Mediterranean Magic

Photo by Cathy Nelson Arkle

Mediterranean cuisine is not the result of a specific culture or ethnic group.  It is more the culinary collaboration of a diverse range of people that live in the Mediterranean Sea region.

The term Mediterranean means “in the middle of earth” or “between lands” as it is between the continents of Africa and Europe. Twenty one countries have a coastline on the Mediterranean Sea. Quite a bit of diversity to explore in one cuisine!

map of mediterranean sea

Our class concentrated on the eastern side of the Mediterranean.

Chef Carol Cotner Thompson began this week’s culinary class by demystifying the term “Mezze” which means, “to eat with pleasure.”  It is the pleasure of savoring little bites of food, accompanied by feelings of peace and serenity.

The Oxnard Companion of Food traces the roots of “Mezze” to Persia, where wine was the center of an emotional and esthetic experience that also included other forms of entertainment, such as food and music. No matter how you define it, mezze is a fabulous idea for enjoying food with friends and family.

Most European food begins on a subtle note, builds with each course, then crescendos to a finale. Not so with Mediterranean food! It starts with a bang.. like if you played the Hallelujah Chorus in reverse.

Mediterranean food places an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry and seafood, nuts, rice, grains, beans and pastas.

Mediterranean nuts and grains

Grilling or broiling seems to be the cooking method of choice, with olive oil being the most prevalent fat used.

Here are a few of our Mediterranean dishes that we made.

roasted shrimp with feta cheese in the making from New School of CookingRoasted Shrimp with Feta Cheese from New School of Cooking

Cooking tomatoes, wine, garlic, parsley and shallots for the
Greek Roasted Shrimp with Feta Cheese dish.

making Souvlaki at New School of CookingSouvlaki from New School of Cooking, Culver City, CA

Making Chicken Souvlaki by marinating chicken in lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil – a prevalent combination in Greek cuisine. 

making Egyptian Cheese Turnovers at New School of CookingEgyptian Cheese Turnovers from New School of Cooking, Culver City, CA

Rolled out dough is filled with a feta and herb mixture to make these amazing
Egyptian Cheese Turnovers.

Hummus and Baba Ganoush at New School of Cooking

I made the Baba Ganoush and Hummus. Chef Carol showed us how to plate the two dips by creating caverns in the dip to hold the olive oil and create visual interest.

Fattoush Salad at New School of CookingGrilled flat bread from New School of Cooking

Fattoush Salad is a very light and refreshing herb bread salad. Pizza dough was used to grill Flat Bread.  Click here for dough recipe.

Moussaka from New School of CookingMediterranean White Bean Salad from New School of Cooking

The Greek Moussaka is one of the class favorites. The Mediterranean White Bean Salad is easy to make and can be served with shrimp or on flat bread.

Rona grinding lamb for Kibbeh Kabobs with Yogurt Sauce

Rona had to grind leg of lamb for the Kibbeh Kabobs. (Looks like she was working out some personal frustrations.) We both had to revisit our culinary charcuterie nightmare from Class#15 of Pro Chef 1.  Click here to hear Rona’s side of the story on her blog.

Today’s Recipe

My favorite dish of the day was M’hanncha – Snake Pastry. While reading the name, I thought I would finally be able to put those garden snakes in my backyard to good use. To my dismay, there wasn’t any snakes in the recipe, just figs rolled in filo dough and coiled like a snake. If you like baklava, you will love this Moroccan dessert.


Don’t let the length of this recipe scare you. It is time consuming, but not difficult.

snake pastry filling from New School of Cookingbuttering filo dough at New School of Cooking

Blend the filling in a food processor, place in buttered filo dough, then roll up like a snake. It’s similar to making cinnamon rolls.

Snake Pastry with Fig, Almond Paste and Lemon Zest from New School of Cookingsnake pastry dough in pan at New School of Cooking

Arrange the roll “seam side down” in a coil like a snake. Brush with egg yolks before cooking.

Snake Pastry with Fig, Almond Paste and Lemon Zest from New School of Cookingsnake pastry dough in pan at New School of Cooking

Once out of the oven, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Wait until cool to make cutting easier.

