That is, if you go by the Islamic lunar calendar. November 14 and 15 marked the Islamic new year, and to celebrate — because really, what’s a Middle Eastern celebration without food — I’m sharing a favorite recipe of mine to add to your mezze/finger food spread over the holidays: crispy lamb, mint and pine nut cigars.
The past two weeks have been busy with all kinds of little projects – some to be revealed here soon. Meanwhile I have been squeezing in quite a bit of cooking, and with Thanksgiving coming up, I’m up to my ears in recipes (which of course makes me ultra happy).
Back to these cigars, now. A few tips for best results: buy decently lean, but not totally fat free, ground lamb. If it’s too lean, they’ll end up on the dry side. Also, when working with phyllo/filo dough, be sure to keep it under a barely damp tea towel, to prevent it from cracking. If it cracks, no worries, most of the imperfections will be lost when rolling. To secure the cigar, fold the inner layer of dough over the sides of the meat mixture first, then roll them tightly, as shown below.
If you’re a sauce person, like my husband is, you can quickly mix up some plain yogurt with cayenne pepper, fresh coriander, cumin powder and salt to taste. Or, mix some tahini with lemon juice.
- 1 package phyllo/filo dough, thawed
- 500g / 1lb minced lamb
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- Big pinch dried mint leaves
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Olive oil, for frying and brushing
- Optional: yogurt, coriander, salt and cumin dipping sauce; tahini and lemon juice dipping sauce.
In a large frying pan, saute the diced onion in 1 tbsp light olive oil for 4-5 minutes, until soft. Add the minced lamb, using a spatula to break it up into smaller pieces. Stir in the tomato paste, followed by the spices, salt and pepper to taste, and continue cooking until the meat is browned and cooked through. Drain any excess fat. Toss in the pine nuts and set aside.
Preheat oven to 200F / 400C.
Unwrap the thawed phyllo, lay flat and place under a clean tea towel. Always keep phyllo covered when working with it, or it'll dry out, crack, and become very difficult to work with.
On a clean surface, peel off one sheet of phyllo and lightly brush the entire sheet with olive oil (horizontal side facing you). Stack another sheet on top and brush with olive oil. Slice it crossways into three or four strips, depending on how long you like your cigars.
Place a rounded teaspoon of the lamb mixture in at the bottom of each strip, spacing it out to almost reach the sides. To secure the parcel, fold the inside sheet of phyllo (the one the lamb is directly resting on) over the sides of the meat mixture -- as is illustrated in the photo above. Then, roll each parcel tightly into a skinny cigar.
Repeat until all the lamb filling is used. Place on a nonstick baking sheet, and brush the tops lightly with olive oil. Bake 10-15 minutes until golden brown and crisp.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days. The phyllo will get soft when chilled - simply place them back on a baking sheet at 200C / 400F to re-crisp.