Sometimes a flavor can spark a memory, or a flood of memories. In the case of these hand pies, the memories revolve around a grandmother, Tilly Alhadeff, and her talent for Sephardic Jewish home cooking.
I met Greg, the blogger behind Sippity Sup, at a local food blogger’s meeting two years ago. We’ve been friends ever since. I was thrilled when he announced that he was working on a new cookbook about pies– the savory kind, not sweet. He spent several months writing, testing, and photographing various pie recipes. I became accustomed to seeing pictures of pie in my Facebook news feed, as he experimented with numerous variations on the savory pie theme. At one point, I even helped him test a recipe for the cookbook… this one, in fact!
Fast forward several months later, and the book is now available for purchase. Savory Pies includes a diverse collection of pie recipes from around the world. It’s not a kosher cookbook, so those of you who keep kosher will not be able to use several of the recipes here. For the rest of you, you’ll enjoy recipes for seasoned meats, vegetables and cheese baked inside perfectly flaky pie crusts. And for those who do keep kosher, there is a Sephardic gem inside this book that Greg was kind enough to share with me– Tilly’s Pastelles.
Of this recipe, Greg says:
Tilly was my partner Ken’s grandma. She made these pastelles her whole life– so many times and so well that there was no need for a recipe. But once she passed, Ken was afraid his grandma’s particular version of this Sephardic classic would be gone as well. I know it could never be quite the same, but I’ve done my best to reproduce her recipe, based on his loving memories of his grandma and her meat pies.
I asked Ken to tell me a little more about Tilly. Here is what he wrote…
Her full name was Matilda Alhadeff. She and my grandpa Albert came to Seattle from Rhodes, Greece as teens. Family lore has it that Tilly came over on a banana boat, hence her life-long dislike of bananas. She and grandpa were traditional, observant kosher Jews in a tight-knit Sephardic community.
She was a great cook. Sometimes I’d walk over to her house from high school for lunch and watch I Love Lucy reruns while devouring her chicken rice soup (with a squeeze of lemon), tomates or sevollas reinados (stuffed tomatoes or onions), fideo (vermicelli) or boyos (cheese or potato, sometimes pumpkin) and borekas (spinach was my favorite, also cheese and potato) – more “hand pies” as Greg would say – or even her terrible percolated coffee. I also remember her delicious fasulia (string beans) and for dessert, soutlach (rice pudding) which she made blended with a dusting of cinnamon on top…
Reading Ken’s memories warmed my heart. I have similar memories of my own grandparents and they foods they used to cook. Many of us do. Recipes like this one help to remind us of the good times we shared. Making this recipe felt like a celebration of Tilly’s spirit.
Do you have a family recipe that sparks memories for you?
- 3 cups water, divided
- 1 cup plus 1 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed
- 6 cups all purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 1 large onion, finely diced (about 2 cups)
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried mint (optional)
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 cup uncooked white rice
- 2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and finely diced
- 1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds, plus more for sprinkling
- 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 egg yolks lightly beaten with 2 tsp water, for egg wash
- In a large saucepan, bring 2 1⁄2 cups water, 1 cup vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Remove from heat and quickly stir in 6 cups flour, using a wooden spoon, until a soft dough forms.
- Scrape onto a lightly floured surface and knead, using more flour if necessary, until smooth, pliable, and not too sticky.
- Form into 24 balls about 2 inches in diameter (about 1 1⁄2 ounces each) and 24 balls about 1 1⁄2 inches in diameter (about 3⁄4 ounce each). Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature.
- Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add the ground meat, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, oregano, mint, if using, cumin, and paprika. The dried mint is optional. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until well browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Reduce to very low heat and stir in the remaining 1⁄2 cup water and uncooked rice. Cover to cook the rice al dente, about 12 minutes.
- Uncover, remove from the heat, and stir in the hard-cooked egg, parsley, 1⁄4 cup sesame seeds, and black pepper. Taste the filling; add additional salt, pepper and seasonings to taste, if desired (see my notes below). Set aside to cool completely.
- Place oven racks in the upper and center positions. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Using your floured hands, shape the larger dough balls into cups 2 1⁄2 to 3 inches wide and almost 1 inch deep. Return them to the prepared baking sheets as you work, about 1-inch apart.
- Divide the meat mixture evenly between the cups, mounding it slightly.
- On a lightly floured surface, use a lightly floured rolling pin or floured hands to roll or press the 1 1⁄2-inch dough balls into 3-inch rounds.
- Cover each filled pastelle cup with a dough round, pinching the edges together in an upward motion to make a raised lip.
- Brush the tops and sides with egg wash. Sprinkle the tops with salt and sesame seeds.
- Bake until the pastelles are golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes; switch the sheets halfway through. Serve warm or at room temperature. This recipe is easily halved to make just a dozen pastelles.
- Notes from Tori: I was only able to make about 20 balls of dough in each size, which equaled 20 pies total. You may have more or less depending on how your dough works out. Pie making is not an exact science! Next time I make these, I may spice them up a bit by using cilantro instead of parsley, as well as adding some cayenne and turmeric to the filling to taste. You know I love my spice! :)
To purchase a copy of Savory Pies, click here.
Other Great Recipe Ideas:
Joy the Baker: Asparagus and Gruyere Tarts
Simply Recipes: Tomato Pie
Dinner in Venice: Savory Beet Pie
Vanilla Garlic: Potato and Onion Galette