Pastelli, sometimes written “pasteli, with one l”, is one of the healthiest Greek sweets, made with honey and sesame seeds. This sweet dates back to antiquity and it is first mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, which is referred to as”nutrition for warriors, to give them strength and endurance”. It is also mentioned by historian Herodotus (5th century BC).
For the ancient Greeks and Byzantines, pastelli was known as “sesamis” or “sesamus”. This candy is also described by Athenaeus (author of Deipnosophistae, the oldest surviving cookbook) as a candy made with “honey and sesame seeds” and a thousand years later in a Greek dictionary (5th century AD), Hesychius of Alexandria, mentions it in his dictionary as a “plakous” (a kind of pie) made of sesame seeds.
In the 20th century, a modern version appeared with nuts, originally almonds but now you can find them also with peanuts, pistachios or a mixture of any of these nuts.
When pasteli is made using only honey, the texture is soft and sticky. When made with sugar it becomes firm and crunchy. You can make it either way but a mixture of honey and not too much sugar makes it a perfect snack by adding some crunch and retaining its healthy properties. This snack contains three of the healthiest ingredients: honey, sesame and peanuts. Honey is a natural preservative and sesame seeds are resistant to rancidity, so if this snack is wrapped in parchment paper or cling film and stored in an airtight container it has a very long shell life. It is ideal as an energy snack, as it is filled with antioxidants, monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, vitamins, (riboflavins, niacin, etc), minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, etc.), fiber, and many more health properties. This “energy bar” makes the perfect snack for any time of the day!
Although pasteli with honey is a Lenten (nistisimo) sweet, it is not vegan, as honey is an animal product. However, you can still make it vegan using only sugar.
A custom dating back to Byzantine times, which still exists, is to serve pasteli on lemon or other citrus leaves. The dessert absorbs the delicate aroma of the citrus leaf, giving it a wonderful taste. I learned this tradition from a colleague of mine, from Tinos island, who would always bring homemade pastelli, made by his wife, to treat us on his birthday.
Recipe adapted from Mint, Cinnamon & Blossom Water, Flavours of Cyprus, Kopiaste!
- 250 grams salted peanuts, peeled and coarsely chopped with a knife
- 100 grams toasted sesame seeds
- 100 grams thyme honey
- ¼ cup cane sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp mastic sugar
- ¼ tsp coarse sea salt
- In a non-stick frying pan add the sesame seeds and toast for 3 – 4 minutes until fragrant.
- Empty it in a heat resistant container and mix in the salt and mastic.
- Put the sugar, honey and lemon juice in the same frying pan over medium heat and mix for 5 minutes. Add the nuts and sesame seeds and mix well until the syrup is absorbed by the nuts and sesame seeds.
- Line a shallow baking tin with parchment paper and empty the mixture. Wet a spoon with olive or vegetable oil and spread the mixture evenly. Place another sheet of parchment on top and using your hands or a small dowel (or a bottle) press the mixture until it becomes about 1.2 cm (½ inch) thick. Remove the parchment and with a spatula shape the edges of the pastelli to give it a rectangular or square shape.
- Brush a sharp knife with oil and while the mixture is still warm cut the pasteli into squares and each square diagonally to form two triangles. Set aside to cool.
- Serve on citrus leaves.
Olive oil is used on spoon and knife so that the pastelli does not stick on them.
Kopiaste and Kali Orexi!