Filo (also "phyllo" or "fillo") is an extremely thin pastry dough that is commonly used in Greek
cuisine, and comes from the Greek word for "leaf". You can find
filo in the frozen section of most grocery stores near the
desserts and pastries. Filo is sold rolled in 1 pound boxes of 20-30 sheets, and will
keep for months in the freezer. The brand I buy is 13"x18"; you can buy smaller sizes
or even cut the dough with scissors or a knife.
Defrost it by leaving it overnight in the refrigerator;
avoid defrosting at room temperature as the sheets are more likely to stick to one another.
Filo will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator.
Filo very quickly dries out when exposed to air. When using filo, be sure you have all
the ingredients handy and the oven preheated. Have a convenient area to unroll the
filo clean and ready and keep a clean damp cloth and waxed paper or parchment paper handy to keep the
supply of dough covered while you work.
What I like to do is use lint-free cotton "jumbo flour sacks" (32"x38" towels). I put one down
on the counter to unroll the filo onto. I put a piece of waxed or parchment paper on top
of the stack of filo once open, and put a second lint-free towel, this one just barely moist,
on top of the paper (but not touching the dough).
Typically, you will be spreading melted margarine (or oil) on the
individual sheets - it is handy to have a pastry brush, and you should focus on quick, broad
strokes, working from the edges in; don't saturate the sheets, but quickly get some
margarine on each sheet before it dries.
It's fun to cook with filo! Try making filo triangles filled with fruit or maybe a tofu and vegetables stir fry,
or experiment with other ideas; see my recipe for Pear Filo Triangles below.
The benefit of triangles or other pockets is that these readily form nice appetizers and take
less time to cook. The basic idea is to cut the filo into 2.5 to 3.5 inch strips the long way
(parallel to the long direction of the dough), lightly grease a strip, and put a little bit
of filling near the bottom, then
fold the strip up like you were folding a flag, ensuring that the dough completely encases
the filling. If you have too many strips, you can always double- or triple- wrap; I prefer doubling,
but see details below.
Place the triangles on a baking sheet, brush with margarine, and bake at 375 degF for 16 minutes
or so, or until golden brown. Try simple fillings like wild mushrooms, quickly sauteed with
shallots and red wine; tomato paste with olives; or roasted eggplant mixed with a bit of fresh
fennel root, sage, and salt - and your guests will label you a gourmet! You can even find
prebaked filo shells in the store; simply add (for small shells) 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of your
filling, gently press down, and bake the filled shell in a 350 degF oven for 7 minutes.
This makes 8 servings
Chop a large onion, which should result in 1.5-2 cups, into uniform cubes between 1/4" and 1/2";
in a large pan, saute till onions are clear and not brown (about 5m)
Add 2 pounds chopped fresh or frozen spinach and saute till limp
Mash a 16 ounce tub of firm water-packed tofu (first frozen and defrosted if possible
to give it additional texture) to chunks less than 1/2 inch in size
Mix in to the pan the mashed tofu, 2t salt, 3/4 t black pepper, and 2T oregano
and then remove from heat. Gently drain excess water then optionally mix
in 1.5T nutritional yeast.
Preheat oven to 350 degF and lightly oil a 9"x13"x2" 3-quart glass baking dish
Prepare to use filo (phyllo) dough. Get everything ready before opening the
dough; once the filo is open, it will dry quickly, so working fast and in concert
with your team is key. Have handy a small amount
of olive oil in a shallow bowl and a pastry brush, as well as a barely moist towel and
a clean surface that the opened filo can rest on (e.g., a metal baking sheet).
It's best to have three or four people working together.
One person can be in charge of keeping the filo dough covered with the moist towel,
pulling it away when the second person reaches down for a new sheet. The person
handling the filo sheets will lay the sheet into the prepared baking dish and the
third will immediately quickly lighly oil the sheet, working from the edges in
(try to be light and don't worry about complete coverage). If you were making Baklava,
the filo handler would then fold the filo over and the oiler would quickly coat that
side - but here you will leave the sheets coming out of the tray.
The filo handler can then
get the next sheet (remember to count and stop when it is time for the filling; you
probably want to rotate roles then). If you have a fourth
team member to help, that person should press down each filo sheet as soon as it
is put into the baking tray and just before it is oiled. Note that you may wish to work
with two individual pieces of filo at a time instead of one, if you can't
separate the sheets. Also, don't worry about it if you rip some sheets - they will
still taste great!