5.0 from 1 reviews
M'hanncha - Moroccan Snake Pastry
Serves: 8
You will need a serving platter that is perfectly (or nearly) flat for this pastry, as a curved platter might distort the shape of the pastry as it sits and would make slicing it more difficult. I just used a cutting board. I also added pistachio nuts on top with the powdered sugar.
  • 8 ounces moist dried figs, (soak overnight in water or tea, drain before using)
  • 7 ounces almond paste, cut into ~-inch pieces
  • ¼ teaspoon anise seed (optional)
  • zest of 1 lemon, very finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 15 sheets filo (the sheets should be 17 inches long, if possible), room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and lukewarm
  • powdered sugar and candied lemon zest for serving
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°.
  2. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan with some melted butter. Unfold the fila and lay it out on the work surface. Cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel to prevent it from drying out.
  3. To prepare the filling, trim the hard stems from the figs and discard. Place the figs, almond paste, anise seed, lemon zest, sugar and honey in the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is very finely chopped. It should not be ground to a homogenous paste. Set aside.
  4. Place the egg yolks in a small bowl and stir, just to blend.
  5. To assemble the snake pastry, place a fila sheet on the work surface, with one of the long sides toward you. Brush the surface lightly with melted butter. Place another sheet of fila on top and brush lightly with melted butter. Repeat with one more sheet of filo dough. Take a fifth of the fig mixture and make a long, even mound with it on the fila, about one inch from the edge nearest you, that extends all the way out to the two short edges of the dough. Fold the bottom of the fila over the filling, then proceed to roll it up, jelly roll fashion, to within one inch of the opposite long edge. Do not try to roll it very tightly or the fila will crack. Brush a small amount of egg yolk along the top edge, then continue to roll the dough on top of it, so the seam side is down. Arrange the roll, seam side down, along the outer edge of the buttered cake pan. Brush the inside of the roll with a light coating of egg yolk.
  6. Note: I found it easier to start from the center of the pan and work out.
  7. Prepare 4 more rolls as directed above, then place each one in the cake pan, extending the coil by attaching the new roll to the end of the last roll with a dab of egg yolk. Again, brush the inside of each roll with egg yolk so that as the rolls coil around and touch each other, they will adhere to both the roll behind them as well as in front of them - this is very important when slicing the pastry for serving.
  8. Brush the final roll with egg everywhere except the bottom before you put it in the pan, as the last roll fits snugly and there will not be room to add the egg later. The last roll should curl tightly around itself, filling the center of the pan. Brush the top of the pastry evenly with the remaining egg yolk. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a lovely golden color. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool completely.
  9. To unmold, run a thin sharp knife around the edges of the pan, loosening any fila that may have stuck. Gently set a plate upside down on top of the cake pan, then, holding the pan and plate together, flip the two over. The pastry should slide out onto the plate.
  10. Note: If the pastry sticks to the bottom of the pan, place the pan in a hot oven or over a burner for a few seconds, just long enough to warm and loosen the butter and egg, then try turning it out again.
  11. Place your serving platter upside down on top of the pastry, then flip the two over so that the pastry is right side up.
  12. Dust the top of the snake very lightly with powdered sugar. Use a thin, sharp knife to cut wedges of the pastry, transferring each to a plate using a pie wedge or cake server.
  13. Store at room temperature, lightly covered with plastic wrap or foil, for up to 4 days.
Snake Pastry with Apricots, Almond Paste and Orange:

The bright flavor of dried apricots are a perfect pairing with the sweet, slightly bitter essence of almond paste. Try to find the tart, California dried apricots for this recipe. If your only option is the Mediterranean or Turkish variety, reduce the sugar in the recipe to 1 tbsp. Otherwise, follow the recipe above, substituting 8 oz. dried apricots for the figs and the finely chopped zest of 1 orange for the lemon. Omit the anise seed altogether. Garnish with candied orange zest.

Moroccan Snake Pastry from New School of Cooking


“One of the basic Mediterranean creeds is the enjoyment, respect and pleasure of food.” – Nicki Heverling

Sounds like a great philosophy for the other areas of our life as well.
…and then she paused for thought.

Rona Lewis and Cathy ArkleHope you have enjoyed our adventure in the culinary classroom. Join us each week as we continue learning new culinary skills. Next week is Mexican food.

You can also read about Rona’s experience on her blog or What’s Cookin online magazine.




25 thoughts on “Mediterranean Magic

  1. Natalie

    Yum yum yum!!!! When browsing the photos, I was really drawn to the Baba Ganoush and Hummus – I thought, “Wow, that looks really appetizing, how it’s plated.” After reading the caption, it looked like it worked!! Visual interest indeed! That M’hanncha looks fantastic too!

    1. cathyarkle Post author

      Plating can make or break a dish. When it is done right, you can only think about is how soon can you eat it! The recipes were both quite basic, but the presentation made them stand out for sure!

  2. Cheri Newell

    CATH… You crack me up! Yes… my mind went to a real snake too when I saw your title! I had envisioned a snake charmer not happy with his pet… and voila… dinner!!! My favorite thing pictured on here… of all things… is the tomatoes. I could dive right in there and eat every single cooked one! Looks heavenly!

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