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The börek is a lovely creation of the kitchens of Ottoman-controlled lands. Essentially, it refers to an entire family of pastries or snacks made with filo dough. Filo is Greek for leaf, so not surprisingly, filo dough is paper-thin sheets of unleavened flour. Stuffing varies from meat, vegetables, dried nuts and fruits, cheese and even nutella and confectionery products. The börek particularly caught the imagination of Ottoman Jewish communities who took it to places beyond the Ottoman vale, like Emilia-Romagna in Italy. The dish comes is all shapes and sizes, and is ubiquitous in the cuisines of Greece, Israel, Bulgaria, and the inheritor states of the former Yugoslavia.

The word börek comes from the Turkic root, bur-, which means to twist. However, others claim that it stems from the Turkish word, börbör, which means to wrap or cover. Food historians have claimed that the dish is even older than the Turkic migration into Anatolia, that the börek was most probably brought over by the Oghuz Turks from Central Asia between the 8th and 11th centuries.

börekThe börek has spread since then to not just the once Ottoman lands but even beyond and have become central parts of local traditions and customs. For example, in Tunisia, böreks are called brik and are an important part of breaking the fast during the holy month of Ramadan – it is usually the second course, after the chorba, or soup. There is apparently also a tradition in that country that the mother of a bride-to-be makes a börek for the potential groom. If he can eat the brik without spilling any of the egg yolk, he may marry the bride. No pressure, guys! Now you see why your mothers told you not to be messy eaters 🙂 Similarly, Mumbaikars may be surprised to hear that their beloved khari bears an uncanny resemblance to the Saray böreği, or palace börek – both are layers of filo with fresh butter rolled between each sheet.

The most difficult or time-consuming part of making börek is making the dough. Thankfully, pastry sheets may be readily purchased in many supermarkets and special shapes or sizes may be available in ethnic stores. Yet making filo at home is probably healthier, certainly cheaper, and it tastes better than the frozen product. It may be that the better taste is a psychological reaction to the fondness for the labour that goes into making filo sheets, but as long as you create with a yummier end result, who cares, right? People will tell you that making filo is hard work. That is not exactly true – making the dough is easy, but making it into paper-thin sheets is where the hard work comes in! However, there may be ways around that, as you will see.

Ingredients:

For the filo:

  • Flour – 2½ cups (you will realise that not all flour is the same – experiment with whatever is available locally to find the best one. Some make the dough rubbery or difficult to stretch)
  • Water – 200 millilitres (may add a smidgen more if required)
  • Oil – 3 tablespoons (may be vegetable or olive)
  • Vinegar – 1 teaspoon
  • Salt – ½ teaspoon
  • For basting:
    • Milk – 75 millilitres
    • Egg – 1
    • Oil – 3 tablespoons

For beef filling:

  • Beef – 250g, ground
  • Onion – 1, medium
  • Tomato paste – 1 tablespoon
  • Oil – 1 tablespoon
  • Cumin – ½ teaspoon
  • Black pepper – ½ teaspoon
  • Salt – ½ teaspoon

For spinach filling:

  • Spinach – 200g (fresh is best, but frozen or canned will do)
  • Onion – 1, medium
  • Oil – 2 tablespoons
  • Salt – ½ teaspoon
  • Black pepper – ¼ teaspoon

For feta filling:

  • Feta cheese – 200g, crumbling
  • Coriander leaves – ¾ cup

For leek filling:

  • Leek – 1 bunch
  • Feta cheese – ½ cup
  • Coriander leaves
  • Oil – 3 tablespoons
  • Salt – 1 teaspoon

For brinjal filling:

  • Brinjal – 2, large
  • Onion – 1, large
  • Oil – 3 tablespoons
  • Paprika – ½ teaspoon
  • Salt – ½ teaspoon

For potato filling:

  • Potato – 3, medium
  • Onion – 1, medium
  • Tomato paste – 1 tablespoon
  • Oil – 2 tablespoons
  • Cumin – ½ teaspoon
  • Black pepper – ½ teaspoon
  • Salt – ½ teaspoon
 çiğ börek  tepsi börek  Sigara Böreği

Preparation time:

Filo: 200 minutes (including 120 minutes idling)

Stuffing: 10 minutes

Cooking time:

Stuffing: 10 minutes

Börek: 25 minutes

Serves: 6-8

Process:

Filo:

