Phyllo Pockets with Okras, Beans and Red Peppers

Before choosing a vegan lifestyle, I used to love puff pastry. Then I discovered that phyllo dough is not only a wonderful vegan alternative, it is also in no way inferior to puff pastry. And while the ingredients and the preparations of these two doughs may differ, I observe very similar thin and crunchy layers once they are baked.

Phyllo, also known as Yufka in Turkey, consists of paper thin sheets of dough that are mostly used for pastries in Greek, Balkan and Middle Eastern cuisine. Its ingredients are just flour, water, olive oil, and either raki or white vinegar (in contrast to puff pastry, which contains loads of butter). While it is relatively easy to find in frozen form, it is not so commonly found fresh. A very reliable source here in New York of fresh, hand-made, high quality phyllo is the Poseidon Bakery on Ninth Avenue.

In this recipe I present deliciously small phyllo pockets filled with okra, beans, red peppers and onions, infused with a Middle Eastern inspired flavor combination, and rounded off with an avocado cream sauce: perfect as an appetizer, part of an entree, or an amuse bouche.

Okra season runs from May to October, and once you get them, you should not let them linger in the fridge too long, the fresher they are, the better they taste. In fact, you should only store them in the fridge for two to three days, and in a paper bag, too. Now, you may have come across okra before and puzzled over ways to use this vegetable with its slimy inside; perhaps you have even been put off by it! But no worries, once you cook it, the sticky substance will turn into a thickening agent. Overall, okras not only taste great, they are high in fiber, in vitamin C, folate and antioxidants, too.

Some remarks up front for handling phyllo: Store it in the fridge or in the freezer. When frozen, always thaw it in the fridge. When working with the dough, take sheet by sheet, making sure the stack remains covered with a damp towel.

Phyllo Pockets with Okras, Beans and Red Peppers

Yields approx. 28-30 small pockets. Consider the soaking time from the beans in your planning.

Ingredients

Pockets

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion (180g), small dice
  • ½ medium sized red pepper, small dice
  • 7oz (200g) okras, washed, quartered and cut into small pieces
  • ½ + 1 teaspoons salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons filtered water
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • generous pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 small garlic clove, pressed or minced
  • ½ teaspoon paprika powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¾ cup (dry) black eyed peas beans, soaked overnight and then cooked
  • 5 teaspoons lime juice
  • Phyllo dough
  • Olive oil for brushing the phyllo sheets

Avocado Cream

  • 2 medium avocados
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 5 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Procedure

Preparing the Filling

  1. In a pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the onions with a pinch of salt. Cook on medium heat until translucent and then add the red peppers and okras with ½ teaspoon salt and 3-4 tablespoons water. Cook until peppers and okras become tender.
  2. Add the turmeric, a generous pinch of cayenne, garlic, paprika and cumin and continue cooking 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the strained tomatos, the cooked beans and 1 teaspoon salt. Continue cooking on low heat to allow beans to warm up.
  4. Add the lime juice and adjust seasoning with salt if necessary.
  5. With the help of an avocado smasher or a fork, smash the filling a little bit to obtain a coarse mixture.
  6. Let the filling cool down to room temperature before filling.

How to fill

  1. Lay out the stack of phyllo sheets and cover them with a damp towel. Take one sheet of phyllo and – using a kitchen brush – delicately brush all the surface with olive oil. Put a second sheet of phyllo on top and brush with olive oil again.Repeat that until you have assembled four sheets.
  2. Cut out squares, measuring approximately 4×4 inches (10×10 cm).
  3. Put 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle of each square. Fold up each corner to pinch them together in the middle. Also press together the four edges to make sure the pocket is closed.
  4. Put them on a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Give a final brush of olive oil to the pockets, before baking them at 375° F (190° C) for 10-15 minutes, or until golden  brown.

Make the cream

  1. Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until completely smooth.
  2. Adjust seasoning with salt and cayenne if necessary. Serve with the phyllo pockets.

Final remarks

When the phyllo pockets are assembled, you can either bake them to eat them right away, or you can seal them in freezer bags and freeze them. This gives you a quick yet delicious meal: place the frozen pockets directly from the freezer into the pre-heated oven. And the best part is that they don’t suffer upon freezing, but retain taste and texture.
Bon appetit

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