PRETTY AS A PICTURE
I love surprises, little somethings wrapped up in pretty paper and elegant ribbon, shiny satin or lush velvet. Rings slipped into tiny silk sachets pushed across a white tablecloth or chocolates wrapped up in gold, tucked into tissue paper that rustles as I choose. I remember when my dad parked the new car he had bought my mom on the front lawn all decked out in a giant, bright red ribbon, the bow sitting jauntily atop the roof as he led her out of the house to see. Marty wrapped up in JP’s jacket against the March cold, baby face just peeping out from between the lapels, a little bundle of joy. Special gifts in boxes much too big simply to throw me off the scent or presents hidden under the coats in the back of the closet for curious hands to find, searching in the dark days before Christmas. Parcels that come in the post enveloped in brown paper and string, ripping it open after days or weeks of anticipation.
Old black & white movies, images of elegant women wrapped in luxurious furs back in the days when it was politically correct; movie star poses, fur sliding softly down, caressing bare skin, a shoulder bared just so, coat parted to reveal a shimmering gown and just enough leg to excite imaginations. Children running out of the chilly surf, scooped up and quickly wrapped in beach towels, their plush warmth all cuddly and safe.
Or simply wrapped up in his arms.
Or what about rice wrapped up in grape leaves or delicate slivers of fish swathed in dark, glistening nori, dark jewel-like prunes wrapped in bacon and grilled, the sweetness of the fruit mingling sensuously with the saltiness of the meat, fresh, tangy goat cheese snuggled into smooth smoky roasted red pepper, bananas and strawberries enrobed in warm, sexy chocolate smearing lips and dripping down fingers.
Why are things wrapped in something else so attractive, so delicious? Why do they remind us of presents from loved ones, exciting surprises? or snuggling deep down into blankets or wrapped up in the warmth and glow of a burning fire?
I love lamb. It’s my predilection. If I have my druthers – and I usually do – I cook lamb. But after all the tagines and couscous, the roasts and the chops, I was in the mood for something fun, something special, something to surprise. These gorgeous, flavorful keftas wrapped up in filo (phyllo) dough are a special treat indeed. They were inspired by a recipe I saw in Cuisine & Vins de France and were greeted, as I placed them on the table, piled high, in front of my men, by ooohs and ahhhs. Biting into the crispy wrap, tasting the savory filling and the room was filled with mmmmms.
KEFTA WRAPPED IN FILO DOUGH
20 – 25 oz (600 – 700 g) ground/minced lamb
6 sheets of filo (phyllo) dough
2 slices white bread
3/8 cup (100 ml) milk (if you don’t mix milk and meat, replace with water)
2 Tbs pine nuts
1 large egg
1 small bunch fresh coriander
1 tsp liquid honey
1 tsp allspice
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil or melted butter for the filo dough
Place the ground/minced lamb in a large mixing bowl.
Finely chop the 2 onions. Heat a large skillet, preferably non-stick, over medium heat and add a little oil, butter or margarine. Cook the chopped onions for several minutes until caramelized a golden brown.
Beat the egg in a small bowl. Measure out the spices. Soak the two slices of bread in the milk until soaked then squeeze out all of the excess milk. Chop the soaked and squeezed bread finely. Finely chop the fresh coriander.
Add the caramelized onions, the bread, the beaten egg, the chopped coriander, the honey, the spices and the pine nuts to the ground lamb. Add the spices to the meat and generously salt and pepper.
Using your hands, blend all the ingredients with the ground meat until completely and evenly combined.
Spread a sheet of parchment paper out on a large serving platter or an oven tray. Form the meat mixture into quenelles or cylinders of even thickness and about 2 or 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) long and 1 to 1 ½ inches (2 to 3 cm) wide. Lay them on the parchment paper as you prepare them.
Heat back up the skillet you used to fry the chopped onions over medium heat. Add a little oil if it is not non-stick. Brown the quenelles of lamb on all sides, lowering the heat to medium-low if it seems too hot, about 8 minutes each batch. Do not overcrowd. They will still be pink in the center (they will finish cooking in the oven. Remove the browned lamb quenelles to another baking sheet or platter as you go and continue cooking until all of the quenelles are browned.
Preheat the oven to 410°F (210°C). Line a large baking tray or cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Working with one sheet of filo dough at a time, brush the sheet with olive oil or melted butter. Evenly slice the sheets into long strips, slicing lengthwise into widths as wide as your quenelles (I divided my strips into lengths 3” (8 cm) wide, the width of my quenelles. Place a quenelle on the end of a strip and simply roll up, sealing the end with a bit more oil or butter. Place, seem side down, on the lined baking sheet. You can place them fairly close together if need be. Brush the outsides with more olive oil or butter.
Bake them for about 10 minutes until golden brown. The meat peeking out each end should be sizzling. Serve immediately.
We ate these with olives, but they would be delicious dipped in a spicy dipping sauce or even a cool, tangy tzatziki-type sauce. You can accompany them with a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. They can be made smaller to serve as finger foods or hors d’oeuvres.