Did you ever find that there are certain combinations of food that just don’t belong together? Some foods are incredibly versatile while others are extremely limited by what ingredients pair well with and compliment them. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how different cultures have very different perceptions of what foods go well together. For example, in the U.S., virtually every kid has had a peanut and jelly sandwich at some point in their life. The combination is an American classic. However, to many other countries in the world, this combination of sweet jelly and a salty peanut spread sounds disgusting. On the other hand, my husband enjoys eating salt on pomegranates and spicy savory Chana Masala spice blend on his fruit salad. To me, the idea of putting savory spices on sweet fruit is baffling. And he thinks its weird when I put cinnamon on a banana because he’s used to eating cinnamon in savory dishes. So I guess the concept of what makes “good food” is really quite relative. I mean there are probably some combinations of food that wouldn’t taste good to anyone (chocolate cake with some salmon, perhaps) but overall, there are millions and millions of possibilities that are not only specific to one’s culture, but also to the individual.
Anyway, here is one of my favorite new recipes involving an interesting combination of ingredients that I originally thought wouldn’t pair well together.
One of my favorite things to bake with and eat is phyllo dough. I just love its versatility and adaptability to a variety of recipes. Growing up my mom always made spanakopita, a Greek spinach-feta phyllo dough pie and at Christmas it was baklava, in which phyllo is layered with walnuts (or other types of nuts), cinnamon and other spices, and honey syrup.
So a few months ago, I started to experiment with other recipes using phyllo dough. I tried one recipe for chicken-spinach-ricotta phyllo pie and another with eggplant and chicken. Neither of these recipes really struck a chord with me so I searched for some other traditional Greek and middle eastern recipes using phyllo dough.
I finally came across some Greek phyllo meat pies with onion and herbs. Even though I had never tried putting ground meat in phyllo dough, those looked pretty tasty. While many of the traditional recipes called for ground beef and/or lamb, I decided to use my usual trick of substituting ground turkey in its place. The result was really great. I couldn’t even tell that it was turkey in there. A crispy golden shell of phyllo enclosed slightly spicy and herby ground meat and cheese. The cinnamon-spiced meat was surprisingly delicious in combination with salty Parmesan cheese. Perfect comfort food any time of year.
So I guess the moral of my story is that you can’t judge a book (or in this case, a food combination) by its cover. Some combinations of food give unexpectedly delicious results.
Golden Phyllo Meat Pie
- One 20 oz. package of lean ground turkey (or ground chicken, beef, lamb)
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 3 packed cups spinach, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 1 tsp. thyme
- ½ tbsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 tsp. coriander seeds
- ¼ cup plain bread crumbs
- Dash of red pepper flakes
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
- Salt to taste
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper, more to taste
- 1/2 package (about 20 sheets) phyllo dough
- Heat oil in a sauté pan on high heat. Add chopped onion and minced garlic and sauté until onions are just starting to turn translucent. Add the ground meat and break up into small chunks with the back of a spoon as it cooks. Cook meat until pink is completely gone.
- Add the oregano, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes to meat/onions mixture and stir, incorporating spices for about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Lower the heat and add in spinach and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, until wilted, then remove mixture from heat. (If your pan is too crowded, you can instead boil a pot of water and cook spinach for 1-2 minutes until wilted. Rinse and drain excess water well.) Set aside pan of meat mixture to cool for 5-10 minutes.
- In a large bowl, mix ground meat/onion mixture with toasted bread crumbs, beaten eggs, and ½ cup parmesan cheese (or other cheese of choice).
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 11”x7” (or 9”x13” pan is okay) and add a sheet of defrosted phyllo dough to the pan carefully so that it doesn’t break or fold. Spray phyllo sheet with oil spray or brush lightly with olive oil or melted margarine. Then layer a second phyllo sheet on top of the first. Continue this procedure until you have layered 7 sheets. It is important to oil between phyllo sheets so that they do not dry out during baking.
- Place ½ the meat mixture on top of the phyllo sheets evenly. Pat down with a spoon. Sprinkle additional parmesan cheese over meat mixture.
- Layer another 8 sheets of phyllo dough on top of the meat mixture following the same procedure as in step 5. Top with the second half of the meat mixture and again sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Layer the remaining 5 phyllo sheets on top. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until phyllo is golden.