My Midweek Menu on BBC Radio Wales: Bekre Meze and Apple Baklava (with a side of impostor syndrome)
As some of you may know, last week I was on Behnaz Akhgar's Midweek Menu segment, where I shared two of my favourite recipes live on the radio. I was terrified, as you can probably tell from my voice which was about an octave higher than usual.
(You can listen here if you missed it)
I felt like I was going back to do my French oral exam, but this time with a load of strangers, family and friends listening. While my friends were joking about me being 'Wales' next celebrity chef' all I was could think while waiting for the phone to ring was 'I'm never doing this again!'
Even though I was ridiculously excited and honoured to be asked to contribute to the show, I kept having flashes of impostor syndrome. Everyone else who had been on the show was a seriously impressive chef (actual Welsh celebrity chefs!) and even as the phone was ringing my self-sabotaging brain was thinking 'what if they've got you mixed up with somebody else? What if they find out you're not a real chef!?'
After a few minutes (and only one serious voice crack) I managed to relax a little bit. The interview flew by and Behnaz was really lovely and put me at ease (she even called me a chef, so take that, brain) Before I knew it we had discussed my passion for cooking as a child, the success of my restaurant throughout lockdown and I had talked Behnaz through my recipes (see, I must be a chef!)
Once I was off the air and the producer was thanking me (and saying they'd love to have me back!) I actually felt sorry it was over, as let's face it, I can talk about food until the cows come home (and then make them into Bekre Meze!)
I chose these recipes as I think they're a really good embodiment of my food at Caffi Kiki, they are based on traditional Greek recipes but with a Welsh/ British twist. They are also perfect comfort food for this cold weather we've been having recently!
So, if you'd like to try my recipes out for yourselves, here they are:
600g stewing steak/ diced beef shin
100-200g mature cheddar cheese
250ml red wine
1 large white onion
100ml olive oil
1 heaped tablespoon paprika
6 cloves of garlic
150ml olive oil
Salt and pepper
(If you want to know about the origins of this Bekré Mezé, check out this blog post )
Take your beef out of the fridge and salt it, we’re not marinating it, just letting it get up to room temperature so that it browns nicely and doesn't bring the temperature of the pan down too much (you can add a light dusting of flour to the meat at this stage if you want your stew to be a bit thicker, but I leave out the flour to keep dishes gluten free where I can- and anyway the melted cheese will thicken this nicely)
Take a casserole pan and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom (about half a cup) Add a large diced white onion and a heaped tablespoon of paprika and stir until the onions turn orange and almost like a rough paste. When the onions have softened, add the beef and continue to stir until all the outsides of the beef turn brown, making sure it doesn’t stick to the pan (don’t worry if it does a little bit, just add a splash of wine and stir it in)
Once the beef is browned add about a third of a bottle (or enough to completely cover the meat) of a fairly decent red wine (cooking wine is too acidic, Greek wine is too light, you want something that will make this dish hearty like a malbec or merlot) Lower the heat to bring it to a simmer and then put the lid on. The meat needs about two hours to soften before our next step, so in the meantime you can prep your roasties and make your baklava. Just remember to check your stew every half and hour or so to make sure it’s not drying out. Sometimes the meat produces a lot of juice but other times you may need to top it up with a glass of water (you want to make sure the meat is submerged and not drying out) You also want to make sure it’s not boiling away frantically as this will make the meat fall apart.
Bekré Mezé is one of the only things I make that doesn’t have garlic, so we’re going to make up for that by roasting some whole cloves with our potatoes. Give them a slight squash with a big knife to allow the flavour to come out in the oven. I like to leave the skin on the potatoes for an extra crispy roastie, if you’re doing this make sure you give them a good wash, but you can peel them if you prefer. Cut the potatoes into chunks and then cover them in olive oil, salt and black pepper. Don’t be shy with the salt as this helps get that crispy skin that we’re looking for. I use a shallow baking tray to get them nice and crispy, but make sure you use enough olive oil and keep giving them a little shake and stir so that they don’t stick to the tray or you’ve got a real soaker on your hands.
