Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Borek with Greens and Feta

Several years ago I formed a lunch collective with a group of co-workers. We took turns bringing in food for each other, sharing the cooking load and saving each other from the truly dismal take-out options surrounding our office. In addition to saving time and money, the club exposed me to a whole library of other people's recipes. But amidst the culinary excitement, some trends started to emerge. There are some ingredients that seem ubiquitous across the continents, and seem to travel in pairs. For one: chickpeas and tomatoes. This classic combination cropped up in Indian, Italian, and general hippie recipes across the board. I think I ate 4-5 variations on the theme. And another combination, one dear to my heart: the savory greens pie.

Even on this blog which only recently passed its first birthday, I've already posted a few passes at this classic package. There's my favorite spanakopita recipe, a Greek-inspired pairing of spinach with creamy feta, cottage cheese, and fresh dill. And this Middle Eastern take, with individual spinach turnovers studded with pine nuts and lemony sumac. And evidently I can't stop, because now I'm going to tell you about the Turkish version: borek.

Borek is a catchall term that could describe a great range of savory pastries, from a phyllo-covered meat turnover to a little cigar-shaped package of cheese rolled in yufka dough. In this case, it's a light yeasted dough layered with greens, herbs and feta cheese. It's lovely, and much easier than the dramatic presentation suggests. The original recipe calls for spinach, but I cooked down some Russian kale instead, and mixed it with a bunch of flat leaf parsley (inspired by the similarly sesame-studded Izmir flatbread in my favorite Paula Wolfert cookbook). It's substantial without being heavy, and since you don't have to worry about flaky phyllo, it's a perfect travel food. There are reasons some things become classics.

Borek with Greens and Feta

adapted from Home Cooking in Montana, who translated it from the Romanian on Gabriela's Blog
yields 1 8" square borek

1/2 cup warm milk
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp warm water
1 3/4 tsp active yeast
2 cups flour (you can swap out half whole wheat flour--just add an additional Tbsp water)
3/4 tsp salt

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 bunch Russian or lacinato kale, washed and finely chopped
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, washed and finely chopped
3/4 cup feta

To finish:
2-3 Tbsp melted butter or olive oil
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp sesame seeds

To make the dough: Pour the water and milk in a mixing bowl, sprinkle on the yeast, and allow to soften for a few minutes. Add the flour and salt, kneading with your hands or a dough hook for several minutes until you create a soft, pliable dough that just clears the sides of the bowl (if it doesn't, add a touch more flour). Cover and let sit for a few minutes while you prepare the filling.

To make the filling: Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the kale and stir to coat with the oil, and sprinkle with a very light dusting of salt to draw water out. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is softened. Add the parsley, and cook an additional minute. Remove from heat and stir in the crumbled feta.

To assemble and bake: Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll out the first piece to form a large rectangle, ~15"x17". Drizzle it with the melted butter or olive oil, and then scatter half the filling evenly over the top. Roll out the second piece of dough, lay it on top of the first, and repeat the process with melted butter and the remaining filling. Roll out the final piece of dough, lay it over the top, and drizzle with the remaining butter.

Fold the right- and left-hand sides in, so that they meet in the middle (you can consult the pictorial on this page, which gives you a better idea of the whole process). Repeat with the top and bottom, so you have a nicely folded package. Flip it upside-down, so the smooth underside is on top. Roll it gently with a rolling pin, taking care to not tear the dough while you ease it into a roughly 8" square. If you have parchment paper, place the borek on a large square of it. With a large knife, cut through all the layers halfway through each side and on the diagonal, yielding 8 little triangles. Pick up the parchment, and transfer the cut square into an 8" brownie pan (if you don't have parchment, just make sure your pan is well-greased). Cover lightly with a clean dishtowel, and let rise for about 1 hour.

When the dough is almost done rising, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Gently brush the dough with the beaten egg, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Place in the oven and bake until lightly browned, ~30-45 minutes. Let cool and serve.


  1. This post makes me nostalgic (not to mention hungry)! I studied Turkish in college, and just had some lovely restaurant börek on Saturday.

    In Turkey, I saw a lot of rolled, cigarette-shaped börek. When I was in Croatia earlier this month, though, their burek was cut into pie-shaped wedges. Made me curious about the way different cultures interpret, and riff on, the same culinary idea.

  2. That looks amazing! I've bookmarked this recipe to try when I have the chance.

  3. Maddie: How jealous am I of your culinary travels? So jealous.

    Gemma: Let me know if you like. I initially made it for friends who were setting off on a road trip -- lots of good vegies, none of the phyllo-based crumble factor.

  4. I had meant to comment on this before, since my best friend is from Croatia, and I traveled there for a couple months in '97... Burek is awesome, and like Maddie said, I was thinking the same thing: how different cultures often have similar foods that change slightly. I like the looks of this dough, maybe I can inject it with my sourdough starter... hmmm.....

  5. Cakewalk: I think sourdough would be interesting -- as long as your dough is nicely relaxed and hydrated (so that you can ease it in to thin layers), it should work well. And I'm curious to hear if your Croatian friend has any good recipes...