Custard-filled phyllo triangles bring taste of Lebanon to Ohio
Written by KAREN NADLER COTA Sentinel Lifestyles Editor
Tuesday, 15 January 2013 10:20
PERRYSBURG - Perhaps you've had a chance to sample Middle Eastern cooking at the Perrysburg-based Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.
|Anne Deeb with her custard-filed phyllo-dough triangles. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Or maybe you've been fortunate enough to have been a guest in the home of a good cook of Lebanese descent.
If so, you've probably taste Knafi, a traditional pastry also described as custard-filled phyllo dough triangles.
Anne Deeb, an active member of the mosque community, has a favorite recipe for the Lebanese delicacy.
"I improvised it," she admits. "I changed it to reduce the calories."
Deeb's version uses 3 cups of whole milk, whereas "the original called for all whipping cream, if you can believe it."
If she's really watching her waistline - or someone in her family is - she might even opt for 2 percent milk, although that will affect the flavor of the Knafi, she believes.
Deeb also adds eggs to the filling mixture, "which makes it custardy. That's not the original, but it's needed in this recipe."
She knows her Knafi.
Deeb, in fact, has taught Middle Eastern adult cooking classes in a variety of locations in recent years.
"When I do a cooking class, I do a five-course meal in two hours." Among the dishes on the menu: meat pies, grape leaves, fatoosh, and the custard-filled phyllo triangles.
Most recently, she shared her cooking secrets in a class at The Andersons in Maumee just last month.
Other Wood County residents took her class when she taught it at Kitchen Tools and Such in Perrysburg.
For four years she gave classes at Gourmet Curiosity, a cooking school in Sylvania that has since closed.
"I take pride in cooking. I love doing it; I never measure," she said. "I just know by looking at it."
Knafi, she says, is a food for celebrations.
"Back in Lebanon when it's served it's for holidays, weddings," she said of the time-honored dessert.
A key secret to assembling the triangular-shaped Knafi is to fold it over and over in the same way military members fold the U.S. flag during a formal flag presentation ceremony.
"If I'm depressed, I cook all day," said Deeb, whose regular job is working as a stylist at New Image Hair Salon on Laskey Road in Toledo. She's been a hairdresser for the past 40 years.
"My deepest pleasure is sharing my desserts with people," including some of her regular customers at the salon. "Some of them live alone and if I know they totally enjoy good pastries I make a box for them."
Her parents were actually born in Lebanon.
"My dad emigrated to Detroit at about 16, and later went back to Lebanon to bring back my mother who was 17" when they married. "That's how they did it back then."
But Deeb mostly learned the art of Lebanese cooking on her own.
The basic recipe for Knafi "came from a lady at our mosque and I watched her."
"I cook the weekly lunches for the students and the congregation that go there. We make a menu and that's how we make our money. There's a group of about 10 of us" doing the cooking. "We donate our time and ingredients."
Deeb alluded to the pain of going so many months without the mosque building being open in the wake of a fire set by an armed intruder back on Sept. 30.
"It's not going to be open again until the end of March, so nobody is seeing each other" as they are used to doing.
Deeb, a mother of two, is also the proud grandmother of six, their ages ranging from 2 to 16.
"None of them like fast food," she said of the grandchildren. "Their mom makes them smoothies" from scratch as opposed to serving candy or junk food.
All three generations are used to sharing recipes and preparing foods together.
"And I like taking recipes and making them healthier," Deeb added. "Healthy eating is our future. If we don't do something about that we're going to end up with kids with diabetes.
"We have to teach by example."
Knafi (Custard-filled phyllo dough triangles)
3 cups whole milk
1 cup Half and Half
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon vanilla or orange water
1 pkg. phyllo (preferably fresh, not frozen)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
Combine in heavy saucepan milk, sugar and cornstarch. Stir on medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens.
Add egg yolk to thickened sauce and still well. Then add the vanilla or orange water. Let cool completely.
If phyllo dough is frozen, defrost at room temperature (may take one to two hours). When working with phyllo dough, always keep sheets not currently being used covered with a damp cloth. Place one sheet of phyllo dough on a work surface and fold into thirds, lengthwise. Final width after folding should be four inches. If necessary, fold one side a little more than a third. Brush dough with melted butter.
Place one to two tablespoons of custard filling one to two inches from one end of the strip of dough. Fold the end of the strip at an angle over the filling to form a triangle. Continue to fold the strip of dough as if folding a flag, preserving the triangle shape until you have folded the entire strip. Place the triangular pastry on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the top of the triangle with butter. Continue making strips and folding until all of the custard has been used.
Bake at 350 degrees for 13 to 15 minutes until golden brown.
Pour cool syrup (recipe found below) over hot pastries.
Makes about 16 pastries.
Attir (syrup for pastry)
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon vanilla or orange water
Combine in a heavy saucepan sugar, water and lemon juice. Stir until dissolved. Boil over medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add the same flavoring as used in the custard filling. Allow to cool to room temperature.