If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know that I’m obsessed with Georgian cuisine (the Caucasus region Georgia, not the state that gave us Coca-Cola and Scarlett O’Hara). I adore khachapuri, the famous cheese bread, and hope on my next visit to New York City to make it to a Georgian restaurant in the Alphabet City neighborhood. And of course the dream of all dreams would be to actually visit the country (and ignore the fact that it gave the world one of modern history’s most heinous villains, Joseph Stalin).
With some Amazon monies I had gotten for Christmas I knew I wanted to treat myself to a new cookbook and so I settled on the much talked about and acclaimed Naomi Duguid’s Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan. (Were you also surprised to learn that countries like Georgia and Armenia were once considered Persian? I know I was. But apparently even today they are still considered part of the Persian culinary tradition.) The cookbook is stunning; this is not hyperbole. The photographs of the food look incredible but I also love the photographs of both the landscapes and the people. Without getting too political, remember that it’s those people’s faces that prove the world is not the evil place some are trying to make it out to be. As in, there are always people in the world that have good hearts and good intentions and want nothing more than to share their country’s culture and cuisine with an outsider. I’m much envious of one photograph of Duguid posing outside a spectacular Iranian mosque. The colors are just enchanting.
Naturally when you find a cookbook you love from cover to cover it’s tough to settle on the first recipe. But I ended up going the sweet route and tried out Paghlava, an apricot-walnut pastry that is a cousin to the more famous baklava. The main difference is that paghlava is made from a flour dough whereas baklava is made from the always ornery phyllo. Having worked with phyllo in the past, I’m a flour dough kind of baker. Did I mention that the recipe for paghlava is Georgian?
While this wasn’t a recipe you can make in a short period of time, it truly was pretty simple and I can’t say enough how pleased I was with the end results. A surefire way I’m satisfied with my culinary efforts is when my creation looks almost similar to the ones pictured in the cookbook. I loved the taste of the ground walnuts and apricots and spices mixed in with the floury dough and enjoyed it as a mid-morning treat at work the next week. But I can only imagine how terrific it would be to enjoy in Georgia complete with a cup of hot black tea while enjoying the views, either of the mountains or one of their stunning Orthodox cathedrals.
The Red Headed Traveler’s Tips
-The recipe calls for dried apricots but you could easily substitute another dried fruit instead. I wanted to stay true to the recipe since apricots were a staple of the Persian Empire.
-Make the filling in advance, even a couple of days if need be. One less thing to do while making the dough.
Apricot-Walnut Pastry (Paghlava)
Recipe courtesy of Naomi Duguid’s Taste of Persia
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for surfaces
Pinch of baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) very cold butter
1/3 to 1/2 cup plain or Greek yogurt
1 to 2 teaspoons regular sugar for glazing
1 large egg, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup finely ground walnuts
1 cup chopped dried apricots (pieces about the size of small raisins)
Pinch of ground cardamom and cinnamon
-Place the flour and baking soda in a bowl and grate the butter into it. Rub the flour and butter together to make crumbs. Add 1/3 cup of the yogurt and mix gently. Try to pull the pastry together; if it is too dry, add a little more yogurt and mix to make a slightly soft dough.
-Pull the pastry together into a ball and flatten into a thick disk, Seal in plastic and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.
-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease it lightly.
-Whisk the egg white in a medium bowl, set aside 1 teaspoon of the white. Add the sugar, walnuts, apricots, and cardamom and cinnamon to the remaining egg white and mix well. Set aside.
-Place a cotton cloth on your work surface and dust it with flour. Flatten the pastry gently on the cloth. Use a rolling pinto roll it into a rectangle measuring about 15 by 20 inches, with one of the 15-inch sides nearest to you. Spread the filling on it, leaving a generous 1-inch border on the side farthest away from you and a 1/2-inch border on the other three sides. Beat the egg yolk and brush it onto the exposed pastry edges. Use the cloth to lift the edge of the pastry nearest you and roll it up like a jelly roll. Place seam side down on the lined baking sheet.
-Brush the top of the pastry with the reserved egg white and sprinkle on a teaspoon or two of sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until well touched with gold. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.