This Moroccan style savory meat pie will wake up your tastebuds. It was Thursday evening and I had nothing planned for Shabbat dinner. I could, of course, always make a chicken dish, but my husband was beginning to cluck. So I searched my freezer for some hidden gem and found a package of ground beef. But then what? In the back of my freezer was a long-forgotten package of phyllo dough and from that I created this dish.
Using my knowledge of Moroccan/Middle Eastern cooking and knowing what we like to eat, I started to put together what turned into a delicious Shabbat – or anytime – dinner. All I needed to add were some beautiful roasted tomatoes with fresh herbs from my terrace garden and a mix of Middle Eastern salads for a delicious and satisfying summer dinner.
The beauty of this kind of dish is that you can make it in virtually any pan and depending on how you cut it and your sides, it can easily feed between 8 to 10 people. The only slightly tricky part is dealing with the phyllo dough. If you have never worked with phyllo before there are a few things you need to know in order to have a successful outcome.
You need two damp towels to keep the phyllo leaves from drying out. Once they do, you might as well throw it in the garbage. You also need some kind of fat to brush on the dough as you layer it. Since this was for Shabbat, I used a vegan buttery spread. Butter and even EVOO would also work. When I make baklava I generally prefer to use butter, although will also use good buttery vegan spread.
You also cannot skimp on the melted fat or try to speed up the process by plopping on too many layers of dough at once. Not if you hope to have a finished product with those lovely flaky layers that epitomize puffed pastry. I never add more than two thin layers at a time. Once you have mastered the phyllo, making baklava or spinach pie are a breeze.
And while I made this recipe with lean ground beef, you could easily use ground lamb, which frankly I prefer, but didn’t happen to have on hand. I used the spinach because I had it, but you could leave it out or use parsley or kale instead. The point is, don’t get bogged down. If you don’t have pine nuts, but you have blanched slivered almonds, use those.
Ras el Hanout was used because I have it on hand, but you could just as easily have used hawayij to change the flavor profile. If you have never used Ras el Hanout, I definitely recommend that you try it. You can buy it at any good spice shop or online or you can make it yourself. It’s a wonderful warm spice that is perfect with pumpkin or other squashes and gets you in the mood for fall. So have fun and get cooking!
This dish can be eaten hot or at room temperature and is wonderful for a buffet. You can reheat any leftovers in a 350 degree F. oven for about 10 to 12 minutes. It will nicely crisp up the pastry and warm it through.
I hate waste. The phyllo dough came in a one pound package and I didn’t want to refreeze what was left over. So I took some apples that were beginning to wrinkle, sliced them very thinly without peeling them and layered it with a good cheese that would melt easily. It was all nestled between layers of phyllo in a shallow rectangular tart pan. I treated the phyllo with butter and baked it at 375 degrees F. for about 40 minutes. It made quite a treat for a light dinner or lunch with a bowl of lentil soup or a salad. If you wanted to add a very thin slice of a jamon, prosciutto or other smoked ham, that would work well too. And if you don’t have apples, but do have fig jam (I always keep a jar around) that would be just yummy.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1.5 pounds very lean ground beef or lamb
About 2 Tablespoons EVOO
1 pound blanched spinach, squeezed dry and roughly chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large onion (I used yellow but red or white onion would work), finely chopped
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly pan toasted
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (freshly cracked black pepper is fine)
1.5 teaspoons Ras el Hanout
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
8 ounces tomato sauce
1/2 pound of phyllo dough (although you could use more if you want a LOT of pastry), defrosted in the fridge if previously frozen
6 to 8 ounces of butter or vegan buttery spread, melted
Butter (or use other fat) a 9 X 12-inch pan that is about 3-inches deep. Set aside. Almost any deepish pan or oven-proof skillet will work. This happened to fit my phyllo dough exactly.
In a large saute pan, soften the onion and garlic. Then add the ground meat, breaking it up in the pan. Cook until the meat loses its redness. Now add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, spices, raisins and spinach. Stir everything through to mix well. Add the pine nuts and mix through. Taste to adjust your seasonings.
My Ras el Hanout could have been a little fresher so I oomphed things up a bit with a little additional allspice and ground clove. There should be very little liquid. A bit of liquid is fine and will absorb into the meat as the mixture cools slightly. Too much liquid will make for a gummy end product. Set the mixture aside while you heat the oven to 375 degrees F. and prepare the phyllo dough.
Lay the phyllo dough out onto one of the damp tea towels. Then cover with the other towel. Working quickly, peel off two thin sheets of phyllo. If the sheets break, don’t worry. You can always patch. Lay the sheets in the pan that you have oiled. I chose 9 X 12 because it fit the dough perfectly but make your dough fit the pan. You can even fold it over. As soon as it is in the pan, brush the dough with the melted butter. Keep repeating this until you have laid down 8 sheets.
Now spoon in your meat mixture and spread it evenly. You can do this in one layer or you can divvy it up, which was what I did. So I placed half of the meat mixture down, then added more layers of phyllo (brushed with butter), then more meat. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter.
Once all of your meat mixture is in the pan, add the remaining phyllo dough two sheets at a time and spread with butter between layers. I used about 8 sheets but you can use more if you want more pastry. Take a very sharp knife and pre-cut your dough. I then sprinkled some additional Ras el Hanout on top, which is why my finished product looks so dark. It’s up to you. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes. Ovens vary so check it. As long as your pastry is puffed and the desired brown, the dish is done. The filling is really cooked before it goes in the oven. Now – enjoy!