Food & dining

The confident cook

A modern adaptation of an Iraqi grandmother’s cheese pie for the Yom Kippur break-fast table

Honey and cheese phyllo pie
Karoline Boehm Goodnick for The Boston Globe
Honey and cheese phyllo pie

Some Jewish cooks, says California author Amelia Saltsman, “have lost track of the seasonality of food,” particularly for holiday menus. This became the basis for “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen,” which came out two years ago, a book meant “to connect the dots between the symbolic foods and the seasons.” Consider the tradition of serving apples and honey at Rosh Hashana, which begins on the evening of Sept 20. Both are at their peak around the Jewish New Year, so it’s no coincidence they’re together. Saltsman likes the idea of thinking this way about all the foods on the holiday table.

The daughter of a Romanian mother and an Iraqi father, Saltsman represents a blend of Jewish cultures becoming more common worldwide. So she also focuses on what she calls “the crossover that represents the diversity of the Jewish experience.” To celebrate her own holiday, she might make a honey and cheese phyllo pie. It’s inspired by Middle Eastern flavors — her Iraqi grandmother made something similar with a kind of puff pastry — but goes well with the Ashkenazic tradition of serving a dairy meal at the end of Yom Kippur. “When you take a dish inspired by flavors from another pathway, and incorporate it into an Ashkenazic tradition, it’s like a little gift,” she says.

Her grandmother’s pastries, called kahi, were pan-fried. Saltsman took the idea and makes a pie, replacing the original complicated layered dough with commercial phyllo, but keeping the salty/sweet integrity of the farmers’ cheese and ricotta filling with a sprinkle of salted pistachios and a drizzle of honey. Saltsman says adaptations like this become a “touchstone that allows us to keep old recipes in our modern repertoire.” On the break-fast table, she says, “it works beautifully and meaningfully.”


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Honey and cheese phyllo pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

2eggs
12ounces farmer cheese
½cup coarsely grated ricotta salata
cup labneh (from a Middle Eastern market)
¼cup honey, heated until warm
8sheets phyllo dough, thawed
½cup (1 stick) butter, melted
Extra honey (for sprinkling)
cup chopped, salted green pistachio nuts

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1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Have on hand a 9-inch glass pie pan.

2. In a bowl, beat eggs lightly. With a wooden spoon or spatula, gently stir in farmer cheese, ricotta salata, labneh, and honey.

3. Lay the thawed phyllo sheets on the counter. While you are working, cover the sheets with a clean, lightly damp dish towel. Gently remove 1 sheet from the stack and place it on the counter. Brush the pie pan and phyllo sheet liberally with butter. Press the phyllo into the pie pan; the ends will extend up over the edges of the dish. Repeat with 3 more sheets, setting them directly over the previous sheets. Each time you add a sheet, give the pie pan a one-quarter turn so the layers cross diagonally and form a crust around the rim. Continue brushing the 4 remaining sheets with butter and layering them in the dish.

4. Pour the filling into the phyllo. Fold the edges of the phyllo up and in toward the center so they slightly cover the filling. Brush the edges with butter.

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5. Transfer to the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the filling is set and the edges are golden. If the edges are browning too quickly, lower the temperature to 325 and continue baking. Cool for at least 5 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of pistachios. Adapted from “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen.”

Karoline Boehm Goodnick can be reached at kboehmgoodnick@gmail.com.