Persian Baghlava

Happy International Women’s Day! I recently heard someone call March “a mighty month.” She was referring to the celebration of women during the month, but I love that March is also a significant time for Baha’is around the world.

In March, Baha’is fast for 19 days, abstaining from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset each day until Naw-Ruz – the Baha’i (and Persian) New Year. It is a period of prayer and meditation, focusing on our spiritual reality in preparation for the new year.

March 5th is also the day my grandfather was executed in 1985 by the Iranian government. His crime was being a Baha’i – a religion that promotes the unity of humanity, universal education, and the equality of men and women.

International Women’s Day is also on March 8th, a day every year to celebrate women’s achievements and raise awareness of continued gender inequality and gender based persecution. And every year I think of Tahirih, a Persian poetess and activist. During her short life, she advocated for women and girls and even removed her veil in an assemblage of men. Her radical beliefs and activism led to her death in 1852 at the age of 35. It is believed that before her execution she said, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”

Baklavah (pronounced “baghlava” in Persian) was one of the most popular desserts in the Ottoman Empire. While there are various methods and recipes for baghlava, it continues to be one of the most popular sweets in Iran today.

Our recipe below is simple and vegan. For a short video of the preparation, visit our instagram page @plant_basedpersian.

Ingredients

  • Vegan phyllo dough (I use Fillo Factory which you can find at Whole Foods)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • Slice of lemon
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/4 cup pistachios
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)

Directions

  1. Thaw phyllo dough according to package instructions. If thawed in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature before using (I put on the counter for 1-2 hours before making the baghlava). Keep package closed until use so the dough does not dry out.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  3. Combine water and sugar and slice of lemon in a small pot on medium/high heat. Heat for 10-12 minutes until sugar is dissolved, mixture is boiling, and slightly thickened. Set aside and let cool.
  4. Finely chop walnuts and almonds together. I use a food processor. Set aside.
  5. Finely chop pistachios separately. I use a food processor for this as well. Set aside.
  6. Melt 1/2 cup vegan butter.
  7. Lightly brush the bottom of a 9X13 baking dish with butter.
  8. Carefully unwrap and remove 5 sheets of phyllo dough. Keep remaining phyllo dough covered until needed.
  9. Evenly brush one sheet of phyllo dough with butter. Fold phyllo dough in half and evenly brush with butter again. Place in the baking dish.
  10. Repeat step 8 with the remaining four sheets of phyllo dough.
  11. Add an even layer of the finely chopped walnuts and almonds. I generally do not use all the walnuts and almonds (save for ice cream topping or other baking).
  12. Sprinkle a layer of the finely chopped pistachios, saving most for the garnish.
  13. Carefully remove another 5 sheets of phyllo dough. Repeat step 8 with the next five sheets of phyllo dough.
  14. With a very sharp knife, cut pastry into vertical strips. Then cut across diagnolly to make diamond shapes.
  15. Bake for 25-30 minutes until slightly golden. Put oven on broil and cook another 1-2 minutes until golden brown.
    • Oven temperatures vary so keep an eye and adjust baking time as needed.
  16. Remove from the oven and pour 4-5 ladles of the syrup evenly over the baghlava.
  17. Garnish each diamond with crushed pistachio.
  18. Let set and cool for 1 hour. Cut through the layers once more with a very sharp knife before serving.

NOTES:

  • It is important to keep phyllo dough covered until use to avoid it drying out.
  • The Fillo Factory phyllo dough that I use comes in 14X18 sheets. I fold each sheet in half, which fits nicely into a 9X13 baking dish. You can adjust your layers of baghlava according to the size of your phyllo dough and baking dish and preference. Just adjust the baking time as needed.
  • It is important the syrup is cooled. Hot/warm syrup over hot baghlava will result in soggy baghlava.