I’m crazy about middle eastern and mediterranean flatbread. I’m even happier when they’ve been stuffed with a surprise or two. Eight or nine years ago, on one of our vacations in Greece, we took a quick side trip to Turkey. From our island of Lesvos it’s only a short ferry ride away. Not to segue from this delightful recipe but if you should ever have the opportunity to take a ferry outside of the continental US you ought to take it. Ferry rides are a wonderful way to really see how your temporary neighbors live. On our way to Turkey the boat was filled with people, of course, and cars. Lots of cars. But on the return trip the cars were gone and in their place were refrigerators, patio furniture, a rainbow of comforter sets all in their clear, plastic storage bags. Pallets of fruits and bundled up cardboard boxes as far as the eye could see. Truly, it’s a great way to see a little slice of local life. Anyway, after a few hours on the water we safely arrived and disembarked. We had been told there was a “Grand Bazaar” and we took off to find it. Just steps before us the bazaar opened up to a beehive of activity with children running, some playing, some on urgent errands, shopkeepers hawking their wares from their stalls and a colorful topping of headscarves on the women shopping for their family’s lunch and dinner. The cacophony of sounds was exhilarating; music blaring, people yelling at the top of their lungs, dogs barking and always the call to prayer over loudspeakers. It was great! We walked a while and stumbled across a table where a man and a woman were selling borek, the ubiquitous Turkish street food.
Borek is a thin, thin round sheet of dough or flatbread that is stuffed with a combination of greens and cheese or meat, any concoction you wish. The filling is place in the middle of the dough, pinched closed and tossed onto something that looks like a convex steel drum or upside down wok griddle. The borek blisters to a gorgeous golden brown on the outside while the filling cooks on the inside. Different than our’s here in the States; often they are folded when finished then wrapped in wax or parchment paper. The corners become chewy while the flat outside bubbles up to a crispy flavor-fest.
The dough requires no yeast or sugar, it’s just flour, salt and water. The resting time is blessedly short so if you feel like rattling around the kitchen on a Friday night after a couple of glasses of wine and still have dinner ready in and hour or so you can. And think of the fillings…good gracious! The combinations are limitless. I’ve made the classic spinach and feta but tonight I’m also preparing potato and onion with a little Aleppo red pepper flakes added. Borek are so gorgeous and easy, not to mention forgiving. The secret, if there is one, is to let the dough rest sufficiently and then take your time rolling it out super thin. I mean SUPER thin. Perfect for a picnic…a ballgame…or under a tree, downtown, with the one you love. It’s pretty sexy food. Yeah. I think you’ll really like it. Just do yourself a favor and, if you decide to throw them together, resist the temptation of leaving the dough too thick and, also, try not to overload the borek with your filling. They’re supposed to be flat. To that, let me add, if your filling is spinach and feta, you can heap on the spinach as it will wilt to next to nothing as they cook. But if you go with potato or ground meat scatter with a light hand. This recipe comes from the book entitled “Savory Baking from the Mediterranean” written by Anissa Helou. Not only is this recipe brilliant but so is the book. I hope you enjoy it. That’s what it’s all about!
Borek, stuffed Turkish flatbread
For the dough:
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and shaping
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup warm water
For the filling:
- 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, PLEASE use a good quality feta and crumble it yourself
- 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 2 1/2 cups fresh spinach, finely shredded (I use more…about two large handfuls before shredding)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Gradually add just over 1/3 cup warm water to the well, bringing in the flour as you go along. Knead to make a rough ball of dough.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead for three minutes. Invert the bowl over the dough and let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Knead the dough for about 2-3 minutes more to make a smooth, firm dough.
- Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the cheese and parsley.
- Sprinkle a work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll out a ball of dough to a circle about 12 inches in diameter, lightly sprinkling with flour every now and then. (I have to tell you. I had a hard time with that. Mine were only about 9 or 10 inches in diameter but they came out beautifully.) Sprinkle a quarter of the spinach over half the dough. Cover the spinach with a quarter of the cheese mixture. Fold the dough over the fillings to make a half circle. Prepare the remaining boreks in the same way. Heat a nonstick griddle or frying pan over medium heat. Transfer the boreks, one or two at a time, to the hot griddle or pan and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, until lightly crisp and golden. Transfer to a serving plate and brush lightly with melted butter. Serve immediately. (I cut mine in half before serving. The boreks are easier to handle and look prettier.)