05 May 2012

Leek and Greens Sephardic Jewish Pie

The Mediterranean: bright, sea-lit crescent of romance and fresh simplicity. After leafing through Vegetarian Times' Mediterranean issue this month, I decided it was time to improve my repertoire of recipes from the region.

I turned to Gil Marks' Olive Trees and Honey, a history lesson cum cookbook of vegetarian Jewish recipes and food traditions around the world. Marks omits regions lacking a centuries-old Jewish culinary tradition, so South America, the Far East, sub-Saharan Africa, North America, and Antarctica receive short shrift.

For Shabbat this week I made a Sephardic Pie. The Sephardic Jews include the diaspora of Jews who fled the Spanish inquisition, settling in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and even as far as India. Some of these Sephardic Jews mixed with those Jews who already lived in the Middle East, having never traveled as far as Europe during the first wave of the Diaspora in the first millenium of the Common Era. While the United States Jewish population is mostly Ashkenazi, Sephardic Jewish cultures have dominated Israel from its founding. In short, Sephardic cooking has maintained a Mediterranean character for the last 500 years.

But I would have to admit that this pie I made was not simple, nor romantic, nor shingled with the dancing light of the sea. On the cusp of summer, I made the pie in a sweltering North Carolina kitchen over the course of 3 days. Each slice was a dense, thick cube of leafy greens, onions, eggs, cheese, and dill, encased in a solid pastry crust. I served it fresh from the oven with two sides: crisp slices of Asian pear and a cup of red lentil soup tart with tamarind. Everyone requested seconds. The next day the pie tasted delicious cold.

George and I agree that though the pie took quite a bit of effort, we would make it again because it satisfied us so deeply.

Leek and Greens Sephardic Jewish Pie

For the crust:
1 Cup lukewarm water
1 Cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
About 5 Cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:
12 ounces of the white and light green parts of leeks (about 6 leeks worth)
1/4 Cup unsalted butter
1/4 Cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 pounds spinach
2 small heads chopped Romaine lettuce
2 Cups (8 ounces) grated Gruyère
10 eggs, lightly beaten
6 chopped scallions
4 Tablespoons fresh chopped dill

To finish:
oil for greasing the pan
1 egg, beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

Equipment: 1 9x13 baking pan and an oven

1. The day before, cover the leeks with cold water. Bring to a boil, turn low, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender. Drain. In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the leeks and the onion until soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
2. Wash the spinach and while it's still wet, wilt it in a large dry pan.  Chop the spinach finely and wring it dry with several clean towels. Set aside.
3. Wash the lettuce and wilt it as well. Drain.
4. Make the crust: in a medium bowl, combine the water, oil, and salt. Stir in the flour 1 cup at a time. It should make a soft, cohesive dough. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rest 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, mix together all the filling ingredients in a bowl.
6. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Grease a 9x13 pan.
7. Form a large ball of dough out of two-thirds of the pasty and a smaller ball out of one-third of the pastry. Lightly flour a large work surface. Roll out the larger dough into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Fit it into the 9x13 pan, so that it closely adheres to all the corners and comes up over the rim. Prick it all over with a fork. Trim off the excess dough.
8. Spoon in the filling.
9. Roll out the smaller ball of dough and place it over the filling, crimping the edges with a fork to seal. Trim the edges. Cut several slits in the top to vent the steam. Brush the top with the egg mixture and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
10. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling set, about 45 minutes. Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving either warm, at room temperature, or cold.

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