Inspired Recipe: Sweet-Savory Plum and Gouda Pastelitos
Food, like music and the melodic rise and fall of hurried Spanish voices, is often a backdrop for Junot Diaz’s short stories. His father works in greasy kitchens in America; his mother boils yucca for simple, cheap meals for the family; special occasions are marked by an abundance of fruits and sweets and savory pies — maybe even some pastelitos. Food helps set the scene and, like language, grounds a story in a specific place. In stories that are very much about context and location — both special and temporal — these details matter.
Pastelitos, a sort of Dominican empenada, are a staple at many of the celebrations Diaz describes. And while the idea of a deep-fried, crunchy, golden pocket of savory ground meat or sweet fruit sounds mouth-watering, like Diaz, I recognized that we — and our foods — are products of our environments. I don’t have a deep fryer, nor do I or many of my friends regularly cook deep-fried foods for ourselves. So I improvised.
I took the basic idea of a sweet and savory pocket and molded it until it made sense for my kitchen, my friends and my tastes. I subbed phyllo for the fried flour dough, and used plums instead of more tropical fruits. The result is a dish that I hope Diaz would approve of: one that blends traditions and stays true to self.
SWEET-SAVORY PLUM AND GOUDA PASTELITOS
- 4 medium plums
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or one whole vanilla bean, scraped for seeds)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 cup basil (loosely packed)
- 1 packet frozen phyllo dough (must be thawed ahead of time)
- 2 tablespoons butter (melted)
- 6oz gouda cheese (shredded)
- 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
For plum filling
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Begin by slicing the plums into ½-inch thick segments. In a medium bowl, toss the slices with lemon juice, vanilla extract (or vanilla seeds), and basil (cut in a chiffonade) and sugar if desired. Place the plum slices on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper (for easier cleanup). Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the plums are very soft and juice is bubbling. Remove from oven, place back into the bowl, and set aside.
Turn oven down to 350°F. Thaw phyllo dough according to package instructions. Using a knife or pizza cutter, cut stacked dough into 5" squares. Move squares to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Brush each square lightly with melted butter. In the center of each square, pile a small heap of shredded Gouda and a few plum slices. Fold dough into triangles and seal the edges by pressing down. Bake according to package instructions, generally about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and serve warm for breakfast, lunch or dessert.
Now that you’re good and hungry, read our recommendation of the book that inspired this recipe: Drown.