Fragrant hazelnut baklava drenched in rich rose syrup
Heather Arndt Anderson / OPB


Superabundant dispatch: Hazelnut-rose baklava and this week’s news nibbles

By Heather Arndt Anderson (OPB)
March 8, 2024 2 p.m.

Flaky pastry for breaking the fast (or for breakfast)

OPB’s “Superabundant” explores the stories behind the foods of the Pacific Northwest with videos, articles and this weekly newsletter. To keep you sated between episodes, Heather Arndt Anderson, a Portland-based culinary historian, food writer and ecologist, highlights different aspects of the region’s food ecosystem. This week she offers a recipe for hazelnut baklava drenched in rose syrup.

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The Muslim holiday Ramadan begins at sundown on Sunday, March 10, a month of fasting and prayer. Every evening, however, the fast is broken with a feast of succulent pilafs, unctuous stews, warm flatbreads and tons of sticky desserts. With a fairly global reach and a history more than 2,000 years long, baklava is probably one of the most familiar of these sticky desserts. Once it left the Middle East in Ottoman hands, baklava went north, landing in Hungary, where it eventually evolved into another type of pastry common throughout Europe and North America today. Do you know what it is? Read on to find out!

A fast for reflection, distilled spirits drawing, apocalypse cooking, fragrant fungi and good things in markets (and forests)

Ramadan Mubarak!

Sunday marks the beginning of Ramadan, a holy Muslim holiday of reflection, prayer and community connection that’s also observed by a month of daily fasting. Every evening after sundown the fast ends with iftar, and if you’ve ever had to go all day without eating you know how good that first fast-breaking bite tastes. This week’s recipe is a nod to the celebratory desserts enjoyed during the holiday. Wishing a generous Ramadan to all who celebrate!

Liquor lotto goes live

The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission has announced its annual lottery, which will run from March 11-17 to give Oregonians the chance to buy limited-edition spirits. Hopefully this year everyone at the OLCC will play fair with the Pappy Van Winkle.

Pass the salt and prepper

Residents of the Oregon Coast participated in an apocalypse cooking contest to see who could make the most of shelf-stable foods stored for emergencies. The catch? No heat or water allowed. Hosted by Nehalem Bay’s Emergency Volunteer Corps on Feb. 15, the contestants had to draw on their creativity and think outside the can. OPB’s Alejandro Figueroa covered the event.

Tons of fun(gi) at Oregon Truffle Fest

In other Oregon coast news, last weekend we had the most incredible experience at Camp Westwind in Otis, geeking out on all things fungi with biologist and best-selling author Merlin Sheldrake, using a UV flashlight at night to unveil the bacterial secrets on the walls of a beach cave with cordyceps expert William Padilla-Brown and speed-foraging ingredients with chef and mushroom farmer Robin Jackson. Oh, and we ate tons of local truffles on everything from ramen to cinnamon rolls. Stay tuned for highlights over the coming weeks.

Watch the Truffles episode of “Superabundant”

Good things in markets

Speaking of Oregon truffles, we’re in the peak of the season — if you don’t forage your own, look for fragrant specimens that are firm and dry (not spongy or slimy) in farmers markets or well-stocked grocery stores. We learned this trick for making our own truffle oil from expert Charles Lefevre (who appeared in our Truffles episode): place a truffle on a small plate next to an open bowl of oil (we love hazelnut oil for this) and cover them together with an overturned mixing bowl to form a sort of chamber. Leave it undisturbed in a cool, dark place for a couple days and then bottle the oil, which will have absorbed the fragrant compounds off-gassed by the truffle. If stored in the fridge, the oil will retain its intense flavor for years.

A feast of foraged plants at the Oregon Coast.

A feast of foraged plants at the Oregon Coast.

Jessie Sears / OPB

Foraging over the weekend was more fruitful than you might expect for winter time — we found lots of licorice fern, sheep sorrel (closely related to garden sorrel), succulent stonecrop, spruce tips, bull kelp, salmonberry shoots and the flower buds of coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus), the Pacific Northwest analog to the Japanese wild vegetable called fuki or butterbur. Japanese butterbur (Petasites japonicus) has a tendency to escape gardens and become invasive in the Northwest, so depending on where you live, you may encounter it before you see the native species.

Roots, greens and citrus are still going strong, but keep an eye out for asparagus and tender green alliums like chives, scallions and spring onions — these are coming up in the garden now and should be making their appearance in markets. In Barcelona, the arrival of calçots (a type of green onion) is celebrated with calçotadas. A whole party devoted to roasting green onions and dragging them, steaming hot, through nutty romesco sauce? We are so on board.

