Tilly’s Pastelles

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.

Ken and Tilly, circa 1960

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?

Tilly's Pastelles

Ingredients

  • 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
Total Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes
Servings: 20-24 hand pies
Kosher Key: Meat
  • 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

Comments (25)Post a Comment

  1. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    This looks amazing and will be a nice addition to the chicken shawarma I’m cooking for Shabbat dinner. Will let you know how it turned out.

  2. Those little pies are beautiful! I really enjoyed reading this post. It was so interesting to read the personal history which accompanied this recipe.

    1. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
      Ken, my grandmother, Selma Mizrahi, also came from Rhodes and made all the delicious things you describe …she was a wonderful cook. Her pastalleques as she called them were my favorites but I’ve been intimidated to try and make them…until now. Thanks!

  3. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I just signed up and this was my first recipe. Imagine how surprised I was to see my Aunt Tilly featured. She was a wonderful lady and I have many special memories of her. This is one of my favorite recipes and I make them for my family.

  4. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    These sound and look wonderful. Any ideas on how to lower the fat in the dough? Fats are a huge no no for us but it leaves so many of these wonderful things behind.

  5. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I am Jewish, my husband is Armenian & Italian. This recipe (and the recipes reminisced about by Ken) are incredibly reminiscent of the dishes my husbands late (Armenian) Grandma made. They are also in an Armenian cookbook that was passed down to us! It’s amazing to see so much of his culture in the cooking of someone who is of my culture!! This article was fantastic and I’m hooked!! Thank you, all, for sharing!!!!

  6. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Ken’s grandma was Auntie Mathilda to me. My grandparents were Joya and Ezra Menashe. When I was a little girl Auntie Mathilda and Uncle Albert would come to Portland to visit and sometimes I would go to Seattle with my grandparents get stay at Auntie Mathilda’s house. All the aunties and grandmas were fabulous cooks. I still make “pastelicos” as my grandma would call them…. lots of work but always delicious!

  7. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    What do you mean by “switch the sheets”? Take all the pastelles off & flip the parchment over? Take them off, and replace with a fresh sheet of parchment? Move the baking sheet in some way?

    These look delicious. Can they be frozen & reheated?

    1. Francine, it means switch the sheets between racks in the oven. Sometimes the top of the oven is warmer or cooler than the bottom; switching the sheets helps things to cook more evenly. I have never frozen these but I would think they will probably freeze well.

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