Look What Happens When You Follow Directions
The amazing cookbooks of 2021 inspired me to follow some recipes and learn a ton
Confession time: I'm not a young’un. For the last 35 years, I've been editing, writing, and producing content for cookbooks, apps, websites, and magazines —including almost 20 years with Mark!
Today I'm announcing from atop the highest meatball that we are living in the salad days of cookbooks.
Not only did I buy more than I ever have, but I consumed them all voraciously. Each voice, every shared experience, the fabulous photos, have inspired me to get in the kitchen and follow a recipe without messing with it. Turns out you can teach an old recipe developer new tricks.
So this week's Bittman Project recipes are selected from four books:
Sumac: Recipes and Stories from Syria by Anas Atassi
The Korean Vegan: Reflections and Recipes from Omma's Kitchen by Joanne Lee Molinaro
Filipinx: Heritage Recipes from the Diaspora by Angela Dimayuga & Ligaya Mishan
Cook Real Hawai'i by Sheldon Simeon with Garrett Snyder
Together we'll explore Sambusak (Filo Rolls with Cheese Filling), Japchae (plant-based Korean Glass Noodles), Bistek (Seared Rib Eye with Lemon and Onions), and Loco Moco Gravy Rice (described by the author as Hawaiian risotto).
To honor and respect the cooking of the authors, we're publishing the recipes exactly as written — except for our usual subheads and numerals before each step — along with credits and links to purchase. Between the author's note and the beginning of each recipe, I've flagged some kitchen tips for our community based on my experience with this wonderful food. And yes, these are my photos here; all the books include their own fabulous images of food, place, and people.
Ready for action? Here we go…
Sambusak: Filo Rolls with Cheese Filling
From Sumac: Recipes and Stories from Syria. by Anas Atassi. Photographs by Jeroen van der Spek, Rania Kataf, and Maaike Koorman
"After a day of fasting during Ramadan, we eat soup with sambusak — crispy pastry rolls filled with either cheese or meat (see page 74). As soon as you dip a roll into the soup, the cravings of the day melt away and are quickly forgotten.
Traditional sambusak dough is made by hand, filled with akawi cheese (a mild Middle Eastern white cheese), and deep-fried. My version is quicker, lighter, and made with ingredients that are more readily available outside of the Middle East. Even with these substitutions, the result is quite similar to the original."
Kerri's observations: These are by far the easiest filo treats I've ever made. So fast, in fact, I suggest turning on the oven before you start. And as Anas says, they're perfect for dipping in soup. I will bring his technique of less-filling-more-filo to everything I stuff from here on out; the layers were so flaky and light, even with ordinary frozen supermarket dough. (I got a baker's dozen out of the recipe.) Also new to me was his prompt to mash the mozzarella. I used fresh here, which delivered the amazing texture of super thick ricotta.
2/3 cup (100g) of mozzarella cheese (mashed)
1/3 cup (50g) of crumbled feta cheese
1 small bunch of flat-leave parsley (coarsely chopped)
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
12 sheets of filo dough (each 6 x 8 inches/15 x20 cm)
Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
1. In a bowl, mix together the mozzarella, feta, parsley, and nigella seeds.
2. Place a sheet of filo dough flat in front of you. Spoon a tablespoon of the cheese filling onto the sheet in a 3-inch (8 cm) line, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the edge closest to you. Fold the edge over the filling and press the filo dough down with moistened fingers so that it sticks. Then fold the side edges towards the inside. Roll up the filled filo dough like a cigar to form the pastry roll. Seal the seams with a little bit of water. The roll should bw about 3 inches (8 cm long). Repeat using the rest of the filling and filo dough.
3. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Grease a baking sheet with olive oil.
4. Arrange the rolls on the prepared sheet, at least 1/4 inch (5 cm) apart. Brush the filo rolls with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes, turning them occasionally so that they crisp evenly. They should be golden brown on all sides.