year in Limnos for the last three years, and this is when we get to enjoy quality time with George and Koula, as well as with my dad and his wife Julia who live in Limnos for 6 to 8 months every year.
Not having many relatives here in Australia, it is really lovely to connect with family in the country of my roots. It's quite a spiritual experience for me every year. The moment the plane touches down at Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens, a wave of emotion hits me and I just want to applaud the way passengers used to in the early days when Olympic Airways had international flights from Australia to Greece. Back then it was more of a gesture of appreciation (and relief!) that the pilot landed the plane safely, but for me, now, I just want to express my joy that I'm in Greece! Last year I broke out into my own solo performance of applause, and actually started a bit of a crowd response where around 30 people joined me, and some even threw in a few "bravos"!
Over the years Tony's connection with Greece has also strengthened. He hasn't a drop of Greek blood in him but his affinity with the country and the culture of Greece is quite phenomenal. He has been learning the language for the last three years and is now almost fluent. I hardly speak Greek at all which, as you can imagine, is actually quite embarrassing for the one that's meant to be the Greek component of this partnership – especially when we're in Greece!
Arriving at the family house in Limnos is always an emotional moment, seeing how much the garden has grown, and finding George and Koula in the same seats out in the terrace where they always sit, tossing their comboloi (worry beads) and grinning from ear to ear as they see us approaching. Big, giant hugs and kisses, tears and laughter, Koula's hands holding my face, then another big kiss and a hug. It's the most beautiful welcome you could hope for in such a beautiful country.
During the last three years, for just a few weeks every year, Tony and I have got to know a wonderful aunt and uncle that would make us laugh every day. Koula has a very dry sense of humour, ensuring she never laughs at her own jokes. Her English is good, but she would occasionally get the genders confused in our language, as many native Greeks do, and her humour would take on another dimension when she would refer to "her" as "him", as in "I was talking to my daughter-in-law, Kathleen, and I said to him, "Why you no come to Greece?". Tony would be in tears of laughter and although Koula may not have known exactly why, true to form, she would not laugh, and casually carried on with the story.
Memorable also is Koula's cooking. She is the queen of the kitchen and would prepare a meal of gargantuan proportions every day for lunch, and another three meals every day for the freezer. In Limnos everyone is well fed with Koula's dishes, long after she and George have returned to their homeland of Rhodes.
I love spending time in the kitchen with Koula and take every opportunity I can to document everything she cooks, including this baklava recipe that I'm sharing with you today.
I've tried to make Koula's baklava many times and it still doesn't come out the way she does it. Why is that?! This year when we meet again in August I will ask her to observe every move of mine as I try to replicate her baklava and hopefully we'll see where I go wrong . . .
Baklava Rolls, with Pistachios, Walnuts and AlmondsRecipe by my Aunt Koula
Makes around 40 small portions
- 200g walnuts
- 150g almonds
- 60g pistachios
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 200g unsalted butter
- 12 sheets of filo pastry
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons Greek honey
- Place the nuts in a food processor or grinder and pulse until broken down to coarse crumbs.
- Add the cinnamon to nut mixture and mix well.
- Melt the butter over low heat for brushing the filo pastry.
- Lay one sheet of pastry on a flat surface and butter liberally.
- Sprinkle a handful of the nut mixture evenly over the pastry.
- Repeat with two more sheets of pastry, finishing with the nut mixture.
- Carefully roll the pastry, not too tightly, until you have a log shape, and place with seal side down in a baking dish.
- Create three more rolls and lay side by side in the baking dish. You should still have at least 1/4 cup of melted butter left. Reserve this butter for the final brushing.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the baklava rolls diagonally, almost all the way down to the bottom of the dish, but not touching the bottom, to create around 40 portions.
- Brush the baklava with the remaining butter and place in a preheated oven at 170 degrees celsius for one hour.
- In the last 30 minutes of cooking time, create the syrup. Combine the water, sugar and lemon juice in a pan and heat until boiling. Allow to boil for 10 minutes without stirring, then add honey and stir to mix in. Remove from heat.
- Remove baklava from the oven and pour hot syrup directly over the hot baklava. It will sizzle a bit, but this is the all-important moment when the syrup goes all gooey and sticky, crisping up the pastry and doing all sorts of magical stuff.
As delicious as your baklava looks, you will need to allow it to sit, uncovered, for at least an hour before eating so the syrup can penetrate the pastry and do its crisping-up thing. To serve, arrange three pieces on a plate and sprinkle with ground almonds . . . and just try and stop at three.
Linking back to Fig and Cherry's blog this week on her "This week I'm craving..." weekly post. It's a fun, new way to link up with others that have food cravings (like my carb craving after going a week without them!)