Recipe: Mutabbaq from ‘Jerusalem’

Jerusalem is a cookbook that I waited for anxiously. Written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Jerusalem explores a vibrant city through its rich food culture, bringing together the Arab east and the Jewish west. I think the result is spectacular.

I love this book. I love it because…well, mainly because of the pictures. The photos are ahhh-mazing. (Which really helps because I can’t pronounce half of the recipes.) But the recipes I can pronounce sound out-of-this-world-delicious. For example:

Spicy Beet, Leek and Walnut Salad
Lamb-Stuffed Quince With Pomegranate and Cilantro
Braised Eggs With Lamb, Tahini and Sumac
Yogurt Pudding With Poached Peaches

See.

Then I saw the book trailer and fell in love some more. And by this time, I was obsessed, so I went ahead and watched the cooking demonstrations. The demo for tabbak, a filo pastry stuffed with soft, savory cheese, spoke to me. I had filo dough sitting in my freezer. I also had ricotta and goat cheese. This never happens. So I made it.

In the book, the recipe is titled Mutabbaq and, according to the authors, is a favored sweet. It basically consists of a lot cheese, layers of filo dough and a lot of butter. And it’s amazingly easy to make, even for someone who’s never worked with filo dough (me).

My only issue was timing—my pastry was done before I made my syrup. As a result, I cooked the pastry too long and didn’t pour the syrup over my pastry as soon as it was out of the oven. Don’t do what I did. When the cheese is cooked too long it separates from the pastry instead of melding into it.

The first bite was interesting. Once I told my head that it wasn’t baklava (all that filo dough) I stopped expecting it to taste like the Greek pastry and was able to appreciate it for its own unique flavor. The goat cheese and ricotta come through but you also get a taste of the lemony syrup.

And it was a big hit when I brought it into work.

Needless to say, I can’t wait to try another recipe from Jerusalem. I think the preserved lemons will be next on my list.

Mutabbaq  

Serves 6

2/3 cup / 130 g unsalted butter, melted
14 sheets filo pastry, 12 by 15 1/2 inches / 31 by 39 cm
2 cups / 500 g ricotta cheese
9 oz / 250 g soft goat’s milk cheese
crushed unsalted pistachios, to garnish (optional)

Syrup
6 tbsp / 90 ml water
rounded 1 1/3 cups / 280 g superfine sugar
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Heat the oven to 450°F / 230°C. Brush a shallow-rimmed baking sheet about 11 by 14 1/2 inches / 28 by 37 cm with some of the melted butter. Spread a filo sheet on top, tucking it into the corners and allowing the edges to hang over. Brush all over with butter, top with another sheet, and brush with butter again. Repeat the process until you have 7 sheets evenly stacked, each brushed with butter.

Place the ricotta and goat’s milk cheese in a bowl and mash together with a fork, mixing well. Spread over the top filo sheet, leaving 3/4 inch / 2 cm clear around the edge. Brush the surface of the cheese with butter and top with the remaining 7 sheets of filo, brushing each in turn with butter.

Use scissors to trim about 3/4 inch / 2 cm off the edge but without reaching the cheese, so it stays well sealed within the pastry. Use your fingers to tuck the filo edges gently underneath the pastry to achieve a neat edge. Brush with more butter all over. Use a sharp knife to cut the surface into roughly 2 3/4-inch / 7 cm squares, allowing the knife almost to reach the bottom but not quite. Bake for 25 to 27 minutes, until golden and crisp.

While the pastry is baking, prepare the syrup. Put the water and sugar in a small saucepan and mix well with a wooden spoon. Place over medium heat, bring to a boil, add the lemon juice, and simmer gently for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Slowly pour the syrup over the pastry the minute you take it out of the oven, making sure it soaks in evenly. Leave to cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the crushed pistachios, if using, and cut into portions. Serve warm.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.


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Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
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