Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tasty Memories

One of my most vivid food memories is my grandmother’s touké, a meat pie, essentially a French Canadian pork pie, or tourtiere.  The smell, the unique spices, the texture of the crust mixed with pork fat, were like nothing else I ever ate…until recently.

A couple years ago my grandmother passed after over 80 years of near flawless health.  It came as a surprise.  And honestly, one of the saddest thoughts I had at the time was that there might be no more touké.  I know various family members made attempts to replicate virtually the only thing she could cook, but nobody had been able to nail it.  Then one day last year I was at a great falafel place, Falafel's Drive-In, in San Jose.  I had one of my usuals, the kouby, among other things.  But this time when I bit into the kouby, described on the menu as “a middle-eastern meatball. It has a shell of cracked wheat that is stuffed with ground beef, pine nuts, and onions,” I had an epiphany.  Some of the flavors were identical to the touké.  Maybe if I found a recipe for kouby I could adjust it, put it in a pie crust and end up with touké.  I put this on my to-do list.  Then last month I was in Ottawa and walked through a bakery in the Byward Market and saw a tourtiere, the French Canadian meat pie.  I didn’t get any but determined that I would make my own when I got home.

A few weeks ago I did just that.  I looked up Middle Eastern kouby or koubeh recipes and a few tortiere recipes and then crafted my own.  When I added my seasonings to the meat I knew I had something.  The smell was exactly as I remembered.  As it all cooked in its pastry shell the house filled with all the rights scents.  At dinner, when I finally took a bite, I wept.  It was almost perfect.  It was a taste I hadn’t experienced in years.  And now I knew how to keep my grandmother with me always.

Meme’s Touké, or French-Canadian-Lebanese Meat Pie
2 pounds of ground beef
2 pounds ground pork
1 large white onion, minced
1 egg, beaten
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 pie crusts with tops
2 tablespoons of butter
1 teaspoon each of:
Ground sage
Ground thyme
¼ teaspoon each of:
Ground cinnamon
Ground cloves


-Saute the onions and garlic in butter until slightly translucent
-Add all the meat and all the seasonings and cook thoroughly, stirring often, crushing the meat into very small, minced pieces.
-Prep the pie tins with pie crust bottoms.
-Drain most of the liquefied fat from the meat, reserving about three tablespoons.  Leave that in the meat and let it all cool for about ten minutes.   
-Scoop meat filling into each of the pie shells, spread out evenly.
-Top each pie with a top, brush with beaten egg and pierce with a few vents/slits
-Bake pies for 45 minutes at 350 or until golden brown. 
-Serve hot with a salad and a rich red wine or hoppy beer.
Additional variation, add a few tablespoons of toasted ground pine nuts to the cooking meat and sprinkle some paprika on top of the pie crust before cooking.  And feel free to alter the seasonings based on your individual tastes.  These are unique and strong flavors.  

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