Complete List of Recipes & Reflections

Friday, February 27, 2009

Pasteli (Παστέλι)

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.

My Pasteli triangles - Click to Enlarge Image.

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’.

Some commercially available Greek pasteli bars - Click to Enlarge Image.

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.

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups of sesame seeds
1 ½ cups of Greek honey
½ cup raw almonds (or pistachios or walnuts)* - optional
Orange blossom water

  1. Add the honey to a saucepan and heat over a medium low heat until it starts to bubble and ball.
  2. 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.
  3. Prepare a marble or glass cutting board surface by sprinkling it with some orange blossom water and spreading it to cover the working surface.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
Yield: Approximately 24 pieces.

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),

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

28 comments:

Amy said...

This sounds delicious. Kinda like an ancient energy bar...

adventureswiththewoods said...

Oh yum! I bet this is really good. I love chewy stuff like this; plus, it only requires a few, readily available ingredients. Even better!

Maureen said...

Sounds good and EZ. I'll get a bag of sesame seeds at the Amish market tomorrow. I won't ask the calories. ;)

Daily Spud said...

If it was good enough for the ancients, then I reckon it's certainly good enough for me - yum!

Litsa said...

Naiii :D My favorite snack as a kid! I thought this was not possible to make at home, so great :D

MrOrph said...

Sam, I remember these. My stepfather made them on multiple occasions. And yes, they are absolutely delicious!

farida said...

I love this snack. Never made it myself, but have your recipe to try. Thanks for sharing. It's interesting, we have a similar sweet in Azerbaijan, and I just can't remember what we call it there:))

aurora said...

I loved it when my YiaYia would bring many boxes of these home from Greece! Yummy!
Thanks for the recipe.

Cynthia said...

I am learning so much. Thanks Sam.

Abigail (aka Mamatouille) said...

I love these things! Thanks for posting about it - it's brought back lovely memories from childhood when my mom would buy them for us at health food stores in Florida. I didn't know they were Greek, though!

Kevin said...

Those look really good! I got to try some when I visited Greece last year. I will have to try making them.

Sue said...

Sam, I use to buy these sweet sesame treats in Greek and Turkish shops all the time when I lived in north London.
They are so yummy and I would imagine home made would be even better. Good to see you posting again my friend.

Jenna Jayson said...

Sesame seeds! They are as appetizing as they can always get! I'll try to find some of these. :)

Leela said...

Oh, I *love* Pasteli. Thanks for the recipe, Sam. Good to know it's not as hard to make as it seems. I love how you include some historical/linguistic tidbits in your posts. I study ancient languages, including Attic Greek, and I always find stuff like that interesting. :)

Amanda said...

I've never heard of these, but they sound wonderful!

Lizzy said...

This looks awesome! I am planning a trip to Greece this fall and this makes me even more excited!

Jenna Jayson said...

Hi! I noticed that my website isn't appearing well just in case you want to read what I think about food being the food buff that I also am. Cheers!

RBerenguel said...

I just made a few of these. From what I tasted from my ingers (it's sticky while you put it on a surface :) it tastes good, although I used roasted sesame seeds. Next time (if there is, which I bet will be) I'll use raw sesame. Thanks for posting it!

Rumela said...

Wow!! yours Almond or walnuts Pasteli.....they are just delicious. they are looking great and I am sure that they taste great too. the orange blossom water flavor enriches the taste of these cookies. thanks for the recipe.

Ejo said...

I have a very serious allergy to sesame, but want to go to Greece for my honeymoon. How easily will I be able to avoid sesame (oil, seeds, butter) in Greek cooking?

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

Ejo, Greeks do not cook with sesame oil, they almost exclusively use olive oil for cooking. As for avoiding sesame, you should be ok as long as you make your allergy known. Also, you may want to be careful about buying fresh baked goods from bakeries without explaining the seriousness of your allergy. All in all, you should be fine, as long as you take the same precautions as you would anywhere else. Hope this helps, and I hope you have a great trip and honeymoon!

tasteofbeirut said...

I made these recently using plain syrup but I would like to try them with honey and orange blossom of course!

Anonymous said...

I've just made this and it came out perfect! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe - I am addicted to pasteli and was spending a fortune in the greek shop everyday... Now I can make it at home instead! :-)

Victoria said...

Yum! I'm using your recipe to make my own pasteli right now (although I'm adding some Brazil nuts for a twist).

I do just need to correct something though... in your original post, you say pasteli is vegan but it's not. Vegans don't actually eat honey, so it is vegetarian but not vegan.

What it most definitely IS though is delicious. Thanks for posting this!

Victoria said...

Yum! I'm using your recipe to make my own pasteli right now (although I'm adding some Brazil nuts for a twist).

I do just need to correct something though... in your original post, you say pasteli is vegan but it's not. Vegans don't actually eat honey, so it is vegetarian but not vegan.

What it most definitely IS though is delicious. Thanks for posting this!

Julie said...

I want to try this recipe! But where do I get, or how do I make Orange Blossom Water?

mano lakos said...

Julie,

Use orange rind (or lemon if you wish)....

mano lakos said...

Use orange rind, lemon rind or what ever other flavor you like.