Food & Drink

Baklava doesn’t have to be sweet and drippy

Kalamata Baklava: Olives, pistachios and feta give a savory twist to the syrupy dessert.
Kalamata Baklava: Olives, pistachios and feta give a savory twist to the syrupy dessert. Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press/TNS

Delightful. Delicious. Subtle. These are just a few of the words friends used to describe this terrific twist on a baklava.

We don’t tend to think of baklava in a savory way. When I think of baklava, I think of ground walnuts or pistachios between crispy layers of phyllo dough that’s doused with a honey syrup.

But while perusing food magazines looking for ideas for an upcoming afternoon lunch, a recipe for Kalamata Baklava caught my eye. Olives and baklava? The recipe in the August issue of Better Homes and Gardens was from Theo Stephan, a California woman who the article described as having “a farm-to-bottle organic olive oil business.”

I’ve used phyllo for making savory appetizers before, encasing them in triangle shapes or rolls. But this looks just like a traditional baklava, with a savory filling.

Besides being a terrific brunch option, this recipe has a lot going for it in the good-for-you ingredient department.

Like some traditional baklavas, it uses pistachios. Thanks to the convenience of pistachios sold already shelled, it was ready in a snap. Pistachios, along with the kalamata olives and olive oil, are also a healthy ingredient. They are the lowest-calorie nut, containing about 160 calories per 1 ounce. (Almonds are second with about 169 calories per ounce.)

Pistachios are also known for heart-health and cholesterol-lowering benefits as being a good source of protein and having 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Using kalamata olives and feta cheese provides a mild saltiness to this baklava. So there’s no need to add additional salt. I just love the salty and brininess of the kalamata olives as well as their fruity, subtle flavor. Buying kalamata olives already pitted will save you time. (If you buy them with their pits, there’s any easy way to remove them: Place the olives on a clean work surface and place the back of chef’s knife on a few olives. Give the knife a slight whack with your fist or press down hard on it. This will loosen the flesh from the pit.)

One last thing that was different: using olive oil to brush on the phyllo layers. Usually the layers are doused in butter. The olive oil adds a richness to each layer, and it also helps crisp the layers.

This recipe has so many serving options. It’s perfect for a brunch and something different. You can serve it on its own as an appetizer or nestled on top of some mixed salad greens. But, watch out: It is so good that I dare you to eat just one.

Kalamata Baklava

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, August 2016 issue.

1/2 of a 16-ounce package frozen phyllo dough (14-by-9-inch rectangles)

2 cups finely chopped pitted kalamata olives

1 1/2 cups finely chopped, salted pistachios (6 ounces)

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic

2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 orange, zested and juiced (about 2 teaspoons zest and 1/4 cup juice)

1/4 cup Sauvignon Blanc or other dry white wine

3 tablespoons honey

Thaw the one roll of phyllo dough according to package directions. Keep the other roll in the freezer.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl combine olives, pistachios, feta, garlic and oregano. Brush bottom of 13-by-9-inch baking pan with some of the olive oil. Unroll phyllo, but keep it loosely covered with a damp, clean kitchen towel.

Layer five sheets in prepared pan, brushing each sheet with some of the olive oil. Crumple one sheet on top and sprinkle with one-third of the kalamata filling (about 1 1/3 cups). Repeat layering with phyllo sheets and kalamata filling two more times, crumpling one sheet of phyllo on each layer before sprinkling on the filling. Continue to brush each sheet with the olive oil.

Top with remaining phyllo, brushing each sheet with olive oil. Drizzle with any remaining oil. Using a sharp knife, cut stacked layers into 32 pieces on the diagonal. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly in pan on wire rack.

In a small saucepan, combine orange zest and juice, wine, and honey and heat through. Pour over warm baklava; cool 2 hours. Recut into bars before serving.

Yield: 32 pieces.

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