Turks, rather like most of the world, like taking the credit for the origins of the dishes they serve. They’re not always right, of course – given Turkey’s rich history many of their most beloved dishes are in fact adaptions of dishes from elsewhere. But when it comes to börek, Turks are right to be proud.
Börek is thought to have first appeared in Anatolia before spreading far and wide across the Ottoman empire during the height: you’ll find many Eastern Europeans and even people from Middle Eastern countries being just as proud of their börek as Turks are of theirs. And, of course, more recently it has become a firm favourite among many far beyond Ottoman imperial lands.
What distinguishes börek from many other similar pastries is the use of yufka, thin sheets of baked wheat dough. Few make these at home, but in Turkey, at least until recently, you could buy it freshly made from the yufkacı on the corner. In Balat there’s a yufkacı at the weekly market, though these days most people get it from a supermarket or one of the many cheese shops or delis that sell packaged varieties.
Yufka is not generally available outside Turkey, but filo pastry makes an excellent substitute. Filo pastry is much thinner than yufka, so if using filo I always use double layers. In this recipe I’ve used filo pastry, but if using yufka, use one at a time and cut each yufka into four quarters. Add the filling along the rounded edge and then roll up from the long end towards the centre. Otherwise, follow steps as normal below.
Börek of course comes in many varieties: The standard tray varieties which are soft in the middle and slightly browned on top. The cigar börek, completely crispy, almost like a thin spring roll. The amulette börek, triangular and pillow-like: fluffy on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside, not unlike samosa. And the most beautiful of them all: the rose börek.
Rose börek, or gül böreği if you’re in Turkey, should be a little flaky but hold together well. It should not be completely crispy, but not wet either. Luckily, it’s nowhere near as difficult to achieve as it may sound.
You can vary the filling according to taste, but I find rose börek is the perfect vehicle for a potato filling. This recipe is for a fairly basic, though plenty tasty, variety. Feel free to pimp it with some feta cheese, or by varying the herbs, or adding some spices. Personally, I find that on this occasion, simplicity rules.
Börek can be eaten at any time and virtually at any occasion: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack – and it’s perfect for a packed lunch if you’re road tripping or travelling. If you’re serving börek as one of your main mails, serve a substantial salad on the side and, if you feel like it, a simple green leaf salad. Yields 10-12 böreks, depending on how generous you are with the filling.
- 4 medium potatoes (350-400 g), peeled and cut into chunks (use the same variety you would use for mashed potatoes)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 50 ml milk (I use whole milk)
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 40 g (150 ml) finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tsp pul biber or 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or chili flakes (optional)
- salt and pepper
- 200 ml milk (I use whole milk)
- 50 ml olive oil
- 20-24 sheets of filo pastry
- 1 egg yolk, lightly whisked with a few drops of water
- 1-2 tsp nigella seeds or sesame seeds (or a mixture of the two)
- Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water until soft (or use left-over potatoes). Drain and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C.
- Fry the onion in 2 tbsp olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan on medium heat until soft and translucent but not browned, 10-12 minutes. Add the potatoes and mash with a fork. Transfer to a bowl and add 50 ml milk, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, flat-leaf parsley and pul biber (if using). Stir until combined and season.
- Whisk the 200 ml milk and 50 ml olive oil together in a bowl.
- Make plenty of space on your kitchen counter and put baking parchment on two baking sheets (you may need just one, depending on how many böreks you end up with). Open the packet of filo pastry and cover with a damp cloth to avoid the pastry from drying out (it can dry out pretty quickly).
- Take two sheets of filo pastry and put on the kitchen counter (I usually do this on a baking parchments to avoid the filo sticking to the counter). Brush the whole of the top side of the pastry with the milk/oil mixture (c. 1.5-2 tbsp). Add about 2 tbsp of the filling in a thin strip 1-2 cm from the top. Leave the same distance to the left and a little more to the right (3-4 cm). If you’ve not made it before, you’ll need less filling than you think. Roll up from the end where you put the filling until you have a long sausage; brush a little extra milk/oil mixture at the end to seal if needed. Swirl the börek sausage into a rose/swirl shape, making sure to keep the end with 3-4 cm clearance out (i.e. the left hand side should be in the middle of the rose, the right hand side should finish on the outside). Flatten the end with your fingers and put underneath the börek rose to seal. Set aside on the baking parchment.
- Repeat until you’ve got no filling left. If you run out of the milk/oil mixture, just make a small amount extra, using a ratio of 4 parts milk 1 part olive oil.
- Brush the rose böreks first with the milk/oil mixture until the top and sides are moist, then with the egg yolk. Sprinkle nigella seeds or sesame seeds on top.
- Bake the börek until golden and cooked through, 30-40 minutes. If you need to use both trays, swap places after 20-25 minutes to ensure they are evenly browned. If you managed to fit them all onto the same tray, just put it in the middle of the oven.
- Leave the böreks to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving warm (but not hot) or at room temperature.
- If you love cheese, add 75 g crumbled feta cheese to the filling.
- The filling can be prepared the day before and stored in the fridge.
- Börek keeps well for 2-3 days stored in an air-tight container in the fridge. Reheat in a non-stick pan on medium/low heat to regain crispyness.