Börek with a Celtic Twist

25 February 2021

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)

Filo Pastry

  • 300 g all-purpose flour
  • 100 ml olive oil
  • 20 ml white wine vinegar 
  • 150 ml warm water

Leek Filling

  • 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

Method

  • 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.  

Grassy Green Samosas

19 September 2019

This time round we’ve filled some filo pastry triangles with some fresh leafy greens. Inspired by Central Asia’s kok samsa, a small, deep-fried pie filled stuffed with chopped up greens, our take on this popular street snack mixes some peppery radish leaves with some tart sorrel-like leaves, leek and carrot.

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A grassy, leafy green samosa

A few weeks ago, we left Datça’s weekly market laden down with a selection of leafy greens – called ot (grass) in Turkish, including a bunch of radishes complete with leaves and an unidentified bunch of greens with a tart, lemony taste.

Further inspired by Turkey’s otlu pide and otlu börek, we chopped up a leek and fried it in olive oil and then mixed in some grated carrot before adding the leafy greens and spices. To make these pies you can use any leafy greens – Swiss chard and spinach also work well here.

Then we wrapped the filling in filo pastry, which can be bought from your local supermarket or Middle Eastern grocery shop – or you can try and make your own – here’s some tips on how to do it.

Ingredients (makes 6-8 samosas)

  • 12 sheets of filo pastry (approx 15 cm x 15 cm)
  • One leek
  • One carrot
  • One bunch each of sorrel and  radish leaves (use spinach and/or Swiss chard if you can’t find these)
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • One teaspoon dried thyme
  • One teaspoon sumac
  • One teaspoon cumin
  • Sprinkling of nigella seeds

Method 

  1. To make the filling, heat 25 ml olive oil in a heavy-based pan and cook the chopped leek over a medium heat until translucent. Add the grated carrot and cook for five minutes, stirring regularly. Add the herbs and spices and the roughly chopped greens and cook until the leaves are wilting.
  2. Place a layer of filo pastry on a flat surface dusted with flour. Brush with olive oil and add another sheet, brush with oil and then add one more layer. Cut the layers of filo into two triangles along the diagonal.
  3. Place a generous dollop of the filling in the middle of each triangle. Fold the edges of pastry over, brushing with more oil, to create a triangle-shaped pie like a samosa. Repeat the process until all the filling is used up.
  4. Place the pies on a greased baking tray and brush with more oil and sprinkle nigella seeds over them. Place the tray into a pre-heated oven and bake at 200 °C  (gas mark 6) for 30 minutes or until the pies are golden brown in colour. Serve straight away with a salad of your choice.

Eating Albania

28 June 2018

Greetings from Albania, where, among other things, KCC has been on the trail of the byrek, the pie that fuels the Balkans.

From the capital Tirana to the resorts of the south via mountain strongholds such as Berat, we’ve tracked down some fine examples of this savoury pie. But more on this next time, as we haven’t yet had time to recreate this culinary delight at KCC H.Q.

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KCC’S Albanian feast

This time round we’ll have a look at some great salads that we’ve encountered on our travels. While in Tirana we visited a restaurant called Mullixhiu which cooks up some great dishes with organic Albanian ingredients.
At this time of year, the full array of fruit and vegetables are coming into season and we had a great salad made from thinly sliced courgettes and plums with a courgette flower sauce and another featuring beetroot, spinach and scattered fragments of dried filo pastry.
We’ve made a salad based on the first one that includes veggies and fruit: courgettes, pears, green peppers and capers served on a bed of lettuce to be precise.

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Waiting for a byrek to come along in Ksamil, Albania

With a spinach byrek sourced from one of the many byrektore shops in Ksamil a small resort on the Albanian Riviera, a tomato, pepper and onion salad, and some olives and white cheese, here’s our first Albanian feast.

Ingredients (serves 4)

One medium-sized courgette

One small pear

Two green peppers

One lettuce

Two juicy medium-sized tomatoes

One small red onion

A sprinkling of capers

Method

The key to the courgette salad is to make it just before eating – don’t let it sit around for too long. As for the tomato salad, make this one first and allow the flavours to mingle – the longer, the better.

Roughly chop the tomato and mix in a bowl with thin slices of red onion and green pepper. Set aside and let the flavours mix together while you make the courgette salad.

Shred the lettuce and line a serving bowl with it. Thinly slice the pepper and then the pear. Next slice the courgette as thinly as you can and then sprinkle the capers over the top. Add your preferred salad dressing and that’s it – you’re ready to go!

 

 

Taking the Lor into Your Own Hands

15 September 2016

This week on Knidos Cookery Club we’ll be looking at  lor – Turkey’s answer to ricotta cheese. Drier than its Italian cousin,  lor is made from whey after it has been separated from the curd. It’s used in Turkish dishes such as börek or mixed with herbs and nigella seeds as part of a breakfast spread.

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Lor stuffed aubergine slices in a spicy tomato sauce

It’s peak season for aubergines at the moment and we found that this adaptable vegetable paired excellently with lor cheese. We stuffed some slices of aubergine with the cheese, adding some spinach or sorrel leaves to the parcels to give the lor a bit more oomph. The dish was finished off by submerging the aubergine wraps in a spicy, gingery tomato sauce.

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Line up the aubergine slices, add a sorrel leaf and a dollop of lor, then roll

For some reason, this combination of aubergine, white cheese and tomato just works so well.

If you’re having trouble sourcing the lor cheese, it’s dead easy to make yourself from milk or yogurt – here’s some easy-to-follow instructions from Binnur’s Turkish Cookbook.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

Two large aubergines cut lengthways into 0.5 cm thick slices (this should yield 8-10 slices)

250 g  lor cheese (or ricotta)

Eight-ten sorrel or spinach leaves (one for each aubergine slice)

500 g tomatoes

One medium-sized onion

One or two garlic cloves

3 cm fresh ginger

One teaspoon paprika

One teaspoon chili flakes

One teaspoon turmeric

50 ml olive oil

Method

Brush the aubergine slices on both sides with olive oil, sprinkle some salt and black pepper over the slices and bake for 20 minutes or until turning a golden-brown colour in an oven pre-heated to 220°C or gas mark 7.

While the slices are cooking, prepare the sauce. Heat a glug of olive oil in a frying pan and add the finely chopped onion to the pan along with the minced garlic and ginger.

Cook over a medium heat for ten minutes then stir in the paprika, chili flakes and turmeric. Chop the tomatoes or grate them and pour into the mix. Cook for twenty minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced by about half.

Allow the aubergine slices to cool and then make the wraps – put a sorrel or spinach leaf, with the stem removed, and a dollop of lor in the middle of the slice and roll it up.

Pour the sauce into a baking dish and place the aubergine parcels in the spicy sauce. Bake in the oven at 220°C or gas mark 7 for twenty minutes or until the sauce is bubbling.

As usual, serve with a green salad and some crusty bread.