Ever wondered what sorts of foods the ancient Greeks ate? Here is a recipe for a healthful chewy snack that has satisfied and pleased children and adults alike for millennia.
Pasteli, the mere mention of the word will bring a smile to any Greek’s face. An all natural confection, in its simplest form, pasteli is composed of two ingredients: sesame seeds and honey. The addition of nuts such as walnuts, pistachios, or almonds is also common in some versions of pasteli.
Sesame has been an ingredient in the Greek pantry since time immemorial. Mention of it is made in Linear B tablets found at Mycenae dated to the 14th Century BC. Indeed, the English word “sesame” is itself derived from the Greek word σησαμη or sēsámē.
This combination of honey and sesame seeds to form wafers of chewy wholesome goodness is one Greek food concoction that has been around - quite literally - for ages. In the Archaic age and later in the Classical and Hellenistic periods this confection was known as “itrion”. Indeed, it appears that among the ancients this type of flat-cake was a delicacy popular enough to warrant its own class of peddler, these were known as “itriopoleis” i.e., the ‘itrion-sellers’.
Today, pasteli is inevitably included in the homeward bound luggage of Diaspora Greeks returning to their respective homes outside the fatherland. As a child, whenever some family member or close family friend returned to Canada from Greece, I always eagerly anticipated the pasteli that would have invariably been sent along for me by some relation back in the ancestral homeland. It is one of my most cherished childhood memories of travel to and from Greece.
Pasteli is easy to make and keeps for long periods. It is also a very nutritious and fast-friendly or vegan snack. This most ancient Greek food item is a very popular treat for children in our modern era, and will likely continue to be enjoyed by all age groups for many more generations to come.
2 ½ cups of sesame seeds
1 ½ cups of Greek honey
½ cup raw almonds (or pistachios or walnuts)* - optional
Orange blossom water
- Add the honey to a saucepan and heat over a medium low heat until it starts to bubble and ball.
- Add sesame seeds and almonds* (optional) to the pan and mix well to incorporate with the honey. Cook slowly while continually stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon until it achieves a rich golden-brown colour, about 10 minutes or so.
- Prepare a marble or glass cutting board surface by sprinkling it with some orange blossom water and spreading it to cover the working surface.
- Pour the hot honey-sesame mixture onto the working surface and spread it with a spatula to a uniform thickness of a ½ inch or so.
- Take a sufficiently large piece of parchment paper and cover the outspread pasteli mixture with it, then, use a rolling pin over top of the parchment paper to further thin and spread the mix into a rough rectangle of uniform thickness, about a ¼ inch or so.
- Remove the parchment paper (do not throw it out), square the edges of the pasteli with a spatula or icing tool and let stand to cool.
- Equally divide and cut the outspread pasteli into full-length rectangles using a large sharp knife. Further divide and cut the rectangles into squares, and then cut the squares at a 45 degree angle to achieve the triangular pieces depicted in the photo above.
- Use a metal spatula to remove the pasteli triangles from the marble/glass working surface and place the pieces in an airtight container (lined with the parchment paper from step 6 above) for storage. Do not refrigerate, simply store in the cupboard/pantry and serve the wafers as a snack, or dessert element.
Note: You can also toast the sesame seeds and almonds/nuts in the oven before using them in this recipe. Simply spread them on a baking sheet and place them in a moderately pre-heated oven (350°F /180°C) for about 5 minutes or so. Make sure not to burn them.
Pánta Kalá (Always Be Well),
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.