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Intro to Phyllo

This Middle Eastern dough and its exotic cousins are light, crisp and easy to use.

The first time I had a homemade tiropita--phyllo pastry filled with cheese and rolled like a cigar--was at a Greek Orthodox church bazaar when I was 14. It was hot, crisp and deliciously flaky, and it became the standard by which I came to measure anything wrapped and fried. After that initial taste I had to go to cheap tavernas and pastry shops on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan to get a phyllo fix.

Twenty years later, I don't have to venture so far afield for that exotic pastry. It's not even all that exotic anymore. Elegant Greek, Turkish and Moroccan restaurants have rescued phyllo from ethnic obscurity, and fusion chefs are using such traditional Middle Eastern and North African doughs as phyllo, kataifi and yufka to wrap such untraditional fillings as foie gras, tuna sashimi and hazelnut gelato. The options are endless.

It's a trend home cooks can easily take advantage of, since these doughs have become increasingly easy to find; phyllo and kataifi are available frozen in many supermarkets. Here are three recipes that serve as a showcase for these versatile doughs.

Published November 1998


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