Friday, May 23, 2014

Turkish Pogaca - Savory Pastry

I have an awesome sister-in-law, and she happens to be half Turkish. The merging of her family with ours means that I've been introduced to all sorts of wonderful Turkish foods. Her mom is a fantastic cook, and recently visited us in L.A. One of the dishes she made was Pogaca (pronounced poh-ah-cha). She was kind enough to let me watch her make this popular Turkish savory pastry, which is lovely at tea-time, breakfast, or as a snack. I took careful notes, because these are delicious and I wanted the recipe for my arsenal.

I love learning recipes from mothers/fathers/grandmothers and people who have been making stuff for decades without a recipe. I love watching home cooks prepare food with ease and grace, as though the recipe is part of their DNA; it always appears as though the seasoned home cook is relying on sensory memory and little more.

These lovely things are quite easy to make, even if you're not Turkish and haven't been cooking them for years. The dough is really nice, and requires no yeast or rising time or special equipment or any other nonsense. I filled the pastry with a combination of spinach and feta, but you could fill pogaca with any kind of vegetable, potato, meat, or fruit that you are inspired to fill them with.

Spinach and Feta Pogaca
From Ayse's family recipe, makes 24-26 pogaca

for the pastry
2 cups flour + more as needed for dusting
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk plain yogurt 
1 cup melted butter or canola oil
1 large egg white
1-2 large egg yolk(s)
sesame seeds to garnish

for the filling
3 cups chopped frozen spinach (you can use fresh if you prefer)
3 scallions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 oz. or 3/4 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup dill, chopped fine
salt and lots of freshly ground pepper

for the dough-
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Lightly stir the mixture until combined. Make a well in the flour, add the melted (cooled) butter or oil, yogurt, and egg white. Combine everything with your hands until a dough forms. The dough will be sticky and slightly wet, but you'll know it's right if it does not really stick to your hands (which it won't). If it is super wet and sticky, add a little more flour until it doesn't stick to your hands when you pick it up. It should look more or less like this:
That's it! Your dough is done. Ayse uses the dough immediately, but she told me about a relative that insists it needs to be in the fridge for several hours before you use it. She hasn't found any significant difference between letting the dough chill and using it immediately. I put mine in the fridge for 30 minutes while I made the filling; that seemed to help it firm up and made it easy to use. If you're impatient for pastry, it clearly works without letting it rest.

for the filling-
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a pan on medium heat. Once the pan heats up, add the scallions and garlic to the oil. Sauté the garlic and onion for a minute until fragrant, then add the frozen spinach. The nice thing about the frozen spinach is that it is already wilted down and all that. You can use fresh spinach, but you will probably need to squeeze out the extra liquid in it once it has cooked before you add it to the pastry, otherwise it may be too wet. I sauté the spinach, onions and garlic together until the moisture has fully evaporated from the spinach (it will start to stick to the pan). Add salt and pepper to season the spinach to your liking. 

Transfer your spinach mixture to a bowl and let it cool. I speed this process up by sticking it in the freezer. Once it has cooled, add the feta and dill to the spinach and mix everything together. Now, you're ready to assemble your pogaca.

to assemble-
Preheat your oven to 350°F/176°C.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Dust your cutting board generously with flour. Have more waiting on standby. The dough is sticky and the extra flour is essential. 

Take a heaping tablespoon sized amount of dough, and flatten it into an oval with your hand. Make sure the dough doesn't stick to the board, if it does dust it with a little more flour. You can see how imprecise this process is, and you can also see that there's a lot of flour hanging out on the board. :

Fill each oval with about a teaspoon of filling. Fold over the dough and press it together with your fingers. Because the dough is so sticky and wonderful, you won't need to do much to close up these pockets of filling. Basically, you want to form the pogaca into an empanada shape.

Place the folded up pogaca onto your lined baking sheet.

Make an egg wash by lightly beating your egg yolk. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg yolk onto the top of the pastry. Depending on the size of your yolk, you may need to use 2 yolks to brush all of the pogaca. Sprinkle tops of the dough with sesame seeds.

Place both trays of pogaca in the oven and bake at 350°F for 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Halfway through cooking, rotate the sheet trays by putting the one that was on top below, and the one that was below on the top rack.

Transfer the hot pogaca onto a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temp.
Enjoy any time of day, they're especially good with a hot cup of tea.

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