Phyllo cheese-and-potato triangles
Phyllo cheese-and-potato triangles. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Doram Gaunt
Onion and lentil stuffing. Photo by Doram Gaunt
Bloomberg
Orange-flavored pumpkin. Photo by Bloomberg

This recipe is from Haaretz's archives.

The word "bourekas" comes from the Turkish word boerek, which is a general term for filled dough that is either baked, cooked or fried. The Turkish boerek is usually prepared from fresh and pliant phyllo dough known as yufka. The Turkish cook buys her yufka together with her other staples; there's no reason in the world to make it at home. Ready-made, it's fresh, very cheap, and there's no greater pleasure than working with it. If you get to Istanbul, notice the stands selling fresh yufka everywhere in the markets. Buy some, for goodness' sake, and bring it home. In Turkey you'll also find ravioli-like turnovers of crisp dough, called manti, that are cooked in water.

But there's nothing like phyllo: In the Sephardic communities in the U.S. and Europe, a wide-ranging culinary tradition has developed around frozen and dry phyllo dough (exactly like that made by Shahaf), in place of the fresh but rare yufka. No other type of dough will give you the same thinness and crispness. By the way, Shahaf tried producing chilled phyllo dough for the wholesale market, and stopped.

Golden rules:


1. The first golden rule says, simply, that no appliance can replace a pair of hands. Therefore, there are a lot of golden sub-rules for saving time, cleanup and extra work. The food processor does a great job of mixing the filling, but it can't fill the dough. In short, the tricks that have been passed down from generation to generation in my husband's family are very important. Therefore, please read this section carefully.

2. Cooks who love having the kitchen to themselves should know that it's more fun to make these little filled pastries when family members and friends are on the assembly line too. Welcome them.

3. You can do all the preparations on the day your cleaning person comes, partially bake the triangles, and finish the baking on Saturday afternoon.

4. Bourekas require a large, clean, empty work area with no hindrances. The work area will not get dirty. An empty, shining clean table is the ideal place to prepare them, which you can do sitting down, as mentioned, with family and friends. Afterward, crumbs are cleaned away with a sweep of the hand.

5. Phyllo dough tends to break, especially if it isn't fresh. It's no disaster if it does, but when making your purchase try to find the dough with the most recent manufacturing date or latest expiration date.

6. Oil should be applied with a wide brush, which you can buy in a houseware store. It can be washed in the dishwasher, but afterward it should be "plucked" gently to rid it of any fibers that have come loose. You can also buy a good pastry brush, of course, in one of the specialty shops.

7. To save oil, don't brush all the dough but only part of it, as described in the recipe for phyllo cheese triangles.

8. It's worthwhile making the triangles right in the flat oven pan, or in a wide plastic container suitable for this purpose.

9. People in the know recommend covering the strips of dough with a damp cloth, so they don't dry out. I work without one and don't see the need, unless the kitchen is very hot. But if you feel better doing this, why not? Wet a clean kitchen towel, wring it out and spread it above or below the strips of dough.

Phyllo cheese and potato

Figure on one leaf of phyllo dough for every three bourekas. It's not worth making less than 20, even if you are working alone. Make them and freeze them.

First prepare the filling or fillings, and only then stretch out the strips of dough. The following recipe makes 30 bourekas.

Ingredients:

10 frozen phyllo leaves, defrosted; or fresh phyllo leaves
4 long, narrow potatoes
200 g feta or Bulgarian cheese (fat content doesn't matter)
150 g kashkaval cheese
salt, black pepper (a generous amount)
2 eggs
1 tsp. sugar
Optional: a little dill or chopped parsley, and one light green pepper, grilled, peeled, and chopped into small pieces
1 egg
2 tbsp. water
pinch of salt
sesame seeds for garnish

Directions:

1. Cook the potatoes and peel them. You can do this the day before.

2. Run the potatoes and the cheese through your food processor, using the blade for grating. Pieces of potato and cheese will end up on the cover. So what? Add them to the bowl.

3. Mix the rest of the filling ingredients. You can use a spoon, or the plastic spatula that comes with your food processor.

4. Set the filling aside in the refrigerator, and prepare the dough. Lay the phyllo leaves one on top of the other and cut all of them together into three long strips of equal size.

5. Dip the brush into 1 tbsp. oil and brush your work space: a giant cutting board or a plastic tray.

6. Separate the strips and place some of them on the work space.

7. Place two heaped spoonfuls of the filling in the corner of the strip.

8. Fold over the corner with the filling in it, forming a kind of triangle. Cut it along the new non-folded edge that is created.

9. Brush the remaining strip with a little oil, and keep folding and cutting. You will automatically get triangles. If the dough falls apart a little or if a bit extra sticks out of the triangle, tuck it in. It doesn't matter.

10. Repeat steps 7-9 for the rest of the triangles. Everything up to this point can be done ahead of time; the triangles will keep for up to two days in the refrigerator.

11. Place the triangles in a lightly oiled oven pan. Mix the egg, the water and the salt and brush the triangles. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

12. Bake in a pre-heated 180 degree Celcius oven for 35-40 minutes until the bourekas are deep golden hue with flecks of black.

Onion and lentil stuffing

Ingredients:

2 cups of brown lentils
3 lge. onions
salt and pepper
1 tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup oil
1 lge. potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
generous handful of parsley
optional: chopped dill

Directions:

1. Wash the lentils well, cover them in boiling water and soak for about half an hour.

2. Replace the water with new boiling water, salted, and cook in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes, or in a tightly covered pot for 20 minutes. The lentils should be soft and puffy.

3. Meanwhile, peel and cut the onions. Saute them in the oil, salt, pepper, sugar and parsley.

4. Peel and cut the potatoes into small cubes. Add to the onion mixture and cook for another five minutes.

5. Strain and add the lentils to the mixture, together with 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Mix and cook for another five minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Seasoning for the lentil filling: Use a pinch of curry, turmeric, cumin, nutmeg or hot red pepper - or all of these.

Orange-flavored pumpkin

On holidays, a tray of hot crispy pumpkin pastries, studded with pieces of roasted pistachio, is passed around before the guests sit down to dinner.

Ingredients:

1/2 kg peeled pumpkin, chopped
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup roasted pistachios, chopped in a food processor
3 cups orange marmalade
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of ground allspice
pinch of ground ginger
salt
30 g butter

Directions:

1. Place the pieces of pumpkin in a pot; add 2 cups of boiling water and a generous pinch of cooking salt. Cover and cook 10-15 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft. Drain and mash (by hand, not in the food processor!).

2. Return the pumpkin, with all the other filling ingredients, to the pot together with the butter, but reserve 1/4 cup pistachios to sprinkle on top of the triangles.

3. Cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes. For a thicker filling, transfer to another container and cool in the refrigerator.

4. Prepare the triangles as in the cheese filling recipe. But instead of sesame seeds, or together with them, sprinkle with pistachios.
Daring pumpkin filling: At step 2, add two cardamom seeds and/or a little ground curry and/or a little hawayej and/or a little baharat mix, and/or a bit of ground cloves, and/or grated lemon rind and - how could we forget - ginger. And some cumin for those who like it.