  • Sieve the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl.
  • Combine the water, oil, and vinegar, and slowly pour the mixture into the mixing bowl along with the flour while mixing.
  • If the dough feels sticky, add a little more flour
  • Knead thoroughly until the result is a nice and soft dough. I estimate it will take about 20 minutes by hand. Some food processors come with an attachment/function for kneading, and this may greatly save your labour.
  • Once the dough is ready, shape it into a ball and lightly brush with oil. Then put the oiled ball in a bowl, cover with a damp cloth (I suppose plastic wrap will do too), and let it sit in a cool and shaded place for about two hours.
  • Whisk the oil, milk, and egg for basting in a glass.
  • Now, you need a large, flat, and dry surface on which you can perhaps sprinkle a little flour. Here comes the tricky part – rolling the filo. One easy way to do this is to use a pasta maker. Cut the ball of dough into chunks of required size and send them through the machine. Make sure the machine is dry and the rollers floured so that the dough does not catch on it. If you are going to make long sheets, help the filo along with your (floured) hand so that it does not fold in on itself.
  • Pasta makers have multiple thickness settings, and you can get some really thin sheets from the good ones. Two points to note for this method: the pasta machine’s output bay is usually only around 12-15 centimetres wide, so if you are planning to make a massive, tray-sized börek, it will be a bit trickier (you can always merge the smaller pieces on your tray eventually). Second, be cautiously ambitious about how thin you want your sheets to be. At maximum thinness setting, the sheets can come out pretty thin, but unless you are experienced at moving around dough, you can easily rip the sheet (no problem, you can just roll the dough back into a ball and try again).
  • For the brave souls who wish to do this by hand, arm yourselves with a rolling-pin. Make sure that it is also floured like the surface upon which you will be working. Remember to take off your jewelry, watches, wrist bands, and such – you do not want your hard work ruined by the filo accidentally catching on them.
  • Take some dough and flatten it out on the floured working area. Then, with a rolling-pin, continue to flatten it until it becomes evenly translucent. Some people flatten the dough until it is almost done and then lift it up on the back of their hands as they would a pizza to stretch it out just a little bit more. Every time I have tried that, the dough has ripped, so I would suggest fidelity to the rolling-pin, especially if you are a beginner.
  • Once a sheet is done, place it away on a large, well-floured surface, usually a tray or a cloth. Baste every third or fourth filo sheet with the basting mixture. Keep adding sheets of filo until the dough runs out. You should aim for about 14 sheets, but there is no hard and fast rule about this – just make sure it is not two sheets or two score!

You can make filo sheets in advance and store in the freezer. Just take them out when you need them, allow to thaw, and voilà!

Beef stuffing:

  • Place the oil and ground beef in a pan and heat until the meat changes colour.
  • Chop the onion finely and add it to the meat; sauté until the onions turn brown.
  • Add the tomato paste and salt.
  • Cook over a low to medium flame for 5-7 minutes; keep stirring.
  • Sprinkle the pepper and cumin and mix thoroughly.

Spinach stuffing:

  • Wash the spinach and onion and chop finely. If you are using canned spinach, drain the spinach and rinse.
  • Put the onions and oil in a pan and sauté until the onions are brown.
  • Add the spinach and salt and cook on a low to medium flame for about eight to ten minutes. Put a lid on the pan but stir occasionally.
  • Add the pepper at the end and stir it in.

Feta stuffing:

  • Put the feta cheese and the coriander leaves in a bowl and mix them.

Leek stuffing:

  • Wash and drain the leek, and then cut the them lengthwise and chop thinly.
  • Sauté the leek in a pan with oil and salt on a medium flame for about eight minutes.
  • Take the pan off the flame, add the coriander leaves and feta cheese; mix thoroughly.

Brinjal stuffing:

  • Wash and peel the brinjal; chop the onions finely.
  • In a pan, sauté the onions with the oil on a low to medium flame.
  • Chop the brinjals finely and add into the pan.
  • Add paprika and salt.
  • Cook and stir until the brinjals are soft and tender; this should take approximately ten minutes.

Potato stuffing:

  • Boil the potatoes, peel them, and mash them. Chop the onions finely.
  • Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions; sauté on a low to medium flame until golden brown.
  • Add the potatoes, tomato paste, and salt; Cook for five minutes on a low to medium flame; stir occasionally.
  • Sprinkle the cumin and pepper into the pan and mix thoroughly.

Other stuffing:

  • Some of my friends make börek with stuffings as simple as cream cheese or nutella. For this, triangle-shaped böreks are best.
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The börek:

  • [TRIANGLES] If you want your börek to be shaped like triangles, cut the large sheet into squares with sides of about eight centimetres. Then, place the stuffing in the middle and fold the square into a triangle. Pinch the edges shut; if they do not stick easily, moisten your fingertips with a little water.
  • [SWIRLS] If you want to make your börek look a little fancier than mere triangles, you can try making them into swirls. For this, you will need a large starting sheet. Place the stuffing at one edge of a sheet of filo and then wrap the sheet around the stuffing. Roll it once or twice around, and then cut the rolled portion from the rest of the sheet. You will be left with something that looks like a rope. Next, gently curl the ‘rope’ in on itself, the circumference of each curl becoming larger and larger until you are done.
  • Place your finished product onto a greased backing tray. Allow for space between each börek as it may expand while baking. Preheat the oven to about 220°C.
  • Baste the börek with a mixture of egg and butter or olive oil. Bake the börek for about 10 minutes and then pull it out and baste again. Put the börek in for 10 more minutes or until golden brown.
  • Once done, pull out of the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes and serve.

Afiyet olsun!

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