Friday, 21 February 2014

Perek (Περέκ)

I recently came across a recipe that uses some kind of pre-cooked filo pastry, called perek. Perek is a kind of filo pastry made only from flour and water. Home-made perek can be stored for up to a year. As I make all my own filo pastry needs myself, I thought it would be a nice idea to have some filo pastry ready to use when I need it, without having to worry about when I would find the time to make the dough and roll it out.
Kiria Martha's perek is famous in Thessaloniki. Her son continues to make them in the family taverna. Note the hot plate an the left, sitting on coals in the fireplace.
The origins of perek are mired in the diaspora Greeks of the Pontus region. A friend from Northern Greece saw my perek when I presented them on my facebook page, and she told me a little story: She recalls that her grandmother was able to cook a pita very quickly, without much preparation, and she always wondered where her grandmother found the filo pastry to do this, especially since she too made all her own needs, and never bought it. So a kind of perek was and is still being made by Greeks within and outside the borders of the country.

I really enjoyed making perek for the first time, using this recipe. It looks a little like crispbread, and can also be used as chips for a dip. The perek is moistened before use when using it as filo pastry, a bit like spring roll wrappers. I decided to use my regular spanakopita filling to use my perek. With the following recipe, I got 10 rounds as big as a medium-sized frying pan.

You need:
600g flour (I used high quality Greek LIMNOS flour - this yellowish flour has a grainy texture; it's a joy to work with)
1/2 cup (approximately) of water
a teaspoon of salt

Place the water in a bowl and mix in the salt. Add a cup of flour and mix it in till well blended with a wooden spoon. This is the way I usually make filo pastry, not being a great fan of exact measurements of flour and water, which are always subject to temperature differences and flour quality. Now add another cup of flour and mix it in well. Keep adding flour until you can no longer mix it with a spoon. Start kneading the dough in the bowl, adding just enough flour to stop it from being sticky. Tip the dough onto a flat surface and knead it till it is soft and pliable. Set aside for an hour or two in a bowl, covered with a cotton cloth.

Divide the dough into 50-60g balls. Roll out each ball into a round, with the help of a rolling pin. Sprinkle with flour as you pile up the circles one on top of the other, to prevent them from sticking to each other.

Tradtionally, the perek are cooked on a very hot iron plate, like a griddle, in the fireplace. I cooked each one on both sides in a frying pan over a very hot flame. They felt soft when they came out of the fire, but when I wanted to use them (later in the afternoon), they were very crisp and dry.

Perek filo can be used in various ways (as in the original link I first noticed, and in Kiria Martha's pies in the taverna - see first photo for links). I made a spanakopita filling and chose to use the perek as a kind of wrap. Each perek was dampened in water to soften it, and wrapped around 3 tablespoons of filling. The pieces were placed in a pie dish and brushed liberally with olive oil. They were then baked in the oven till the pastry became crispy.

Next time I make perek, I will use the taverna photos as a guide to novel ideas for their use.

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