For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

February 28, 2011

In Bed With Baklava

Last week I got inspired by an article that a class mate of mine wrote in response to Cameron's, Merkel's and Sarkozy's statements declaring that multiculturalism in Europe has failed. I obviously disagree and wanted to celebrate the at least for me very alive and blossoming multiculturalism, so explicitly present in my class of European Studies at the University of Lund.

Needless to say, an incurable, immensely proud food-a-holic as I am, a party at my place couldn't possibly be anything but food-related.

I asked my class mates to pair up and switch recipes with someone in the class. The recipe each person had to select for his or her partner should preferably be a typical or traditional recipe from his or her country of origin. I wanted to make them all excited and enjoy cooking, dive into the magnificent world of tastes and go soul food.

When my amazing and talented, handsome and unusually tall Turkish class mate who's name I decided not to reveal asked me to pair up with him, I immediately said yes in the hopes of learning some exotic and intriguing Turkish recipe. When he told me that the recipe he had selected for me was baklava – the mind-numbingly sweet Middle Eastern filo dough pastry – a literally feared for my life. The thing is that I'm suffering from quite a severe and unknown sugar and wheat allergy, so I knew I was playing with fire. But come on, what kind of a proud food-a-holic would I be if I had been all responsible and declined his challenge? To hell with it, I decide to be a real addict and later suffer the consequences. After all, there's nothing I wouldn't do to satisfy my culinary demands.

I woke up that Friday morning intimidated, but high as a kite. My party and the baklava were finally here! I decided to prepare my body for the upcoming “Double Trouble Sugar & Wheat Intoxication” with a little Swedish group gym session. I swear, I jumped around extra hard that time, just in case. At 3 p.m. I got a text from my Turkish buddy saying that he's on his way to my place. When he finally arrived, all psyched up I was ready to do the necessary shopping for the two recipes we had picked out for one another. Just for the record, I won't even mention the recipe I selected for him in order not to distract You from the baklava experience.

Once again, I found myself at the little Arabic food store in town. This time we were there to buy nuts, walnuts to be precis. I filled a brown paper bag with walnuts and took my place in the end of the line for the cashier. As I was dreaming away to Baklavaland, I heard a familiar word coming from the mouth of the man behind the counter. He was talking about baklava! But in Arabic! God Damn it! He was giving out some secret baklava tips and I was right there not understanding a word. I couldn't believe it. I turned to my friend who had earlier been wondering around the shop, gaping at a palm sugar jar, but who was now as curious as I was. I gave him the desperate “Come on, can't you understand ANYTHING? Aren't you supposed to understand a bit?”- look, but in vain. Nevertheless, this was a sign! A blessing from the Middle East! When it was my turn to pay, I couldn't hold it in, I simply had to tell the salesman of the endeavour I had ahead of me. He smiled, wished me good luck and made sure I had all the important ingredients for it. “Bon Appetite!” he yelled as I happily skipped out from the store. Already at that point I was nuts alright!

Back at home, in the kitchen the pressure was on. I realized how panic-stricken I was due to all rumours on how it's close to impossible to make baklava by at home, by yourself. How? What? When? Where? HELP! The recipe was in Turkish, so I was constantly bombarding my friend with questions. I managed to keep my calm thanks to his relaxed and cool-headed attitude. Step by step he told me what to do. Man, the filo dough used for baklava is amazing! Thinner than paper, more delicate than ice, see-through at its very best. I unfolded the filo dough roll, gently and carefully separating the flimsy layers from one another. The first layer I laid my fingers on ripped right up. Freaking great! The famous Finnish swear word came out from my mouth with more meaning than even before. Fortunately, my friend was there to encourage me, saying that no harm was done. “I can do this, now focus” I thought. I started building up the delight step by step, layer by layer. Slowly and gently placing a thin filo sheet on the ovenwear, then sprinkling crushed walnuts evenly all over, to then cover it up with yet another filo sheet. I went on like this for at least 20 layers. I felt like I was in therapy. I was fully and wholly concentrating on the baklava taking its rightful shape and form. What a liberating sensation! Just like that, all my other worries went straight out the window. Cooking is amazing! There I was, absorbed in the wonderful world of Turkish cuisine. I was so perfectly consumed by the moment that I could barely hear the belly dance music I had requested for the venture. I could only hear the muffled voice of my friend coming from reality somewhere far away saying: “Come on, move a bit, shake it, shake it!”. “Later, I'm working here” I responded – I think.