Though it doesn’t necessarily reflect what we’re seeing in markets this week, it’s also the middle of calving season for Oregon ranchers. If you’ve ever wanted to see the excitement in person, Wilson Ranches Retreat in Fossil offers a variety of day trips and retreats for wannabe cowhands and horseback riders to be part of the action.

Recipe: Rose and hazelnut baklava

Fragrant hazelnut baklava drenched in rich rose syrup.

Fragrant hazelnut baklava drenched in rich rose syrup.

Heather Arndt Anderson / OPB


Depending on where you are, baklava can have different specifics, but that’s just details. The primary idea remains: assemble some combination of flaky, buttery pastry with layers of finely chopped nuts; bake until golden; drown it in liquid sweetness. Ottomans brought baklava north from Turkey, likely needing a little treat after fighting with the Habsburgs for 260-ish years. With the war over, the Habsburg Empire was also ready for a little treat and baklava — now filled with fruit and called strudel — swept Austro-Hungary.

Throughout human history, ingredients have traveled with us. We humans have brought our foods along the way (for either sustenance or bargaining chips) for as long as we’ve migrated. Ingredients and cooking techniques have shaped human culture and even changed the ways in which our species has evolved.

Some ingredients, like olives, apples and chile peppers, have single points of origin from which they eventually spread once humans got involved, whereas other ingredients, like chives and blackberries, have always sort of grown everywhere. Some ingredients, like roses and hazelnuts, have different species represented in just a few places, in very different parts of the world. The Middle East and the Pacific Northwest share these two ingredients as symbols of their regional and culinary identity.

It’s such a cool coincidence, isn’t it? Iran is the top global producer of rosewater, but the earliest rose fossil comes from the western U.S. (Colorado). Similarly, Turkey currently leads world production of hazelnuts, though several species are native to North America, including the oldest documented species (Corylus johnsonii), known only from one fossil record in the Pacific Northwest.

Maybe that’s why baklava tastes so right with rose syrup and hazelnuts. Makes 1 12-inch circular baklava (or 113 square inches of baklava)

Note: you can use the rose syrup for other things as well — brush it on warm pound cakes or almond shortbread, dribble it on Greek yogurt or add it to a blackberry granita.


Rose syrup

1 cup dried rose buds or rose petals (available at tea and herb shops)

4 cardamom pods

2 cups water

1 ½ cups sugar

Pinch of citric acid or 1 tbsp lemon juice


1 lb hazelnuts (whole, or a mix of finely chopped/ground)

½ cup sugar

½ tsp sea salt

1 tsp ground cardamom seed

1 cup (sticks) unsalted butter (or vegan butter), melted (plus more as needed for brushing)

1 1-lb pack of phyllo pastry, thawed as instructed on package

2 cups rose syrup


  1. Make the rose syrup: Bring the dried rose buds, cardamom pods and water to a boil in a small pot, then turn off the heat and steep until dark pink and aromatic, about 15-20 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and then add the sugar and citric acid or lemon juice to the strained liquid. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Make the baklava filling: If using whole hazelnuts, pulse them in a food processor with the sugar, salt and ground cardamom until it’s the texture of damp sand — some larger chunks are ok, but don’t let it turn to nut butter.
  3. Position an oven rack in the middle row and preheat the oven to 375º. Brush a 12″ round cake pan with butter. Carefully unroll the phyllo and lay it flat on a cutting board, then trace the cake pan onto the phyllo with a thin knife, cutting through each sheet to make rounds roughly the same size as the baking pan’s interior. Cover with a damp tea towel. Reserve the scraps for another use, like mini böreks or to top a pot pie.
  4. Assemble the baklava. Layer in 4 sheets of phyllo one at a time, brushing melted butter between each sheet (and covering the phyllo with the damp towel as you work to keep it from drying out). Sprinkle a third of the hazelnut mixture evenly over the 4 leaves of buttered phyllo, then repeat with the remaining phyllo, butter, and hazelnut filling, finishing with the final 6 leaves of phyllo for the top. Brush the top with a generous amount of the melted butter. (It’s ok if some of them tear while you’re layering, but if you can, make sure the top leaf is in good shape since it’s the one that’ll show.)
  5. Here’s the fun part! With a very sharp, slender knife, cut the assembled baklava into quarters by slicing a cross shape, then halve each quarter to make 8 equal wedges. Working one wedge at a time, cut straight lines parallel to each other and an inch apart in a radiating V pattern — you’re aiming for a “prairie star” (like the quilt pattern) of diamond-shaped pieces but don’t sweat it if it’s not perfect. Pour any remaining melted butter over the top.
  6. Bake and drown the baklava in syrup. Bake the baklava until it’s a rich golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. Remove it from the oven and pour the rose syrup over the hot baklava, which will sponge the syrup right up. Resist the temptation to reach in right away to sneak a piece; allow it to cool before serving.

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