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Recipes // Appetizers // Spinach Rolls

Spinach Rolls

Caper Pine Nut Sauce, Serves 6 (Makes 18 rolls)

Method:

Briwat, pastry triangles with a sweet or savory filling wrapped in warqa dough and deep-fried, are the star finger food of Morocco. The sweet version, filled with cinnamony almonds, dipped in honey, and rolled in sesame seeds, was the milk-and-cookies snack of my childhood.

On the savory side, briwat are often filled with greens like purslane, chard, and beet tops cooked down with spices to make a dense herb jam. I make my spring-roll-shaped version with Bloomsdale spinach, a thick, sturdy variety that’s much less watery and more flavorful than the supermarket stuff. And, borrowing from Greek spanakotyropita, I add a bit of feta.

You can use either warqa or phyllo dough to make these. Frying warqa makes it light and crispy, which is why it’s my preferred approach. You can also bake rolls made with warqa, but they’ll be chewier. Rolls made with phyllo, on the other hand, won’t stand up to the heat of deep-frying and should only be baked. When you’re working with either kind of dough, if it tears, open the roll back up, reposition the filling so it’s not where the tear is, and reroll. Or start over with a new piece of dough if you have to—but don’t use a second sheet to cover the tear; you’ll end up with too many layers and a chewy texture.

I often finish food with a sprinkling of salt, but since salt wouldn’t stick here, I came up with a decidedly salty dipping sauce. Serve these as a first course, or cut them in half on the diagonal and pass them around on a platter with the sauce in a little bowl.

Once you’ve got the hang of making these, try some other fillings, like the cooked kefta mixture or the chicken and almond mixtures from the Basteeya (leave out the eggs). Or, for a very simple variation that’s great with the caper sauce, roll a sheet of warqa around a small thin piece of raw tuna seasoned with coarse salt and fry it. You may need to experiment a bit with the size of the piece of tuna so that when the wrapper is golden and crisp, the tuna is still rare at the center. 

Spinach Filling

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup (53 grams) grapeseed or canola oil
  • 2½ cups (240 grams) thinly sliced leeks
  • (white and light green parts only), rinsed
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ cup (64 grams) thinly sliced garlic
  • 1 pound (453 grams) spinach, stems removed
  • 1 tablespoon (12 grams) finely chopped preserved lemon rind
  • 1 teaspoon (2.4 grams) Marash pepper
  • ½ teaspoon (1 gram) ground black pepper
  • ¹⁄8 teaspoon (0.2 gram) grated nutmeg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • One 5-ounce (141-gram) piece dry-packed feta cheese, such as Mt. Vikos or Redwood Hill, crumbled
  • (makes 3 cups/575 grams)

Caper–Pine Nut Sauce

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup (66 grams) pine nuts
  • 6 tablespoons (93 grams) half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons (35 grams) capers, with their liquid
  • ¼ teaspoon (0.5 gram) ground black pepper
  • Grapeseed or canola oil for deep-frying (optional)
  • 18 pieces Handmade Warqa (page 74), or 9 sheets phyllo, cut crosswise in half
  • About ¹⁄3 cup (61 grams) Clarified Butter, melted
  • *At least ½ pound (227 grams) unsalted butter
  • Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler. Skim off the foam that rises to the top. If time allows, refrigerate the butter to solidify it, which will separate the clarified butter from the liquid; then malke 2 holes in the top of the butter, and drain off the liquid. Or, if you need the butter immediately, strain it through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Discard any white milky liquid remaining the the bottom of the pan/ Store the butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten

(makes ¾ cup/160 grams)

For the spinach filling:

  1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, reduce the heat to medium, add 2 pinches of salt, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the leeks begin to soften. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for 10 to 12 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary to soften the vegetables without browning them.
  2. Add half the spinach, sprinkle lightly with salt, and turn the spinach as it wilts; gradually add the remaining spinach, salting it lightly, as there is room in the pan. Cook for about 8 minutes, until the spinach is tender. Remove from the heat.
  3. Place a strainer over a bowl and line it with two layers of dampened cheesecloth, leaving a generous overhang. Add the spinach and let drain for several minutes.
  4. Lift the edges of the cheesecloth and twist it to wring out as much moisture as possible, then transfer the spinach to a bowl. Stir in the lemon rind, Marash pepper, black pepper, nutmeg, and egg yolk, and let cool completely.
  5. Stir in the feta cheese.

For the sauce:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Spread the pine nuts on a small baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool.
  3. Transfer the pine nuts to a blender, add the remaining ingredients, and puree at high speed. Pour into individual dipping bowls and set aside.
  4. To shape and cook the rolls: If deep-frying the rolls, fill a deep-fryer or a high-sided small pot, fitted with a thermometer, one-third full with canola oil and heat to 360°F. Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Place the baking sheet in the oven.
  6. If baking, preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. When working with warqa or phyllo, it is important to keep the sheets covered to keep them from drying out. Place a damp towel on the counter and cover it with a piece of parchment or half the sheet of paper from the phyllo. Lay the warqa on top, or open up the phyllo sheets and lay them on top. Cover with another piece of parchment or the other half of the phyllo paper and then another slightly damp towel.
  8. Lay a piece of warqa or sheet of phyllo (short end facing you) on the work surface. Trim any ragged edges. Brush the warqa or phyllo generously with butter. Shape 2 tablespoons (24 grams) of the spinach into a ball, then form it into a 4-inch-long log and place it on the pastry, about ½ inch up from the bottom edge and 1 inch in from each side. Fold the bottom edge up and over the filling, fold over the sides, and brush the sides with more butter. Roll up the briwat like an egg roll; if the dough is at all brittle, brush on a bit more butter as you roll to soften it. Before making your final fold, brush the last flap of warqa or phyllo with egg white to seal it. Place seam side down on the cooling rack or one of the parchment-lined baking sheets. Repeat to form the remaining briwat.
  9. If frying, cook the rolls in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, turning the rolls from time to time, until they are crisp and
  10. a rich golden brown. Drain on the cooling rack and keep them warm in the oven while you fry the remaining rolls.
  11. If baking, brush the tops with clarified butter and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the rolls are hot and a rich golden brown.

Arrange 3 rolls on each serving plate and serve with the sauce on the side.

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