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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

This vegetarian main is ready to shine on your holiday table



Stewed vegetables hide beneath a crisp layer of phyllo dough in this burnished vegetarian main. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. (Ryan Liebe/The New York Times)

By Melissa Clark


As savory and alluring as a pot of stew can be, it’s rarely charismatic enough to hold its own as the centerpiece of a blowout holiday feast. There’s no amount of chopped parsley on top that can adequately dress up that long-simmered brown underneath; a stew, by nature, is always more cozy and homey than fancy and showstopping.


But pour that same stew into a pastry crust and bake until its buttery surface turns golden and glistening, and you’ve got a spectacular main course that’s ready for a star turn.


You can do this to pretty much any thick stew and get excellent results. This time, I went meatless, riffing on a chickpea-filled vegetable tagine rich with sweet spices and minced preserved lemon.


Since the best stews can be quite involved — all those vegetables to chop and sear, plus a long, slow bubbling on the stove — I’ve kept the pastry simple and used a prepared phyllo rather than homemade dough.


Then I streamline things some more. Phyllo recipes can be fussy, calling for buttering each fragile, gossamer (and now sodden) piece before stacking them one on top of another.


Instead, I use a trick I learned several years ago while making a feta torte. After assembling everything in the pan, I poke holes in the dough and just pour the melted butter on top. It seeps between the layers beautifully and bakes up burnished, crisp and shiny. And using a sheet pan means that this pie can wow a crowd and feed it, too.


You can make the stew the day before (stews are easygoing like that), then reheat it gently so it’s warm when it meets the phyllo. This ensures that the filling will end up piping hot and the pastry nicely browned at the same time. If you’re using the optional feta, add it immediately before baking: You want each salty, creamy nugget to remain a distinct bite, rather than melt into the already silky mix of cauliflower, sweet potatoes and zucchini.


Bold and bronzed, this blockbuster pie doesn’t need much garnish. A handful of chopped mint lends it a pop of color and freshness, and if you want more bling, a scattering of pomegranate seeds will add a ruby glow. It proves that hiding in every humble stew pot is a great beauty waiting to emerge. All it takes is a little change of wardrobe.


Spiced vegetable phyllo pie


In this spectacular meatless meal, crisp sheets of buttery, golden phyllo surround vegetables and chickpeas stewed with sweet spices, preserved lemon and earthy turmeric. You can prepare the vegetable stew the day before; just reheat it so it’s warm when it meets the phyllo pastry. Once it’s baked, you can serve this hot or at room temperature, making it perfect for a party. Since it’s baked on a sheet pan, it makes enough to feed a crowd.



Yield: 12 servings

Total time: 2 hours, plus at least 15 minutes’ resting



Ingredients:


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed

2 medium red onions, chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/4 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 1/4 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)

1 3/4 pounds cauliflower, florets roughly chopped (about 4 cups)

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 4 cups)

1 medium zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

1 (14.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 tablespoon minced preserved lemon or 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1/2 cup mint, roughly chopped, more for topping

12 tablespoons/170 grams unsalted butter, melted

8 ounces feta, crumbled (optional)

1 (16-ounce) package frozen phyllo dough, defrosted



Preparation:


1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high. Once hot, add the red onion and bell pepper. Sauté until tender and golden at the edges, about 5 minutes.


2. Stir in tomato paste, turmeric, paprika, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Toss well to combine. Sauté until the spices and tomato paste are fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes, adding more oil if needed.


3. Add the chopped cauliflower, sweet potato, zucchini and chickpeas to the pan, and stir to coat with tomato and spices. Pour in the broth and preserved lemon, and bring to a simmer. Partly cover with a lid and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes or until the mixture is thick and the vegetables are very tender. (Vegetable mixture can be made up to 24 hours ahead; reheat before proceeding.) Stir in the mint.


4. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush 2 tablespoons melted butter inside a rimmed 18-by-13-inch sheet pan. Line the pan with half of the phyllo dough (you can keep it in a stack) and brush the top with 4 tablespoons melted butter. Using a slotted spoon, spread the vegetable mixture evenly on top of the butter-brushed phyllo dough and sprinkle with feta, if using. Cover with the remaining phyllo dough. Use a paring knife to pierce holes throughout the top of the dough all the way through the layers, and brush the surface with the remaining 6 tablespoons melted butter.


5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the phyllo is crisp and golden brown. Let sit 15 to 30 minutes before serving. Use a serrated knife to slice pieces. Top with more mint to serve.


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