With the feast of St David, the patron saint of Wales, coming up on 1 March, we’re cooking with leeks. We’ll be combining this creamy-tasting cousin of the onion, which is one of the symbols of this country with a dragon on its flag, with crumbly white cheese in layers of filo pastry to give a Celtic twist to Turkey’s popular anytime snack – the börek.
Börek consists of thin sheets of pastry stuffed with cheese or vegetables. It is found in all corners of Turkey and alongside the more familiar fillings of white cheese, spinach or potato, it’s worth looking out for the lesser-spotted leek filled version, known as pırasalı börek in Turkish.
The leek is thought to have been adopted as a symbol by the Welsh in the 7th century when soldiers, fighting off an invasion by Saxons from the east, were advised to wear leeks in their helmets in order to distinguish the home fighters from the enemy. The battle was won and the leek is still worn by people in Wales to this day. Expect to see many being sported this Saturday in the run up to St David’s Day as Wales seek to repel more invaders from the east in the form of England’s rugby team.
To celebrate the occasion we’ve filled our börek with a riff on the Glamorgan sausage, a vegetarian, breadcrumb-covered speciality of south Wales made from leek and Caerphilly cheese. We also knocked up our own sheets of filo as Ramstore, the purveyor of all things Turkish in Kazakhstan, has shut its doors, a victim of the pandemic. This means that yufka, as the Turks call filo, is no longer easy to find in Almaty.
Ingredients (makes 4 böreks)
300 g all-purpose flour
100 ml olive oil
20 ml white wine vinegar
150 ml warm water
One leek (approx. 250 g)
150 g crumbly white cheese
One teaspoon caraway seeds
One teaspoon of nigella, sesame or poppy seeds
50 ml olive oil
Make the filo pastry first. Combine the sieved flour with olive oil and white wine vinegar. Slowly add the water a bit at a time and mix it all together with a wooden spoon until the dough forms into a smooth ball. Knead for 10 minutes on a lightly-floured surface to make the dough more stretchy. Separate into eight golf-ball sized pieces. Lightly coat with olive oil and leave for an hour covered in clingfilm at room temperature.
For the leek filling, heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and add the caraway seeds. Clean the leek thoroughly and roughly chop it into 0.5 cm rounds. Use all the leek, including the green bits, discarding the rough tops of the leaves. Add to the pan and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes stirring occasionally. When the leek has softened, turn off the heat and grate in the white cheese and combine well.
Roll out the filo sheets as thinly as you can using a rolling pin or the palm of your hand. It should be around 15 cm by 20 cm and become clear in places. Brush one sheet with olive oil and then place another on top. Add a quarter of the leek the filling along the shorter edge. Roll up the mixture into a cigar shape and tuck in the edges. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle nigella, sesame or poppy seeds (or all three) over the börek and cook for 20 minutes at 200 c, until they turn a golden-brown colour. Serve on its own or with a green salad or roasted root vegetables.
With the Lunar New Year ushering in the Year of the Ox on 12 February, we’re turning our attention to the world of noodles – a dish eaten at this time of the year across Asia to bring health and prosperity in the months ahead.
In southern China, longevity noodles symbolise a long life and they are traditionally made from a single, long noodle strand. In Japan, a dish usually eaten on the eve of the new year is Toshikoshi Soba, which translates as ‘year crossing buckwheat noodle’.
According to the Japan Talk website, “the long shape of the noodle symbolises the crossing from one year to the next” and as the “noodles are easily cut, they symbolise letting go of the regrets of the past year.” As we prepare to enter the Year of the Ox, there are plenty of regrets built up from the past crazy year of the COVID-19 pandemic that need leaving behind, so soba noodles it is!
We’re always up for a challenge here on KCC so we decided to try and make the noodles from scratch. After a plethora of almost perfect noodle posts on social media, including this one from Saida Mirziyoyeva, the Uzbek president’s daughter, making laghman – what could be easier…
Hmm, it turns out that making these buckwheat noodles wasn’t so easy as it looked. After some trial and error, we mixed the buckwheat flour with some 00 (pizza) grade wheat flour and came up with a passable noodle.
Whilst not doing much on the longevity stakes, our noodles proved easy to cut, ensuring that all those regrets were left securely in the past!
Ingredients (for 4 servings)
160 g buckwheat flour
40 g 00 (pizza) grade wheat flour
200 ml water
10 ml olive oil
Sieve the flours together in a large bowl and then add the olive oil and mix with a wooden spoon. Slowly add the water and mix until the dough starts to come together (You might not need all the water – don’t add too much as you don’t want the dough to get too sloppy).
Use your hands to mould the dough into a round shape and then knead it on a lightly-floured surface for 10-15 minutes. This will release the gluten in the wheat flour and help give the dough some elasticity. Wrap with clingfilm and leave to stand at room temperature for an hour.
Break off small pieces of dough and roll between your palms and then on a lightly-floured surface until you have a noodle around 10-15 cm in length. The first ones turned out quite short, but persevere and you’ll get there – the process got easier the more we rolled. Be careful not to leave any cracks in the noodle as this will cause it to break when cooking.
Cover the noodles with clingfilm and keep in the fridge until needed for cooking. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add salt if you wish, and then add the noodles and boil for up to five minutes – they should be al dente and still have a bit of bite to them.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked noddles into a pan of cold water to remove any starchy residues. Serve in a soup, as part of a stir fry or with a topping of your choice – here’s a mushroom-based topping that we made a couple of years ago that worked well with buckwheat noodles.