When everything is ready, cut open the filo dough and start with a sheet of
dough on the bottom of the baking dish, allowing the sheet to follow the edges
of the dish and hang over the top, remembering to lightly oil this and all remaining sheets.
Continue putting sheets down, putting each at a slight angle to
the one beneath it and oiling, until you have used up a third
of the filo.
After carefully covering the filo with the moist towel, add half of the spinach-tofu
filling, then fold the edges of the filo you've laid down so far over the filling.
Continue adding the second third of filo sheets and fill, as above.
Add the remaining third filo sheets one at a time. At the
end, tuck in the overhang all around.
Along the diagonal, make a slash through to the filling in several
places with a sharp knife. Lightly oil the top and bake 45m-1h until the top
is brown and crisp. Serve as 8 squares.
Hearty Mushroom Bake
This makes 8 servings
First prepare the mushroom filling. I came up with this idea in October 2003 based
on a dish I created a year or so back which is essentially this filling, but with
the ingredients cut larger and served not as part of a filo baked dish, but as is with
a grain on the side.
Slice 8 ounces of wheat gluten (seitan) into 1/4" sticks 1" long, medium fine chop
a medium onion into 1/4" cubes, and coarsely chop 4 ounces of mixed gourmet mushrooms
(try oyster, shiitake, and crimini) into pieces approx. 3/4" in size.
Saute the onions till they just start getting clear then add in the seitan.
When the seitan just starts showing some browning, add in the mushrooms and 2 or 3
rosemary stems with the needles intact. Continue
to saute another 5m or so till the seitan is brown and the mushrooms cooked.
Using a small (I find them to be 187 ml but don't know why such an odd measure) bottle
of red wine, pour about a quarter of the bottle into the saute pan and then turn the
heat down to medium. In about 5m, pour in another quarter bottle and cook another 5m.
The ingredients should remain moist.
While the mushroom filling is sauteeing, you can begin to prepare the potatoes. Use
about 3 medium Yukon Gold or other good boiling potato, sliced to about 1/4" thickness.
You can check how many potatoes you need by laying them out in a 9"x13"x2" 3-quart glass baking
dish and slice enough so they form a single layer. Boil the potato slices briefly, 3-5m, till
they are still firm but done, then drain and set aside.
Proceed as above with the spanakopita, but use the potatoes with a few pinches of salt sprinkled
atop in a single layer after the first third of dough is put down, and use the mushroom filing
(leaving the rosemary out) for the top layer after the second third of dough.
Make sugar syrup
Boil 1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar and 3/4 cup water for about 2m over high heat;
just before turning off heat, add 2T rosewater
Cool slightly then refrigerate till needed
Clarify margarine to make "ghee" (traditionally, butter with milk solids and water removed)
Melt 1/2 pound of non-hydrogenated tub margarine (or 2 sticks,
equal to 1 cup, soy margarine)
in a pan over gentle heat; margarine --
and chocolate -- burns, so be careful and ideally use a double
Once froth starts forming, keep spooning it off and discarding it
till no more. Unlike making ghee from butter, it's not critical that
you take 30-45 minutes; froth should stop forming in 10 minutes or so.
Slowly decant to leave any solid residues behind - you should be left with
one cup or so of ghee
Set the ghee in a bowl, and, if necessary, put the bowl over hot water to keep
the ghee liquid
In a food processor, quickly pulse 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (or 1 1/2 cups
pistachios) to a medium mince; add another 2T (2T = 1 ounce in each of syrup and filling) rosewater
and 1/2 cup liquid sweetener like brown rice syrup (see notes below about other options) and
touch of cinnamon, and quickly process to mix well
Preheat oven to 350 degF
With ghee, grease a 10"x14" baking pan
Prepare to work with filo. Instead
of oil, you'll be using ghee, and you will want to fold each sheet completely
into the baking tray instead of leaving it overhanging.
