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Baklava for your thoughts

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It’s hard to really pinpoint Baklava because of just how many regions make their own versions of it. And each region leaves its own unique mark on it whether the flour is different, the syrups have different profiles, or the filling itself has changed in permutations and combinations of nuts or dried fruit. Baklava is just that satisfying morsel of sweetness tinged with texture of flaky nuttiness.

This isn’t a family recipe but one my mom encountered when she was in Mumbai in her adolescent years. India in western and eurocentric depictions usually gets painted as a monolith of “brown” which erases how much influence neighboring areas, trade, and immigration effects what is considered “Indian” cuisine. The history of baklava’s arrival is still up for debate, some outlining Turkish roots from trade and travel while others outline it as a “Parsi” or Iranian influence. For example, in Mumbai is still a store that was established back in 1901 by Haji Golam Ali which would only open for the holiday of Navroz. Over a hundred years later, his son now runs the place keeping the tradition alive in huge thaalas and wood fired ovens. Iranian baklava is characterized by rose scented extracts and honey within its syrup.

My mom always spoke fondly of this place and I was lucky enough to be able to have a bite for myself. Although she couldn’t replicate those flavors this is a recipe she was inspired to make and pass on to me which I in turn added my own tweaks to. There’s a lot going on and in terms of cuisine, I’m thankful for all of these flavors I was surrounded by.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup ghee
1 cup toasted almonds
1 cup toasted walnuts
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp clove
phyllo dough

Syrup:
2 cups white sugar
1 tbsp orange zest
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp rose water
1 cup water
1 tbsp lemon juice

Baklava has three components: making the syrup, chopping up the mixture you’re going to use, and lastly assembling all three with the help of ghee. Make sure the phyllo dough you’re using is defrosted otherwise leave it in the fridge overnight. Its easiest if you have everything ready to go. First we’ll start with the syrup as it needs to be room temperature when putting it on the baklava. Heat stove top to medium low. In a pot add 2 cups of granulated sugar, lemon juice, rose water, orange zest, and a cinnamon stick. Usually, it is common to add honey to these syrups but since my mom tries to follow ayurvedic practices, this prohibits the use of honey at boiling temperatures so its omitted from this recipe. Let the mixture boil for 10 minutes and put in refrigerator.

For the mixture, you may hand chop them (better for the walnuts) or use a food processor (better for the almonds). Add the brown sugar, clove powder and cinnamon. I like adding the brown sugar because it gives it a molasses-y flavor which is a flavor I am very acquainted with, and when the ghee activates it..the aroma alone is delicious. Try to not pulverize the mixture to dust like consistency as we want to have a bite to it.

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Now you’re ready to assemble! Preheat the oven to 325. Trace out and cut the shape of the bottom of the tray or top if they are the same on the phyllo dough. Do this twice.

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Keep the ghee on a low simmer to keep it in liquid form because once you are done layering, you’ll pour it all over. I will have a recipe coming up on how to make it yourself but there’s also nothing wrong with store bought. Actually I lied, don’t buy that shit from trader joe’s or whole foods – go over to your local south asian store and actually contribute to the communities these treats come from! A lot of people will brush ghee on each layer which is partially why this treat is seen as being so laborious. Brush the bottom and sides of the pan with the ghee. Take a stack of 8-10 sheets and put on the bottom. This is important, otherwise your baklava won’t be stable enough to pick up. Layer the nut mixture throughout, as evenly as possible. Don’t worry about it not seeming cohesive, it will all come together. Now add 3-4 sheets between depending on the thickness of your layer. Repeat.Lastly, add the final layer with 14-16.

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Cutting the squares plays a crucial part to its aesthetic but also in making sure the ghee seeps into every layer for that buttery flavor and crispness. Hold on one side with your hand and use a sharp knife (sharpen it really quick with another knife if you have to) in the other to cut the columns and rows at an angle or in straight lines. Take the pot of ghee and pour it all over the pan.

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Let the baklava bake for an hour, you’ll be able to tell as the phyllo becomes golden brown. Once it is out, have the syrup ready, and drizzle it over uniformly once again. Top with nuts of your preference but its completely optional.

I like to let this cool for a couple hours before digging into it just because the syrup gets a chance to seep into every layer and really integrate with the ghee while also making everything *stick* together. I promise you, you’ll be able to finish the whole tray by yourself haha.

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