Easy Turkish Borek or feta & spinach pie: can easily be vegan
Time: prep. 20 mins
bake. 30 mins
Yields: 4 portion
Having recently returned from Istanbul, I still have in my mouth the taste of Turkish Borek (correctly spelled Börek) that my mother prepared the day before my departure. That is why I wanted to share with you (finally) her recipe, since so many of you have been asking for it for years.
But you know that I am a food history buff, so before the very easy Turkish Borek recipe, I would like to tell you a little about its vicissitudes.
The history of Turkish Borek
Different countries, different boreks!
All Balkan and Middle Eastern and Arab countries have borek with different fillings and cooking and in as many shapes and names.
You can say anything about the Ottomans, but not that they had no taste for good food.
However, hear hear, for once it was not they who invented this delicacy that spread halfway around the world; in fact, recent ethnographic research suggests that borek (or burek) is more likely to have come from the nomadic Turks of Central Asia, before the 7th century.
At that time, the Turks migrated westwards, without looking back, always with their tents ready for their new destination, proud of their choice of life (who knows, maybe my attitude of not wanting to have fixed roots goes back a long way).
The pride of these nomads only wavered in front of one thing: the yummy soft bread, baked in a real oven, encountered along the way.
For there came a day that was clearly important for them, or rather a decisive choice; accustomed to baking their daily (flat) bread by sac*, they soon found themselves at a crossroads: to become permanent settlers for the benefit of a brick oven, a guarantee of spectacular leavening, or to continue living the life of the steppes, sleeping under starry skies and eating yufka (Turkish filo pastry). They chose freedom, provided, however, that they improved their bread recipe; perhaps by stuffing it with filling and creating several layers of yufka, so as to mimic the memory of those delicious, bulky city breads.
And here is the birth of börek or burek, a word derived from the root bur(mak) or twist in English.
A recipe with an ancient history is always preferred by CHE: because truly traditional foods are likely to retain their characteristic sustainability.
Precisely what could a nomadic people stuff their borek with to feed their members? Of course with wild herbs and cheese, made from the milk of their precious animals.
*cast-iron plate with a concave shape, heated by the fire of wood or burning stones; can be packed anywhere, with very little effort and weight; useful for those who have to cover considerable distances on horseback
Ingredients for Turkish borek
300g filo dough or yufka (yufka is very difficult to find but you can easily find filo dough in many supermarkets: they don’t taste like the traditional yufka, but offer a good compromise)
1 heaped tablespoon wholemeal flour
4 tablespoons of evo oil (original recipe calls for more (100ml), but if you don’t want to get extra calories use this quantity)
75ml (approx. 7 tablespoons) sparkling mineral water
100ml (approx. 10 tbsp) milk (or a plant-based milk: I use homemade soy milk, for example)
for brushing the top
1 beaten egg yolk, or milk (or plant-based milk with a pinch of turmeric)
1 tablespoon of evo oil
1 tablespoon of seeds of your choice (black cumin is the best)
for the filling
150g feta (or vegan feta, or tofu; I use homemade tofu with some drops of lemon juice)
500g fresh spinach or (300g frozen)
1 small onion
2 tablespoons of evo oil (the same story, the original recipes requires for more oil)
Let’s start by preparing the filling. After washing the spinach well, cut off the stalks and set them aside: we will begin cooking the spinach from these, as they are more fiber-rich so require a longer cooking time than the leaves.
Take a large pan with a lid; cut the onion into cubes and start cooking it with 1 tablespoon of evo oil on a low heat. As soon as they turn a little pink, add the chopped spinach stalks and close the lid. After about 6-8 minutes you can add the leaves and cook for another 5 minutes; then turn off the heat and leave them to cool. Once at room temperature, crumble the feta or tofu over them.
In another bowl, put 1 heaped tablespoon of wholemeal flour; then pour over the sparkling water, milk (or plant-based drink) and extra virgin olive oil; mix very well to avoid lumps.
Meanwhile, turn the oven on to 180°C.
Take a previously greased baking tray and lay two sheets of phyllo (or filo) dough on it (if you are using classical Turkish yufka please use the half – in this case only one sheet, because it is thicker than the filo sheet); by using a kitchen brush, lightly moisten them with the freshly prepared mixture.
Place about half the sheets on top, treating them as explained before: every two sheets, brush on with the liquid mixture.
Finally, spread the spinach, onion and feta (or tofu) filling evenly over the top: then cover with the other half of the sheets, brushing with oil-water-milk mix every second filo sheet (remember to use only one yufka).
Filo sheets have very low humidity; to prevent the from drying out excessively during preparation, cover the sheets that you are not using at the time, with a damp cloth
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On top of the last sheet, use the brush to spread the beaten egg yolk (or plant-based milk with a pinch of turmeric) and pour the seeds of your choice evenly over it.
For better cooking and also for easier serving, I recommend cutting up the Turkish borek before baking.
Then bake in the oven for about thirty minutes (or until the surface gets a golden look) at 180 degrees.
Turkish borek is delicious and satisfying, but one should not overdo the portions as it is rich in nutrients.
I have suggested this recipe for 4 people, however try to get out two more portions to put in the fridge for the next day.
To avoid hunger pangs, I recommend pairing it with a soup (like this one, or this one), or a rich salad (the purslane salad is fantastic), or a vegetable side dish like Turkish-style Romano beans; and if you are really hungry, why not, a bit of everything!
Enjoy your Turkish borek and good revolution to all