We all know those people; the ones that go on holiday to an exotic location like Bali or Thailand and then insist on sending the rest of us badly-taken cellphone photos (which amazingly do nothing to diminish the beauty of said location) just as a reminder that, well, we’re here and they’re there. I didn’t know this until now, but apparently my brother is one of these people and has spent the week torturing me with images of Cairo, the Nile river and ancient pyramids. I do, however, tolerate the “wish you were here’s” for a greater purpose.
Since my brother started working in the Middle East for months at a time, I have developed a love for exotic spices; mainly saffron. This spice is now firmly entrenched in my heart as I nostalgically associate it with his visits; when gifts of valuable Iranian saffron are brought home for me, beautifully packaged in perfume vials. I’m sure by now you can sense where this is going but with my pantry well-stocked with saffron, I have my sights set on more ‘Prada for my larder’ and this comes in the form of Egyptian dukkah. Dukkah is an aromatic spice mix made by grinding toasted hazelnuts, sesame seeds, coriander and cumin seeds, black pepper and sea salt together. It seems only fitting that with its coarse texture and golden colour its origin belongs in the land of pyramids and sand dunes – with the spice itself almost echoing the terrain.
Although I covet the authentic dukkah from the banks of the Nile, you can easily make your own or even find it in the spice aisle. The fragrant rub is incredibly moreish when used as a dip – especially when preceded by crusty bread and extra virgin olive oil. It's lovely rubbed on grilled fish and chicken or simply sprinkled over roast vegetables or a crisp salad. These cigars are inspired by a Turkish dish called Börek which makes use of leftover mashed potatoes and grilled aubergine. If making the individual cigars is a tad time-consuming for you, simply layer the ingredients in a casserole dish, bake and slice, or better yet, make one big cigar and serve in slices.
120g mashed potato
100g feta cheese, crumbled
100g grated mozzarella
¼ cup chopped parsley
2T chopped chives
½ cup dukkah, plus extra for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
500g phyllo pastry sheets, thawed
2 aubergines, sliced and grilled with olive oil
2 cups plain yoghurt
squeeze of lemon juice
2T chopped mint
Combine the potato, cheeses, 1 egg, herbs, half the dukkah and the milk to form a smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper.
Unroll the phyllo pastry sheets - keep the pastry covered with a damp cloth as you are working.
Lay the grilled aubergine slices out and place a tablespoon of the filling along one of the short ends. Roll up to form a cigar before placing on a strip of pastry, folding in the ends and rolling up.
Wet the end with water to seal. Continue, keeping the finished ones covered with a damp cloth as you work. Refrigerate until required.
Whisk the other egg in a bowl. Brush the pastries with the egg mixture.
Sprinkle extra dukkah over the pastries and bake at 180C until they are golden brown, about 25 minutes.
TIP To make your own dukkah, toast 2/3 cup hazelnuts, ½ cup sesame seeds, 2T coriander seeds, 2T cumin seeds, 2t freshly ground black pepper and 1t salt until fragrant. Pound lightly in a pestle and mortar or food processor and store in an airtight container or jar.