In Greek, phyllo, filo, or fillo means leaf. This very thin, unleavened dough is very versatile and is used in Greek, Balkan and Middle Eastern cuisine in thousands of sweet or savoury recipes. In Greece, -and around the world, the most well known recipes are spanakopita and baklava. Apart from its deliciousness, this paper-thin dough is way healthier than puff pastry, that needs great amount of butter to be made, and different in preparation.
Phyllo in Greece
In Greece you will find different types of filo, depending on the recipe you want to use it for. For example, the thicker one is called “horiatiko”, which means village phyllo. This is the one used mainly to make pies, especially in the North and Central part of Greece, where people still make it by hand, using a thinner and longer rolling pin, named “verga”. This tool was used to create multiple thin and wide phyllo sheets, as Greek pies, especially in the past, used to be a staple in their rural diet and had to feed the whole family.
For a crunchy outcome, Greeks use “kroustas” filo pastry, which means crust. This is the typical, tissue-thin pastry dough most people know because of baklava (or the lesser-known, but equally decadent “galaktoboureko” with custard cream filling).
Other types of fillo found in Greece include kataifi, a shredded phyllo dough, we also call “angel’s hair” because of its thin, long stripes, used for a syrup-soaked Greek dessert called kataifi.
When in Greece, make sure you join our food tours to experience one of our many Greek culinary surprises; to see how air-phyllo dough is made by tossing layers of filo in the air, like pizza, and taste delicious bougatsa with cream or cheese made out of it.
How to use phyllo
Don’t think of phyllo as the basic component of Greek traditional recipes only. Phyllo can take your recipes one level up, by adding an extra layer of yumminess and crunchy texture.
Phyllo can be used layered, folded, rolled, or filled in various ways. Any simple recipe can be turned into a sensational experience! Take for example a piece of feta cheese and fold it inside a filo sheet. Fry it, sprinkle black and white sesame seeds, drizzle with honey and there you go, you got yourself one of the tastiest Greek appetisers for dinner with friends. Wanna do it the French way but with less butter? Wrap your brie cheese with phyllo and spread fig or raspberry jam. How about recreating classic recipes? What do you think of a pizza with a phyllo twist? What about desserts? Crunchy phyllo makes a delightful game of textures with silky soft ice cream and warm cakey brownie, that will take your tastebuds to heaven.
And remember, – nothing goes to waste. If you use phyllo in your cooking, don’t throw away any leftovers. Use your imagination and make phyllo rolls or chips. Dust them with butter, sugar and cinnamon or olive oil, paprika, oregano and black pepper for a savoury outcome.
Greek tips for using phyllo
* Thaw 24 hours ahead. Take it out of the fridge 1-2 h. before use.
* Phyllo dries out quickly, so take one sheet at a time from the packaging or cover the rest with a damp towel. Have your oil or melted butter ready.
* Use a sharp knife to cut the pastry sheets to avoid ripping.
* Don’t worry if the pastry breaks a little, you can stick it together with the butter or oil and won’t make any difference in the end.
* When you bake, spray some water on the top, it will make the phyllo crunchier and keep it in position.
* Spread the top layer “wrinkled” so it makes a nice crust.
Watch one of the last Greek bakers making phyllo dough by hand.
Photo credits: freepik