Tilly was my partner Ken’s grandma. She made these pastelles her whole life. She made them so many times and so well that there was no need for a recipe. But once she passed, Ken was afraid his grandma’s particular version of this Sephardic classic would be gone as well. I know it could never be quite the same, but I have done my best to reproduce that recipe based on his loving memories of his grandma and her meat pies. A version of this recipe appears in my book Savory Pies- Ulysses Press, 2012. —Sippity Sup (Greg Henry)
plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided,
1 1/2 teaspoons
kosher salt, divided plus more as needed
all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
large onion, finely diced (about 2 cups)
dried mint (optional)
cayenne pepper (optional)
uncooked white rice
hard-boiled eggs, peeled & finely diced
sesame seeds, plus more for sprinkling
freshly cracked black pepper
egg yolks mixed with 2 tablespoons water as egg wash
Place oven racks in top and center positions. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Bring 2 1/2 cups water, 1 cup vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and quickly stir in flour with a wooden spoon, until a soft dough has formed.
Scrape dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough, using more flour if necessary until smooth, pliable and not too sticky. Form dough into twenty-four approximate 2-inch balls (weight about 1 1/2 oz each) and twenty-four 1 1/2-inch balls (weight about 3/4 oz each). Set them onto baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, stirring often about 5 minutes. Add ground meat, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, oregano, mint (if using), cumin, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne (if using). Cook breaking meat up with a wooden spoon until well-browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Lower heat to very low, add the remaining 1/2 cup water and uncooked rice, stirring until well combined. Cover the pan and cook until rice is al dente, about 12 minutes. Uncover, remove from heat. Stir in hard-boiled egg, parsley, 1/4 cup sesame seeds and black pepper. Set aside to cool completely.
Using your floured thumbs and forefingers form the larger balls into hollow cups 2 1/2 to 3-inches wide and almost 1-inch deep. Lay them on parchment-lined baking sheets as you work, about 1-inch apart.
Divide meat mixture between cups, filling them slightly mounded to the top about 1/3 cup each.
On a lightly floured surface using a lightly floured rolling pin or floured hands to roll or press the remaining twenty-four 1 1/2-inch balls out to 3-inch rounds. Cover one pastelle with a dough round, pinching edges together in an upwards motion making a raised lip all the way around. If you like you may use the edge of a sharp pointed knife to fringe the lip decoratively with short up and down motions, but this is optional. Brush tops and sides of each with egg wash. Sprinkle tops with salt and sesame seeds. Repeat with remaining cups.
Place one baking sheet on the top rack and the other sheet on the middle rack of heated oven. Bake switching the sheets between racks halfway through until pastelles are golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.
Note: The dried mint is optional but gives this version a particularly Turkish flair.