After about two hours, you’ve made your baklava, your roasties are ready and your meat is starting to soften up, it’s time to add the vegetables. (If you want to simplify the dish you can add them at the start, but I like to keep some bite in them, and green peppers can get bitter when they’re slow cooked)
If you’re making this dish for an occasion (remember when we could have friends around??) you can cook the meat to this point in advance, maybe in a big batch which you can then freeze and adapt to different recipes, that means you’d only have about 20 minutes cooking before serving. Leaving it a day also gives you a thicker stew.
Take a frying pan with some olive oil and fry up your mushrooms and peppers and you can add some chunks of onion too. Halve the mushrooms and cut the peppers into chunks so that they don’t go to nothing and fry them on a high heat so they char a bit around the edges. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and then throw in a splash of red wine. When the wine has evaporated, add the veggies into the stew and give it a big stir. Add about ¾ of a tin of chopped tomatoes and take the lid off. If the stew is looking very watery you can turn the heat up to boil off some of the water. Leave it another 20 minutes or so, and then try a bit of beef to make sure that it’s completely tender. If we’re all good, then add about 100gr cubed mature cheddar cheese. Depending on how cheesy you want it, you can double this amount, let the first dose of cheese melt in to thicken the sauce, and then add a few more cubes before serving so you have nice streaks of melted cheese in the stew.
4 Bramley apples
250g filo pastry
250ml maple syrup
300ml apple juice
200g soft brown sugar
200g unsalted butter
2 sticks cinnamon
optional : dash of Metaxa
This dessert is not quite like a traditional baklava, but like most Greek desserts is dripping in syrup. Instead of crispy pastry, the filo melts into the apple, which also brings a tart twang to what can be a sickly dessert.
Peel your apples and start to cut- you want two of the apples to be cut quite finely, diced so that they break down almost like a compote, and the other two should be in slightly bigger chunks so that they keep their shape while cooking. Melt 50g of butter in a pan, add 100g sugar and then add the finely chopped apples, stir them letting them sweat in the butter and sugar, and when they start to soften add the larger chunks, stirring as you go. Add about 300ml of apple juice to completely submerge the apples, and then 250ml of maple syrup and two sticks of cinnamon. Allow to simmer for about half an hour while you chop your walnuts. You can use a food processor, but you don't want them turning to dust, which happens pretty quickly as walnuts are fairly soft. I prefer to use a big knife and roughly chop them so that your baklava filling has a bit of crunch.
Once the apples are soft you strain the mixture through a fine sieve, give the apple mush a good squeeze to get as much juice out as possible as this is going to be our syrup. Leave the apple mix in a bowl for now, and put the syrup back on the stove with another 100g of sugar and about 200ml of water (you can add a dash of Metaxa here if you like!) Take it off the heat and leave to cool once it has boiled.
Now it's time to put the baklava together. I like to use a deep glass roasting tray as it helps to see if the pastry underneath is cooked. Lay out your sheets of filo on the side or on a board (try and find a pack of 12- I use a vegan one which means this recipe can easily be adapted by switching the butter for a vegan alternative) Melt about 150g of unsalted butter in the microwave and get your pastry brush ready. It helps if your sheets are bigger than the tray and curl up the sides like a cupcake case to hold all the filling in. (if not, you can lay the sheets overlapping alternating sides to create this effect)
First give the tray a light brushing of butter, and lay your first sheet out. You don’t want to brush the filo sheets with butter as this will make them stick together but more like splatter them, and don’t be shy! Use four sheets for the base, and then smear a thin layer of the apple mix (⅓ of the mixture) on top. Sprinkle a third of the walnuts over the top, making sure it’s nice and even, and then add two layers of filo. If you’re a big cinnamon fan you can also sprinkle some cinnamon powder over the mixture at this stage, but I prefer to keep it subtle)
You should have quite a lot of excess filo overlapping the sides, so use your buttered up pastry brush to gently tuck the filo under (this will create a nice crust to hold it all together) repeat this until you have three layers of mix, and then finish it off with 4 layers on top. One of the most important things to remember with a baklava is to cut it before it goes in the oven, or else it will be absolute carnage when you try to portion it up.
Put your baklava in a preheated oven at 200 (you don’t want the top crisping up before it is cooked through) for about 30 minutes, but check in after 20 just in case. Once the top layers of filo have browned and risen, check that the sides and underneath have also changed colour, this means that the baklava is ready. Take it out of the oven, and pour the syrup on top- this bit is really satisfying as the syrup bubbles and whole baklava wiggles! Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.