Burekas or borek, Turkish originated savory stuffed pastries, are probably Israel’s most popular snacks. You’ll find them as street food, served in coffee shops, sold by the kilo in bakeries and supermarkets and made at home according to generations-old recipes. Burekas are the favorite staple in any gathering, from high-level cabinet meetings to kindergarten birthday parties and anything in between.
They’re traditionally filled with grated salted hard cheese, spinach, roasted eggplant and meat. Potatoes and mushrooms are also popular in Israel.
The borek was brought to Israel by Sephardim from across the former Ottoman empire. Although the Turkish version is made with yufka, a homemade phyllo dough that is brushed with olive oil or butter between its thin layers, the Sephardi borek is usually prepared with an easy to handle simple hand-kneaded dough. This may be due to the fact that the Sephardim brought the empanada making technique with them after being expelled from Spain in 1492, and their crust is similar to the empanada crust.
To imitate the flaky, multi-layered yufka or phyllo dough and to spare the hard work of brushing each layer with fat, Israelis turned to puff pastry for their burekas. I find this is a good solution, mainly for borek pies but not a great way to make individual pastries (unless of course, it is homemade puff pastry, made with butter). Yufka is an excellent choice, but it’s available only in Middle Eastern markets. The supermarket type phyllo is terrible, and tastes, in my opinion, more like paper than anything you’ll want to eat (yes, you brush it with butter, and then it tastes like a buttered piece of paper).
This version for borek pie is easy to make and tastes and looks wonderful. Since puff pastry is always best baked straight from the freezer (it puffs up nicer this way), I always make a couple of pies and keep one in the freezer for a last minute dinner.
Serve with a glass of cold kefir on the side.
Swiss chard, sumac and feta spanakopita
Work with very cold puff pastry. Take it out of the fridge only at the last minute when you’re ready to roll the pie.
It’s best to start baking puff pastry when it’s frozen and on a medium heat. This way the layers rise higher.
Yields 11” pie
8-10 large Swiss chard leave, green parts only
¼ cup olive oil
4 green onions, chopped
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons sumac
3 eggs, divided
½ lb. feta, crumbled
Flour for dusting
1.1 lb. puff pastry, thawed in the fridge overnight
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds (or more of the regular)
1. Roughly chop Swiss chard leaves (green part only) and steam in a large pot with 4 cups boiling salted water until tender (about 10 minutes). Strain, let cool in a colander and squeeze out the water using your hands. Put in a large bowl.
2. Put olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat and sauté green onions, parsley and jalapeño for 5 minutes. Add to the Swiss chard together with the sumac, 2 eggs and feta and mix gently.
3. Line a 11” spring form with a parchment paper by removing the base, lining it with a square of parchment paper, and attaching the base to the sides with the parchment paper sticking out the sides.
4. Lightly dust a working surface with flour. Take the puff pastry out of the fridge. If your puff pastry is divided into two square sheets, attach them to each other to create a long rectangular sheet. You want to get a 10” by 20” sheet. You can also use a lightly dusted rolling pin to roll your dough into a rectangular. Using a knife, divide the rectangular sheet into two 5” by 20” long sheets and leave them next to each other.
5. Spread half the filling lengthwise in the center of each sheet. Fold the dough to cover the filling, making sure the seam is closed tight. Repeat with the second sheet.
6. To create the swirl pie, starting with the first roll, transfer it to the pan along its sides. Continue with the second roll to continue the swirl shape to the center of the pan. Attach the two rolls where they connect.
7. Lightly beat one egg and brush the surface of the pie. Sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds in a swirl design. Cover the pan with double plastic wrap and freeze for one hour and up to a month.
8. Oven to 325 degrees. Remove pie from freezer. Remove pie from spring pan and place with the parchment paper on a large baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, until the top is golden-brown and the pie is cooked through. Wait for 15 minutes before serving.