Step aside, puff, it's filo's time to shine. Layer upon layer of paper-thin pastry that crisps up, with just the right amount of give. Filo - or phyllo or fillo - is a staple in Middle Eastern, Balkan, Greek and Cypriot cuisines, but also pops up in Italian, Maltese, Pakistani and Indian cooking. (It's versatile like that.)
Filo is an unleavened dough that is stretchy enough to be rolled out cellophane-fine. If you can't read the morning paper through your filo, keep rolling. Making your own filo requires a fair amount of skill and certainly way more time than any of us ever have, so it's reassuring to know that quality store-bought filo is a respectable substitute.
If you can't read the morning paper through your filo, keep rolling.
Get your hands on a packet, start at the top our list and work your way down. Does it help to know that filo is made without added fat, so is generally considered a healthier pastry? Thought so...
Makaronapita is the kind of showstopping dish that ought to be much more difficult to prepare. The lesser-known savoury Greek pie (see spanakopita, below) is filled to the brim with macaroni, spicy beef and cheese. It tastes as good as it looks.
This recipe adds chicken to a classic Greek spanakopita. The big spinach and fetta flavours shine through, but the chicken brings extra satisfaction. Make this recipe for your yiayia with confidence.
While we're on a chicken pie bender (because that's such a good idea), let us just slip in a little kataifi number. Kataifi is a string-like pastry that's technically not filo, but let's not mince words - just pastry. The vermicelli-like strands make Greek sweets like baklava taste even more amazing and are also perfect on top of this chicken pot pie.
I love a good Thai chicken curry, fragrant with spices, chilli and ginger, and creamy with coconut milk. This is my pastry-topped tribute to that dish.
This version of the classic chicken and leek pie adds a pinch of nutmeg and diced bacon, and double-stacks the puff pastry for an extra crunchy crust.
The only thing better than sharing one big pie is getting your own individual pie. That way, you get more filo pastry. These little lamb parcels are flavoured with big Middle Eastern flavours like cumin, cinnamon, sumac and pomegranate molasses.
This flaky mushroom and leek soufra is made by folding, not rolling the pastry for an impressive finish and cross-section. It's simple to make but set one down in the middle of the table and you're sure to impress.
We're sneaking in another kataifi recipe in here, simply because these harissa lamb koupes are just so beautiful!
Moroccan food mixed sweet and savoury flavours in a way few other cuisines can manage. These mini chicken pastillas are a case in point. Apricot and honey mingle harmoniously with turmeric and ginger, garlic and onion. The result is a crispy icing sugar-dusted little parcel that is very big on intrigue.
Galaktoboureko is far and away one of Greece's most popular dishes. The creamy semolina custard pie is decadently sandwiched between twenty buttered filo pasty sheets. Which surely isn't enough?
Yiayia Marina’s been making it the same way for over 60 years and it continues to make an appearance at every family gathering, large or small. Our family’s recipe is for a large-sized tray, enough to make 100 tiny bite-sized serves, or 25 larger dessert sized portions.
Bougatsa is, arguably, one of Greece’s greatest gifts to the culinary world. Layers of buttered filo encase a sweet semolina custard which is baked into a golden flaky pie. Dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon, it’s the perfect accompaniment to, well, just about anything.
Here's that stealthy kataifi worming its way onto the filo list again. Shh, let's have a piece of ekmek kataifi and look the other way. Thick layers of custard and cream have a way of bringing things together harmoniously.
This baklava dome cake is the dessert you bring out when you have people to impress. Even if it's just your family on a random Friday night. Life is too short to not eat plenty of filo-wrapped cakes, don't you think?
Comfort food need not be unhealthy, with a protein-packed pie covered with a light, flaky filo pastry to warm you from the inside.
If you’re looking for the ultimate Greek sweet, look no further than portokalopita. This crispy, syrupy, custardy concoction makes perfect use of Greece’s famed yoghurt, which is strained to remove the whey to create a thicker, creamier result. Believed to hail from Crete, this rich pie makes use of the island’s orange bounty, resulting in a refreshingly zesty dessert that’s delicious served warm in winter or chilled with ice-cream in summer.
Where I come from, cherry pies are made with filo pastry and sour cherries. During cherry-picking season, my family always makes one to eat after pitting all the cherries, our fingers and clothes stained with the juices. If you ask me, the best sour cherries for this pie are a bit sweeter, but still tangy. However, any sour cherry, including frozen, can be used. You can also substitute other fruits, such as apple, which I grate and combine with cinnamon and nutmeg. Just make sure to adjust the sugar.
Kefalotiri and kefalograviera are hard Greek cheeses made from sheep’s or goat’s milk, and both are excellent melting cheeses.