A Passion for Phyllo: Greek Desserts

If it’s mid-May, you know where I’ll be a few mornings a week – in the kitchen at the tiny Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Boise, Idaho.

The women of the church are hard at work making the pastries for the Greek Food Festival, and they’re gracious enough to let this foodie and “aspiring Greek” participate.

This year’s festival is June 3-4 and in that 48-hour time period, we’ll feed up to 5,000 people. For me, it’s the most fun weekend of the year – a chance to practice speaking Greek (I learned by listening to CDs!) and to introduce delighted diners to a whole new world of desserts with tongue-twister names.

You’ll find kadaife (ka-da-EE-fay), much like baklava but made with a phyllo-type dough baked in a special pan to resemble shredded wheat. Of course, there’s traditional clove-studded baklava, too.

There’s koulourakia (koo-la-RIKE-ya, roll the ‘R’) – technically a butter cookie, but with a mildly sweet flavor that I describe as “teething biscuits for grown-ups.” The short, braided cookie is firm and crumbly, and meant for dipping in coffee or milk.

Kourabiedes (koor-ah-bee-EH-thess, roll the ‘R’) are like Mexican wedding cookies, their austere flavor and crumbly texture offset by mounds of powdered sugar.

My favorite is galatoboureko (gah-lotto-BUHR-ee-ko – yep, roll that 'R'). We'll be making that at the last minute because of its delicate vanilla custard filling, wrapped in phyllo and sitting in a golden honey syrup.

If you’re anywhere near Boise that first weekend in June, come into the Pastry House at the Greek Food Festival and ask for Xpiotiva (Christina) – I’ll be glad to show you around!