I am half Turkish. My father’s parents were born in Turkey and moved to Israel in their adolescence. I grew up on my grandmother’s Jewish-Turkish cooking, and it remains a prominent part in my present identity. In the seventh grade, kids in Israel are required to research their family’s background, and present it in some form. My research was about the culinary heritage of Jews in Turkey and the Balkans.
Spinach has a somewhat sacred place at my grandma’s house. It was always promoted as very healthy and tasty. Meals received a place of honor on the table if they contained spinach. It was the trump card of any occasion, a magic ingredient mentioned to get everyone excited.
To mitigate any chance that any one of the grandchildren will grow not to like spinach, we were all brainwashed with videotapes of Popeye The Sailor Man since early age. However, I can’t say I’m not pleased with the results.
Bourekas (or Börek in Trukish, as Wikipedia tells me) is a kind of pastry (usually salty) made with either puff pastry or Phyllo. It is very popular in Israel and is found everywhere, either in supermarkets or special bourekas bakeries. Popular fillings are cheese, potatoes, spinach, mushrooms and pizza sauce. My grandma still makes bourekas herself, mostly filled with ground beef, or an eggplant based mixture.
Anyone with some baking experience must have heard about how hard and time consuming is the process of making puff pastry. It is usually dismissed as something not worth the effort because it can be bought frozen. I must debunk that myth. Yes, it’s not the most trivial thing to make, and yes, it does take time, but it’s far easier than many other things I tried before. Many other things that people with some kitchen milage tackle without much hesitation, while they still won’t try to make puff pastry.
I guess store-bough puff pastry is good and easy to use, and that’s perfectly fine. I’d still recommend trying it out yourself at least once. It cost me one third of the price of frozen pastry, and it didn’t take longer than the defrosting time.
I started taking pictures of the dough making process, but then I realized that the recipe I used had better pictures than what I could provide. It’s in French, but it’s really all about the technique, and the pictures describe it very well.
Oh, and if it wasn’t clear by now, I was making Spinach Bourekas, though that wasn’t the only goal that puff pastry was meant to achieve… (more on that soon…)
A key ingredient in bourekas-making is what we refer to as Bulgarian Cheese in Israel. Wikipedia told me it’s also called Sirene, and I guess in Bulgaria they just call it “Cheese”. It’s a salty white cheese, similar to Feta yet different in taste and texture. It is the most common filling for bourekas, though Feta would work very well too, and even Ricotta when aiming for a sweeter taste.
I made my filling by mixing steamed spinach, bulgarian cheese, kashkaval, and an egg, with a ratio of roughly the same volume of each item.
I then experimented with three different shapes: triangular, “snail”, and “square” (rolled like pain au chocolat). The bourekas were then brushed with egg and sprinkled with sesame.
Ten to fifteen minutes in the oven and they were ready. The triangles were very crispy and flaky, the snail was softer, had more filling and was moister inside. The square one received neither of the benefits of the other shapes and was mediocre.
It was a great breakfast and I was happy with the success of the puff pastry. Looking at those pictures I am now hungry again…