Between the ages of 18 and 20, I transitioned into a vegetarian diet. My boyfriend at the the time had been one since he was ten years old. Although he (we) mainly ate frozen veggie burgers, he was my entryway into my current lifestyle.
I learned a lot during that time period, about food, how to spot the wrong boys, and how to move and survive in an entirely new and bigger place. Moving to Iowa City was the best thing I could have ever done at that point in my life. Of course, moving on my own was pretty scary. It was the first time I was completely in charge of everything. Such as, what I ate and if I ate at all. I started out just shopping in the health food section at Hy-Vee and tried making stir fry. Actually, it’s hard to remember what I even ate. Most likely canned soup, frozen stuff, PB+J. Food that would most likely not tempt you into following in my footsteps.
Having to deal with being partially lactose intolerant all of my life led me to finally ween myself off of the yogurt, cheese and…..ice cream. I found awesome alternatives for the yogurt and ice cream (the So Delicious brand coconut milk products are my favorite) and learned that cheese was really unnecessary in my cooking.
I started borrowing vegan cookbooks from the public library and would read/skim through them, dreaming of the delicious sounding food. After meeting my fella, I gradually started baking and fell in love with it and him. Cookies, pies, breads, crisps, etc. From there I branched out and started experimenting more with soups, stews and all sorts of meals. There were many days of burnt cookies or forgotten ingredients, but each mistake was a lesson and made me into a better cook.
Today I am going to share a recipe for baklava. I have never made baklava before, but it was not as difficult as I had expected it to be. It does have a lot of steps to it but I assure you, your stomach will thank you.
1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
1 pound chopped walnuts and/or pistachios
1/2 cup Earth Balance butter, or 1 cup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey or 1/2 cup pure maple syrup or 1/2 cup agave nectar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9×13 inch pan.
2. First make the sauce. Boil sugar and water until the sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
3. Cool it down in the refrigerator
4. Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon. A mortar and pestle works well. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cut whole stack in half to fit pan. You could also try the trick of placing your pan on top of the dough and cut around it. This will make your dough the perfect size for your pan. It may make the other half the wrong size though. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth or paper towel to keep from drying out as you work.
5. Melt the butter on the stove. Place two sheets of dough in the pan, butter thoroughly. A sauce brush works well for this step or just use the back of a spoon. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2 – 3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 – 8 sheets deep. Wrinkled phyllo sheets are a good thing.
6. Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan.
7. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.
8. Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers (optional). This freezes well. Leave it uncovered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.