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Ham Strudel is a great way to use some of that holiday ham or to make a meal of deli ham when it is at a special price. Photo by Sue Doeden

Ham Strudel made with phyllo dough

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A few weeks ago, on one of those sunshiny Saturdays in November, my husband and I decided to take a day trip. Early that morning we got in the car and headed south from Bemidji. After a brief shopping stop in Walker, lunch in a bright café in Emily, and a meander through a few antique shops in Crosby, we wound up at Aunt Martha's house.

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We hadn't seen my husband's 86-year-old aunt in several years. As we visited with her that afternoon, I reminded the feisty Croatian/Slovenian woman that I had wanted to learn how to make apple strudel. We never seemed to arrange time for a lesson, though.

No problem, she assured me. And, right from her head, she gave me the ingredient list with a couple of tips on how to make my own strudel dough for apple filling. A week later my husband and I were in the kitchen making our own strudel - with delicious results. You can see our apple strudel on my blog this week.

Although I discovered the art of making strudel dough is not as difficult as I imagined, it's probably something I'll do only occasionally. And, only with sweet and cinnamony apple filling.

But making that homemade fruit-filled pastry gave me the strudel bug. Normally I take the easy route and prepare any kind of strudel with phyllo dough that can be purchased in the freezer case at most grocery stores. Frozen phyllo dough delivers crisp flakey results, perfect for enclosing bits of leftovers from the refrigerator. Or, any concoction of ingredients you desire. The paper-thin sheets of dough are layered with melted butter and topped with filling ingredients before it is rolled up. And, voilà, strudel!

Ham Strudel is a delightful way to use up some of that holiday ham or to make a meal of deli ham when it is at a special price. I mixed melted butter with fresh garlic and Dijon mustard to brush over each layer of phyllo dough. I chose rice to go with the ham and seasoned it Hungarian-style with caraway and paprika. I had a small chunk of Gruyère cheese in my refrigerator that I wanted to use and lots of grated cheddar. Into the strudel it went. I thought about spreading some leftover mashed root vegetables over the dough, but decided I could reheat that for a weekday lunch.

It was a large chubby strudel that went into my oven on a broiler pan. It baked to a beautiful golden brown. My thoughts turned to sour cream at serving time. A big dollop of the white creamy stuff would be delicious with this strudel. But, at the last minute, I decided on making some apple salsa. Sweet and tart with just a bit of heat is a grand accompaniment to the Ham Strudel.

Layers of flakey dough surrounding a savory filling can make an elegant holiday meal or it can turn this and that from the refrigerator into anyday meals with pizzazz.

I just can't shake this strudel bug. I'm eyeing some mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and turkey chunks in the refrigerator. I wonder how that would taste all rolled up in some phyllo dough.

Ham Strudel with Apple Salsa

3/4 cup butter, divided

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 chubby clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

3/4 cup long-grain rice, uncooked

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

2 tablespoons paprika

1 1/2 cups chicken broth, heated to almost boiling

10 sheets phyllo dough, thawed

8 ounces ham, thinly sliced

1 cup shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

In a small saucepan, melt 1/2 cup butter. Add garlic and mustard and stir. Set aside.

Melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, until onion is tender. Add caraway seeds, paprika and rice. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add hot broth to pot. Bring broth to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Set aside and let cool.

Work with 1 sheet of phyllo at a time. Keep remaining sheets covered with a slightly damp towel to prevent them from drying out. Layer 10 phyllo sheets, brushing melted butter mixture in between each layer. Spoon cooled rice mixture over top layer of dough, spreading to within 1-inch of sides. Sprinkle ham over rice and top with cheeses.

Starting at short side, fold phyllo over 1 inch. Fold each long side over 1 inch. Roll up phyllo, starting at short side. Place roll seam side down on a lightly greased rack in a broiler pan. Brush with any remaining melted butter. Using a sharp knife, make diagonal slits, about 1/4-inch thick, across top of strudel. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 375-degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with Apple Salsa. Makes 8 servings.

Apple Salsa

3 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 sweet apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I used Golden Delicious)

Bring the sugar, vinegar, lemon juice and red pepper flakes to a boil in a saucepan, stirring occasionally. Stir in the apples and reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, until the apples are tender. Remove from heat. Mash the mixture, but leave some chunky bits of apple. It should not be completely smooth. Serve warm or chilled.

Tips from the cook

--I like to grind the caraway seeds in the extra coffee grinder I keep for spices, before adding to the rice mixture.

--You can omit the paprika and caraway and season with just some minced fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley.

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