Recently, G and I went on honeymoon and started in Zambia (read all about it here), where I had a dish that was truly enchanting and it turns out, when I made it at home, really quite simple and easy to make. It lends itself to being made ahead with only minimal amount of effort to finish it off. Crispy filo pastry wraps around a filling of spinach, garlic and onions with crunchy cashew nuts, flecks of goats cheese and soft sweet raisins.
I had this while sipping a beer and looking out over the Zambezi river surrounded by sun and hippos. Idyllic and capable of rendering almost any meal totally transporting. However, when I got back and made this again I realised it was just as good sitting watching the English rain stream down my window with not a beer or hippo in sight. Its delicate spicing reminds me of North Africa, its filling is almost Greek, and I must admit nothing about it screams Zambia to me. In Zambia, the fact that it’s vegetarian is novelty enough.
I tried a few versions of this, and the first thing I focused on were the onions. For those who read this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m very partial to a caramelised onion and have used it in many recipes, including pairing it with filo before (see here for my caramelised onion filo tart), serving it on its own (click here) or in a tortilla (click here). So, naturally, I assumed they’d be perfect for this. Although they were nice and sweet, this actually needed something with a bit more bite and a little more sharpness. I was reminded of a little trick an Italian friend of mine taught me: plunge thinly sliced onions into boiling water for twenty seconds and it will take that raw acidity away from them. Here, with red onions, it was perfect. (though if you’ve cooked up a big batch of slow cooked onions and want to use them feel free, it’s still delicious).
The spinach is best quickly wilted with a few thin slices of garlic and then pressed to remove the moisture. In fact that bit was easy. It was getting the cashew nuts just right which took a couple of tries. I tried roasting them at first and, although roasted cashews are lovely, they didn’t have the same glorious, caramelised top note that I remembered from Zambia. It turns out the best way to do it is to shallow fry them in a little oil until golden brown all over and then toss them with salt, pepper and cumin seeds.
The whole thing can be stuffed and rolled, then stored in the fridge until you need to bake them. So, if you pop them in when your guests arrive they’ll be ready in twenty minutes – just enough time for you to open a bottle of wine, ask them how they’ve been and tell them how you were just sitting in the middle of the Zambezi when you first had this dish…
Filo pastry spiral with spinach, cashew nuts, goat’s cheese and sweet raisins
- 250g Filo pastry (I use sheets which are pre rolled and I use 8 30cm square sheets cut in half)
- 750g Spinach (I prefer baby spinach and wash before using)
- 2 handfuls of cashew nuts
- 250 g salty white cheese (marinated sheeps milk feta works well, or a hard goat’s cheese)
- Handful of raisins (I call these sultanas in Australia, you want quite large fleshy raisins)
- 2 red onions thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds (or 1 teaspoon ground)
- 50g butter (melted)
- Preheat the oven to 190 celsius – skip this step if making in advance
- Leave the sultanas to soak in hot water to rehydrate for 10-20 minutes (I like to use a little warm vegetable stock if I have it but it’s not necessary)
- Place a large frying pan on medium heat with a small amount of olive oil and add the spinach and garlic. I quite often do this in two batches for reasons of volume. Cook until just wilted, will only take 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and squeeze to remove excess moisture. Then chop finely.
- Place the sliced onions in a bowl and pour enough boiling water over them to cover. Leave to stand for 30 seconds and then drain the onions and combine with the chopped spinach
- Heat a layer of oil in a large pan over a medium high heat (you want a neutral oil like rapeseed, vegetable or sunflower but in a pinch olive oil can work so long as it’s not extra virgin). Add the whole cashews and cook until golden brown on all sides. Remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper. Whilst still hot season liberally with salt pepper and the cumin seeds. Once cool add to the spinach mixture.
- Drain the sultanas and add to the spinach mixture along with the crumbled cheese
- Lay out the filo sheets 4 on top of each other with each slice brushed with the melted butter and cut them in half so you have 8 rectangles each with 4 layers. They should be about 15cm by 30cm. Fill them with a thin layer of the mixture across the whole square except for a little bit around the edge. Roll them up into a spiral with mixture spread between each layer – the cashews will be a bit bumpy don’t worry about that. Now roll into a coil.
- Brush the outsides with a little more melted butter and place in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden – serve hot or cold with a dressed salad