At a romantic beachside restaurant in Fiji, my partner said the words I never thought I would hear, but so wanted to:
“Vicky, don’t panic, but there is a snake behind you.”
Shivering with excitement, I turned around. Three feet behind me was a stunning venomous sea snake. We slowly stood up and, with a brave few guests, followed and photographed the sea snake as it wound its way to the beach. We watched, mesmerised, as it slithered in and out of the rocky crevices. When it found the water we gasped as it picked up speed and swam away, making shimmering shapes in the water.
We were in Fiji to celebrate the destination wedding of my lovely nephew to his equally lovely partner. Having a banded sea krait turn up for dinner was a real bonus for me. What I loved most about this snake was how slow and calm it was on land. It gave me a great opportunity to admire its luminescent bands and its sinuous body. In the water it transformed into a sea serpent, swiftly but gracefully swimming in “s” patterns as it disappeared into the ocean. It was quite a privilege to be so close to such a wild, exotic animal.
In honour of this unexpected but much appreciated encounter I have created a recipe that combines my culinary Macedonian heritage with that of Morocco. M’hanncha, meaning snake, is a traditional Moroccan dessert made of almond paste filled rolls of filo pastry coiled to look like a snake. It is similar to Maznik, a traditional coiled Macedonian pastry. Maznik is usually filled with feta cheese but can contain many different fillings. A favourite of mine when I was young was a sweet apple and sultana filled one. I don’t have the recipe that my relatives used so I created my own version from memory. I don’t know what Maznik means so I’m calling my pastry M’hanncha as I know that means snake. As a wise playwright once said “a pastry by any other name would taste as sweet” – or something like that 🙂
for the filling
4 large granny smith apples, peeled cored and chopped
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons water
1 + 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
1/4 cup sultanas
for the pastry
50g unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled.
8 sheets of filo pastry, prepared according to the instructions on the packet
1/4 cup ground almonds
Bring the apples, orange juice and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the apples have softened. Lightly mash the apples. Stir in the sugar and sultanas. Allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Lightly grease a 25cm round baking tray.
Work with one sheet of pastry at a time, keeping the remaining sheets covered with a damp tea towel.
Place one sheet of filo pastry on a board with the longest side facing you.
Lightly butter the pastry sheet.
Sprinkle with 1/8th of the almond meal.
Spread 1/8th of the apple mix along the bottom side of the pastry.
Loosely roll up the pastry into a long cigar shape.
Carefully roll into a coil shape and place in the centre of the prepared baking tray.
For each of the remaining sheets roll as above and continue the coil from where the previous sheet finished.
Brush with melted butter.
Bake for 25 – 35 minutes or until browned.
You need approximately 2 cups of apple sauce.
This is a rustic pastry so don’t worry if it cracks in sections.