Borek – Savory goodness in thin layers of dough

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

With many layers of “yufka”, this dish is a sight to behold. A savory baklava of sorts, börek can be found in every pastry shop across Turkey and is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every household has its own favorite filling whether meat or a mix of vegetables and cheese. Now let’s have a look what börek is and its history.

What is Borek (Börek)?

Börek is made with layers of “yufka”, which is similar to phyllo, and a wide range of fillings. Butter or oil is added in between the layers, which are stacked or rolled into a variety of shapes. Finally, it is given an egg wash and baked in the oven until golden brown. It is common to sprinkle some sesame seeds, cumin or nigella on top, as well.

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The origin

Turks’ ancestors, having long ago been nomadic, baking loaves of leavened bread wasn’t really feasible. Who was going to carry an oven around from pasture to pasture? Flatbread, however, could be baked over the fire. This is the ancestor of “yufka”. The origins of “yufka” date back thousands of years in Asia Minor (1). To this day yufka or phyllo is not really associated with the Turkic peoples of the steppe, as food writer Charles Perry points out: “Westerners sometimes resist the idea of seeing the Turks – that is, the Central Asian nomads speaking Turkish dialects who began invading Anatolia in the 11th century – as having anything to do with the creation of this elegant, sophisticated product of the kitchen. They tend to look instead to the ancient settled populations of the eastern Mediterranean as the originators of filo” (2).
The folk origins of börek speak of an order and recipe of a pre-Ottoman chieftain by the name of Buğra Bey, where the word “büğrek” means “belonging to Buğra Bey”.
Aside from the legend, the first mention of börek is in the 13th century “Divan-ı Kebir” while the first recipes date back to 14th century Chinese sources. One of these was a dietary manual by a Turkic physician presented to the emperor of China in 1330. This recipe was filled with mutton, sheep’s fat, leeks and spices (3).
The Ottoman Empire saw börek grow and diversify into the many types and forms we see today, but even peasants had their own börek. One of the first recipes for meat börek recipe comes from the western province Bursa in 1502, mentioned in a rule book of all places. Other sources from the 16th century include börek filled with spinach and cheese. The variety of fillings and shapes only increased with the passing centuries (4).
With the reign of the Ottomans the börek culture spread all over the continents and many cultures to this day have adapted this in their own way. Greek spanakopita is just one of the many examples.

Etymology

As previously mentioned, the legend concerning Buğra Bey is just one of the many theories of the origin of the word. Most likely, however, is that it stems from the Turkish verb “bürmek”, meaning “to roll, twist”. (5) The Greek “boureki” and “bourekaki” are derived from this.

Börek - savory goodness in thin layers of dough

While you can fill your börek any way you like, here is a recipe with spinach.
Servings 15 portions
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 1 hr

Ingredients

  • 5-6 pieces yufka
  • 1/2 kg cheese curd
  • 1 kg spinach
  • 1-2 onions
  • 3 eggs
  • 240 ml milk
  • 220 ml vegetable oil + 70 ml for egg wash
  • sesame, cumin seeds, salt, pepper, olive oil

Instructions

  • First roughly mince the onions and sauté them in olive oil until softened and let them cool. Mix the onions with chopped spinach and cheese and season them with salt and pepper to taste.
  • In a separate bowl, mix the milk, 220 ml of oil and two eggs.
  • Place the yufka sheets in a baking tin and spread the filling in between each layer. Repeat until full. Finish with an egg wash of one egg and 70 ml of sunflower oil. Before baking, cut the börek into pieces. Pour the mineral water over the börek and decorate with sesame and cumin seeds.
  • Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 35-40minutes until golden brown.

Notes

Note: While this recipe uses vegetable oil, you can instead use chunks of butter. Due to the spinach filling, the börek will be on the softer side and hold together well, but if you want to use a different filling, such as minced meat, you should add a raw, grated potato to help hold the filling together. The taste of the potato blends nicely and it prevents the filling from falling out when served.
If you like your börek more on the crispy side, you can use milk instead of mineral water. Softer börek is made with the milky sauce.
 

Bibliography

(1) Priscilla Mary Işın, “Yufka: Food For The Cook’s Imagination” in “Wrapped and Stuffed Foods: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2012”, ed. Mark McWilliams, 2012.
(2) Charles Perry, “The Taste for Layered Bread among Nomadic Turks and the Central Asian Origins of Baklava” in “A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East”, eds. Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper
(3) E.N. Anderson , Paul D. Buell and Charles Perry, “A Soup for the Qan: Chinese Dietary Medicine of the Mongol Era as Seen in Hu Sihui’s Yinshan Zhengyao”, 2000, mentioned in (1).
(4) Deniz Gürsoy, “Tarihin süzgecinde mutfak kültürümüz”, 2013.
(5) Andreas Tietze, “Tarihi ve Etimolojik Türkiye Türkçesi Lugatı”, 2002.
Course: Appetizer

Börek – savory goodness in thin layers of dough

While you can fill your börek any way you like, here is a recipe with spinach.
Servings 15 portions
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 1 hr

Ingredients

  • 5-6 pieces yufka
  • 1/2 kg cheese curd
  • 1 kg spinach
  • 1-2 onions
  • 3 eggs
  • 240 ml milk
  • 220 ml vegetable oil + 70 ml for egg wash
  • sesame, cumin seeds, salt, pepper, olive oil

Instructions

  • First roughly mince the onions and sauté them in olive oil until softened and let them cool. Mix the onions with chopped spinach and cheese and season them with salt and pepper to taste.
  • In a separate bowl, mix the milk, 220 ml of oil and two eggs.
  • Place the yufka sheets in a baking tin and spread the filling in between each layer. Repeat until full. Finish with an egg wash of one egg and 70 ml of sunflower oil. Before baking, cut the börek into pieces. Pour the mineral water over the börek and decorate with sesame and cumin seeds.
  • Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 35-40minutes until golden brown.

Notes

Note: While this recipe uses vegetable oil, you can instead use chunks of butter. Due to the spinach filling, the börek will be on the softer side and hold together well, but if you want to use a different filling, such as minced meat, you should add a raw, grated potato to help hold the filling together. The taste of the potato blends nicely and it prevents the filling from falling out when served.
If you like your börek more on the crispy side, you can use milk instead of mineral water. Softer börek is made with the milky sauce.
 

Bibliography

(1) Priscilla Mary Işın, “Yufka: Food For The Cook’s Imagination” in “Wrapped and Stuffed Foods: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2012”, ed. Mark McWilliams, 2012.
(2) Charles Perry, “The Taste for Layered Bread among Nomadic Turks and the Central Asian Origins of Baklava” in “A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East”, eds. Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper
(3) E.N. Anderson , Paul D. Buell and Charles Perry, “A Soup for the Qan: Chinese Dietary Medicine of the Mongol Era as Seen in Hu Sihui’s Yinshan Zhengyao”, 2000, mentioned in (1).
(4) Deniz Gürsoy, “Tarihin süzgecinde mutfak kültürümüz”, 2013.
(5) Andreas Tietze, “Tarihi ve Etimolojik Türkiye Türkçesi Lugatı”, 2002.
Course: Appetizer
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