Thursday 13 May 2010

Scrumptious Soccer Snacks: Potato, Cheese and Chilli Phyllo Triangles

These are a cross between Indian samoosas (which is what we call samosas here in South Africa) and Greek tyropitakia: little phyllo-pastry triangles filled with feta cheese bound with egg. The potato, onion and chilli filling is rather Indian; the phyllo pastry, feta and egg very Greek. I feel no compunction about fusing two culinary cultures into one tasty snack - if ever there were a melting-pot of a cuisine, South Africa is it. Welcome to the fourth in my series of delicious, easy football snacks with a South African flavour!

Scrumptious Soccer Snacks: Potato, Cheese and Chilli Phyllo Triangles

It is said that South Africa has the largest number of people of Indian descent outside India (about 1.15 million people), and there is also a large Hellenic community in this country. So, you might call this 'Grindian' food.

The first Greek and Cypriot immigrants came to South Africa at the end of the nineteenth century; the first Hellenic association was formed in Cape Town in 1903. Recently I've been rereading my treasured collection of Lawrence Green books, and have loved his recollections of the food he enjoyed as a boy growing up in Cape Town in the early decades of last century.  Green was a gourmand of note, and often bemoaned the disappearance of the great kitchens of Cape Town: 'Cape Town was for centuries the gastronomic capital of Southern Africa and I record with sorrow the fact that it has lost that distinction,' he lamented in his 1971 book A Taste of the South Easter.  'Cape Town has become a city of steak and chips.'

In several of his books, he reminisces at length about the artistry of the Dutch, Malay, French, Italian and German cooks who plied their trade in the city's hotels, taverns and restaurants; he had a particular fondness for Greek food. In Growing Lovely, Growing Old (1951), he devoted two pages to a glowing description of  the various Greek dishes he enjoyed 'every week': pastitsio; avgolemono; local squid stuffed with rice and braised in tomato, onion and wine; roast lamb and venison; pickled octopus; mussel fritters, taramasalata; dolmades; stuffed peppers and brinjals; and shortbread and spiced cake, all washed down with ouzo, produced locally by 'Greek wine farmers in the Kuils River District'.

In A Taste of the South Easter, Green talks about a friend, Peter ('he had an unpronounceable surname like Chrystikopolous') who ran a fruit shop and cafe in Kloof Street. 'Peter used to bake bread, coarse bread, and put it in front of his fellow countrymen steaming hot.  They would tear off hunks, dress it with pepper and salt and olive oil and eat it with white cheese and black olives as an appetiser. Then I watched them going into the kitchen to see what was cooking... I soon decided to abandon the steak and chips and join the Greeks.'

Peter's fish dishes were splendid, adds Green. 'Crawfish, which the Greeks call astakos, was grilled in the shell over the charcoal fire. Peter also concocted a fish stew, filling a cauldron with several varieties of fish, herbs and onions, tomatoes and olive oil. Once he dropped a whole octopus into the cauldron amid cries of approval from his Greek patrons.'

But back to the snackage. You can flavour these with anything you like: some ground cumin and coriander for a more Indian flavour, or nutmeg and a little lemon zest if you're in a Greek mood. If you don't like an oniony flavour, omit the onion juice.

Potato, Cheese and Chilli Phyllo Triangles
5 medium potatoes, peeled
a small onion, peeled
3 T (45 ml) white yoghurt
1 cup (250 ml, loosely packed) grated Cheddar
1 cup (250 ml) crumbled feta cheese
2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped [optional]
salt and milled black pepper
an egg, lightly beaten
a pack of phyllo pastry
melted butter or olive oil for brushing
poppy seeds
paprika or chilli powder

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut the potatoes into cubes and boil in plenty of salted water until quite tender. In the meantime, grate the onion on the fine teeth of a grater (this is not as painful as it sounds, if you do it very quickly and look away while you're doing it). Tip the pulp into a sieve set over a bowl, squeeze out all the onion juice and reserve. Discard the pulp (or add it to the mix later, if you want a double-oniony punch). Drain the potatoes, stir in the yoghurt and mash until smooth. Mix in the grated Cheddar and feta, while the potato is very hot. Add the onion juice and chillies, to taste, and season with salt and black pepper. Set aside to cool slightly until lukewarm, and then stir in the beaten egg.

Scrumptious Soccer Snacks: Potato, Cheese and Chilli Phyllo Triangles
Place a sheet of phyllo pastry on a piece of waxed paper on the kitchen counter, short side towards you. Brush generously with melted butter or olive oil. Place another sheet on top, and brush again. Cut the rectangle into strips about 10 cm wide. Repeat with the remaining sheets of phyllo (cover the buttered strips with a damp tea towel so they don't dry out). To make the triangles, place a strip, short side towards you, on the paper. Place a dollop of potato mixture (about a tablespoon and a half) on the end of the strip. Bring one corner up to the opposite edge to enclose the filling in a triangle. Flip the triangle over and up (click here for photographic instructions) and continue folding until you reach the end of the strip. Tuck any excess underneath the triangle. Brush the triangles with butter and dust with poppy seeds and a little paprika or chilli powder. Place on a baking dish and bake at 180°C for 10-15 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden.  Serve hot, but beware of the molten filling, which can blister your tongue.

Makes about 30.

Like this soccer snack? Try my Mini Pita Breads with Spicy Meatballs and HoummousMini Bunny Chow with Butter Chicken and Cape-Malay-Style Curried Lamb Kebabs with Apricots
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Robyn said...

Hmmm. I'm not particularly into soccer, but I might consider watching a game or two if your snacks were on offer!

Kit said...

I love the sound of his books - food history is fascinating.
I'm bookmarking these to try - if I can find phyllo pastry in Spar. Where's the best place to get it, in case they don't have it?

Jane-Anne said...

Thanks Robyn. Kit, you can get it in the freezer section in most Spars and Pick n' Pays, but I buy it in Woolies because they are the only ones I know of who sell it unfrozen. It's much easier to work with when it's fresh.

Helen said...

I'm *loving* your snack series - I didn't think anything could beat the butter chicken but this one appeals even *more*. I've got a weakness for samoosas but all that deep-frying... this healthier version looks totally YUM! Thanks too for sharing the excerpts from those books - what wonderful reminiscences.

Marisa said...

This is fusion food at it's best! And I love your new word Grindian. *grin*

polkadotcupcake said...

These look DIVINE! I'm loving this snack series (the butter chicken bunnies were just TOO cute!) and will be referencing these for my next dinner party. Football or not, these make for some delicious party food!
Go you!

Jane-Anne said...

Thank you, Helen, Marisa, Polka. I am tickled pink that you are enjoying my snack series. As bloggers you will know how demoralising it is to pour heart and soul into a post... and then be greeted by silence on the comment front.