The summer before last, I went to visit some friends in the South-West Peloponnese, a beautiful corner of Greece unspoilt by hoards of tourists. Greek food, whilst being delicious, is rather same-y. I lost count of the variations of chargrilled aubergine dip, tzatziki and moussaka we tried. They were all slightly different, some being much more palatable than others, partly due to how much garlic each chef thought was acceptable.
The dessert of choice, not being presented with many other options, was baklava, a Greek and Turkish concoction made by drenching filo pastry and nuts in an insanely sweet syrup. I became mildly addicted to it, and many balmy evenings were spent hunting down the best. It took me the entirety of the week-long holiday to pronounce ‘baklava’ correctly. The emphasis is on the final syllable ‘va’, rather than the more natural Anglicised stress on the middle ‘k’, so it is said ‘baklava’.
Pronunciation aside, here’s my take on baklava. Some of the best baklava we tried I think used honey in the syrup, rather than acres of sugar, so I’ve tried that here. I chose a mixture of pistachios, almonds and walnuts, but any nuts can be used. It is ridiculously sweet, so you only need small pieces.
I am writing this in the throes of a brutal hangover from one of the many festive get-togethers that happen at this time of year, always inevitably involving gin. And more gin. Christmas is the only time of year that I seem able to drink on consecutive evenings – culminating in the all day booze-fest that is Christmas Day.
On the day itself, it is perfectly permissible, verging on mandatory, to start consuming something with an ABV of above 10 before 10am. Along with some poor excuse for breakfast, such a Lindt chocolate and a stale mince pie. These nibbles would be an ideal thing to wash down with copious amounts of booze all throughout the day, safe in the knowledge that you haven’t really eaten anything. And anyway they’re vegetables. This leaves ample room for a large roast later in the day, followed by the obligatory Christmas pudding. At which point all pretense of sobriety goes out the window, and the Baileys is poured directly on to your pudding.
These nibbles can be easily made in advance, then just whacked in the oven to cook on the day. I chose to make my own mayonnaise (it really is a doddle) but you can just mix mustard into some bought stuff if it’s too much hassle.
I made these to take on a beach picnic to south Devon with my friend Nicola. I was all ready to write a post about how we optimistically set out for the beach, then it ended up raining and we spent the whole time shivering and scarfing down the picnic before rushing back to the warmth of the car.
But actually, contrary to how British weather usually works, it was sunny and warm. I may have even got slightly sunburnt – given that the need to bring suncream didn’t even cross my mind. I experienced some much more disappointing beach weather than this when I was in Australia, which is surely the wrong way round. We spent the whole time gleefully whispering ‘It’s so warm’ – as if talking too loudly about the good weather might scare it away.
So these Greek-inspired filo parcels were not as drastically ironic as I had feared. We ended up consuming about three each, plus five different types of cheese (the hazard of having a friend who works in a cheese shop). So it was fair to say that the post-picnic discussion about whether to go for a bracing cliff-top walk or to lie on the beach groaning didn’t last long.