When the ovenwear was full and I had ran out of walnuts, I took a step back and asked my friend to give me the following instructions. Come again, say what? I was to cut my masterpiece into pieces! The Finnish swear word bursted out again. Really, cut it, now? Yes. Okay. Cool down. I took the knife in my hand and started cutting. Impossible to cut 20 filo dough layers with a blunt knife. There's nothing I resent more than blunt knives. I think I had to pronounce some French and Italian swear words too at that point to adequately express my frustration. I somehow managed to do the job and it looked pretty alright. Time to bathe in butter babies! I swear I could almost hear the little baklava pieces squeal with delight as I poured the sizzling hot 500 grams of melted butter on them. Already they looked luscious wallowing there in the golden butter pond. And in the oven they went.

Then the hardest part came, the waiting. Every once and a while I had to sit in front of the oven, look at the miracle happening in front of my eyes. 45 minutes later, I felt like a mother who had just given birth to her very first child: nothing I had ever seen before was as beautiful as my golden brown, crispy and moist baklava. “Now we have to wait again” my friend said. What, really, are you kidding me? As I am the most impatient person I've ever met, I thought that haven't I waited enough? My friend just smiled and said: “We're only half way actually”.

When the freshly baked baklava had cooled down, it was time for the babies' second bathe. This time I was to soak them in sugar and lemon syrup. I felt my heart race. Five cups of sugary syrup would be absorbed in that one medium sized overwear of baklava. If this won't be the end of me, I said to my self, I'm immortal! Finally, it was done! Now I could only wait for two more hours and hope for the best.

After one hour and a half, I literally had to sit on my hands to not touch my creation. I glanced at my friend who was at that point doing all the entertaining and keeping my first guests company. What a good friend, helping me in such difficult times. Personally, I was way to tense to behave like a perky, happy hostess. I was almost bouncing of the walls, running around the kitchen like a headless kitchen when I decided that the time had come.

I sneaked across the kitchen to greet my beloved baklava with utter respect: “Merhaba! Yerim seni bebek” and placed a piece upside-down on my palate – the proper Turkish way to eat baklava. Oh My God! I revelled in the foodgasm it gave me. I had to hide my excitement for just a few more minutes, so I secretly sneaked (a lot on sneaking going on here...) to my friend and force fed him a little piece. Please, oh please have the same reaction as I had, please, please, please. I anxiously looked at his unchanging facial expression as he suddenly closed his eyes and hugged me. SCORE! I suffocated him with a huge embrace and heard him say: “It's perfect, a bit more of the syrup and we're done”.

I asked everyone to quiet down for the grand entrance of my beautiful baby baklava. I assure You, I heard fanfares and angels sing as I placed the tray on the table. My friend and I looked at each other like proud parents, showing off our beloved first born. With trembling hands due to my fear of a massive sugar shock, but mostly due to the childlike excitement of the wonder I had created, I relished the moment just before the official tasting. I took a piece in my hands, closed my eyes and let my teeth sink into the crispy pastry. The explosion of foodgasm number two almost made me pass out. You know how they describe the rats biting into something and not stopping before feeling their teeth touching, well I was that kind of rat. The sticky syrup ran down my lips and my whole face as I gobbled up my prey. I laughed, cried, howled, squealed, I even did my happy dance. I was fully aware of my class mates looking at me weirdly, but I didn't care. I felt pure, sincere, realer than real, sheer joy and happiness.

I did it! We did it! My friend's enchanting look made me even happier. I heard people saying worryingly: “But aren't you allergic to sugar?!” “Yes! Very allergic! And to wheat too for that matter!” I responded. Nothing could stop me. I felt the kick of the sugar rush growing and growing, but I didn't care. The moment of joy was worth it all. After ten pieces of baklava I had to withdraw. I felt like I needed to lie down right away. It's funny how only after giving birth, my stomach was swollen to the size of a nine month pregnant belly. With a immense smile on my face and the my belly growing in front of my eyes, I excused myself: “Please except my apologies, I'm being very rude, I know, but I simply have to go to bed with my baklava now”.


  1. Wow, that sounds so intense! I can feel your intense feelings of joy, happiness. Well-done, indeed. I have heard of this dessert before. It should taste like heaven, I believe considering the fact that I cannot say 'no' any sweet food! But, beyond that, I loved your underlying inspiration: your response to those grumpy, hypocritical and populist 'troika' politicians in relation to multi-culturalism. extending a hand to different tastes is not bad at all.

    All we need is love...

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  3. A real well written piece again and I am sure the baklava too was exelent, great stuff.


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