Spread plastic wrap or aluminum foil as work surface, open 1 pound
box of filo pastry, spread on surface, and have on hand a
barely damp cloth to immediately cover the filo should you need to
Place a sheet of filo in the bottom of the pan (1/2 will fit),
butter surface, and fold over
Continue till you have a third of the sheets in
Distribute half of the nut mixture in an even layer, optionally
with 2 ounces (an eighth of a pound) or so of
unsweetened chocolate pieces ("Dilip's Chaklava")
Continue with another third of the pastry and top with the
rest of the nut mixture (no chocolate)
Continue with the rest of the pastry sheets
After buttering the top, cut through the whole stack
with a sharp knife in (14" across) horizontal bands 1" apart,
then on diagonals to make diamonds
Pour any remaining ghee on top
Bake for 30m then increase heat to 425 degF and bake another 10m
till puffed and golden brown
Remove from oven and immediately pour cold sugar water syrup over
Serve when comes down to room temperature
Makes about 30 pieces; 7g saturated fat/piece, 15 g fat/piece!!
(Roughly how much will this cost? Based on shopping in January 2002
for 7 trays, it was around $91; if you make this on your own,
budget about $13 per tray, or less than fifty cents per baklava piece.)
In this recipe, I suggest brown rice syrup; the result in baklava tastes
Other sweeteners that can be used include maple syrup (use about 1/2 as much
as you would brown rice syrup, and beware that this may change
significantly the taste you would expect of baklava), molasses (use 1/2 as much),
frozen fruit juice concentrate (experiment, but try using about 3/4 the amount),
various brands that mix fruit juice concentrate with rice syrup (also try 3/4),
corn syrup (you may have to nearly double the amount), and malt syrup (about the
same amount as brown rice syrup, but the result will be less sweet; try mixing
in some stevia or maple syrup).
For recipes calling for a cup of sugar, you can substitute with a liquid sweetener.
As a guide, a cup of sugar is roughly equivalent to a cup of brown rice syrup in sweetness;
reduce the total amount of other liquids in the recipe by about 1/4 cup for each cup liquid sweetener added.
A good place on the internet to read more about sweeteners is
A by-product in the creation of rose oil for perfume, rosewater is
used in desserts in both the Middle East and South Asia.
Pear Filo Triangles
Here is a recipe that is best made in the form of filo triangles. Buy
good, firm, fresh pears - I highly recommend using small, sweet Seckel or Forelle
pears, available in the fall and much of the winter, but you can use Boscs
(brown and available most of the year except summer). You can also use Bartlett pears
(red or yellow, available fall through early winter) if the other varieties aren't available.
With fresh forelles or seckels, in particular, you'll amaze yourself at how tasty these are.
You can try any number of variations.
Substitute the pear with a good baking apple if you wish, though I really think pear works much
better here. I like the Pink Lady apple if you can find
it or Honeycrisp, but you can use other firm varieties like Granny Smith,
Braeburn, or Jonagold.
Prepare fruit filling
If you're using small Seckel or Forelle pears, use approximately 4-5 pears
for every 8 triangles that you want to make; the 1 pound filo dough
I use is 13"x18" x 20 sheets, so using that as a guide, you'll need 20-25 pears to
use up the pound of filo dough (each triangle will use two strips, so this will
make 4 strips wide x 10 double sheets thick = 40 triangles). If you're using
a bosc or bartlett pear, you will need 1/3 to 1/2 as many pears.
Wash the pears. If you're using a larger pear like a Bosc or Bartlett, use an apple corer
to remove the central core including the
seeds. Peel and dice into 1/4" cubes (if you're using a small pear, just use your knife to cut
around the core and then dice) then, in a bowl, mix with just enough lemon juice to coat the
fruit - it should take a few teaspoons lemon juice total.
A good fresh pear is divine by itself with a little bit of lemon juice to prevent
browning (and should be just sweet enough by itself without any added sweetener),
but 1 1/2 T vanilla complements the pears nicely, along with 1/2t cinnamon, 1/2t nutmeg
(freshly ground, ideally), 1/2 t finely grated fresh ginger root, and 24 finely chopped lavender needles.
You can also add in up to 3T pear brandy. Mix well the
pear with your additions.
As an alternate if you don't like pears, try using apples - after peeling and coring them,
dice them 1/4" as with the pears so that you have about 14 cups diced, or about 10 medium-large apples.
