Although I've never had a particularly sweet tooth, there is one dessert that always makes me feel like I've died and gone to heaven. Baklava. This middle eastern treat combines so many luscious flavors and textures within a single bite. The crisp, flaky layers of perfectly baked filo pastry and the crunchy goodness of nuts, all steeped in the gunky, gooey goodness of a delicately flavored sugar syrup...it really is pure bliss!
But here's the sad truth: most baklava recipes call for a whole cup of butter and that, along with the sugar syrup, nuts (healthy but calorie-dense) and filo pastry, gives a whole new dimension to the term "guilty pleasure."
Well, one of the great benefits of thinking vegan is, you automatically think healthy. So out went the butter (and good riddance!). In its place, I used canola oil, which, apart from being one of the healthiest cooking fats (even healthier than olive oil, according to some researchers), also has the advantage of being very light and flavor-free, making it perfect for baking. I also ended up using just about 3/4 of a cup, which was an added bonus.
The end result couldn't have been better-- Desi declared it tasted no different from the buttered version, and what's more, I could enjoy a second and a third piece without feeling a tug at my waistline.
So here's my blissful Baklava recipe, all vegan and all good. Enjoy!
1 package filo pastry. Cut sheets in half to fit 9' X 12' baking dish.
3/4 cup canola oil
2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans or a mix (pistachios are great in this too)
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
For sugar syrup:
2 cups sugar (I used vegan sugar from Whole Foods, but you can use regular sugar or turbinado)
1 cup water
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cloves, powdered
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
Mix the nuts with the sugar, cardamom and cinnamon.
Oil 9' X 12' glass baking dish.
Place a sheet of filo pastry at the bottom of the dish. Brush lightly with canola oil.
Place another sheet on top of the first one, brush with oil again. Continue layering and brushing with oil until you have gone through about one-third of the pastry sheets. Then spread half the nut mixture on the top sheet. (A package of filo pastry typically yields 40-46 9' X 12' sheets, so you will have around 13-15 sheets in each layer.)
Continue layering the next 15 sheets, sprinkling the top sheet again with remaining nuts.
Finish layering all the sheets and brush the top sheet thoroughly with oil.
With a sharp knife, cut the bakhlava into diamond-shaped pieces, taking care not to cut through the bottom-most layer.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for one hour until top turns lightly brown and edges are crisp. Leave on a rack to cool.
For syrup, bring the sugar, water, cardamom, cinnamon and lemon juice to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer for another 20 minutes. Pour hot syrup over the cooled baklava.
Allow the baklava to cool thoroughly before cutting into individual pieces and serving.
If you love Baklava, you are already primed to love Indian sweets which also tend to be nutty and very sweet. Check out some vegan versions of my Indian sweet recipes, like Almond Halwa and Carrot Halwa.