Mix in 6T lemon juice and 8t cinnamon (both signficantly more than you would
use with the pears), as well as 5 cups walnuts chopped to 1/4" or slightly smaller. I like this dish
as is, but if you want to sweeten it, mix in 5T turbinado sugar or, as a special treat, 5T
granulated maple sugar, to the apple mixture. (It is still going to be a bit tart; taste test
and add another T of sweetener or even more, to taste, if you wish.)
Clarify 1/3 pound margarine to make "ghee" as with the baklava recipe above. Particularly if
you are using a good quality margarine, you can alternatively just melt the margarine.
Prepare the filo dough. You want to divide the dough into four stacks of long strips maintaining the long
dimension (e.g., with 13"x18" sheets, you want four 3.25"x18" stacks of strips).
Have ready a sealable plastic bag with a paper towel that is moist but not dripping and folded inside the bag
(to keep the bag humid).
Filo comes full width with its length wrapped tightly; remove the outer plastic wrap and, using
a sharp straight (not serrated) knife or cleaver, cut the dough approximately in half and then
cut each half in half again so that you have 4 rolls.
Don't measure or worry if the widths aren't exactly the same.
Put 3 of the rolls in the plastic bag, and seal the
bag, expelling air from the bag and making sure that none of the dough touches the paper towel.
As above with spanakopita, lay out the remaining filo dough roll to keep it from drying out.
It is much easier to work with
a thin 2.5"-3.5" strip than with the full-sized sheets, and you can easily make this dish
as a group of two, or even by yourself.
Preheat oven to 375 degF; have several baking sheets handy, greased lightly with "ghee"
Quickly remove two strips together and cover up
the rest of the dough stack. Grease the top strip and, as in the shaded portion of the diagram
here (shown approximately proportional to a 3.25"x18" strip), place 1.5 T of the filling, roughly
shaping it into a triangle and keeping it 1/2" or so away from the edge.
Fold at a 45 degree angle down and over the filling to form a first triangle. Use your fingers to
ensure the filling is inside the triangular area, and carefully fold this triangle over to form
triangle 2, folding as you would a flag. Continue till you get to triangle 4, at which point the
filling should be sealed within dough. Gently but firmly pat the filling to cause it to uniformly
fill the space inside the dough. (Keep the dough on a flat surface instead of trying to fold it
in your hands.)
Continue folding and gently pressing down on the filling till you've folded all the dough into a
complete triangle. Pick up the triangle and hold it in your hands as you fold over the remaining
dough at the end.
Brush "ghee" onto the triangle and lay on the baking sheet.
When all the triangles are done (remember to use the remaining three strips in turn to use up all of
the filo dough), bake them in the 375 degF oven for approximately 16m, or until
lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve warm.
The triangles are great to serve as finger foods at parties. You can skip the initial greasing of the inside of
the strip, but the triangles may taste a bit dry.
If you want a more decadent version, use a single sheet
strip, greased only when complete, and cut the filling back to 1 T; the result can be a bit flimsy to hold, but will
be more fruity in flavor.
Tub margarine vs. stick margarine? Vegans who won't eat butter
may prefer margarine, but is margarine a good choice? Margarine is
made from vegetable oils instead of animal fats, and has less saturated
fats and no added cholesterol, good news for heart health. But margarine
is more processed, and to solidify the oils, undergoes hydrogenation
which creates trans-fatty acids, found to increase "bad" cholesterol (LDL)
and lower "good" cholesterol (HDL).
In the late 1990s, some good tub margarines became available with
no trans fats. I like to use these in my cooking. They typically come
in 1 pound tubs and, because they are often 60-80% fat, just like margarine,
can be substituted by weight. So, for example, a pound of margarine = 4
sticks = 32T = 2 cups; a pound of tub margarine should be substitutable
4 sticks of margarine. (If you need, say, 1 stick of margarine,
try turning a tub upside down on the counter, letting it sit for a few minutes
to soften a little, and open it, still upside down, setting aside the container
and letting the margarine sit on the lid. Carefully slice through to quarter
the tub, and take one of the quarters for your recipe.)
Just one note of caution - if you use a low fat margarine or spread, some of the oil may
be replaced with water. If you use a very soft spread that is less than 60% fat,
baked goods like cookies may spread and be too soft and not very tasty.
Stick with at least 60% fat spreads when enjoying desserts!