Turkish tray börek with cheese

Simple and delicious recipe for home style börek like you get it in Turkish homes.
Plate stacked with Turkish tray börek on a rose patterned table cloth, seen from eye level
Photo: Bahar Kitapci
Plate stacked with Turkish tray börek on a rose patterned table cloth, seen from eye level
Plate stacked with Turkish tray börek on a rose patterned table cloth, seen from eye level
Photo: Bahar Kitapci
Vidar Bergum

Making classic Turkish börek at home is easy! There are many versions, but this is the one I make most often. Simple to make, and absolutely delicious.

To a Turk, there are few dishes as reminiscent of home as börek. While its exact origins is unclear, the dish is popular throughout the former Ottoman empire and by many considered quintessentially Turkish.

Börek is easy to make at home, and many Turks often do. It’s also a popular snack on the go, as cafes specialising in börek are never far away, wherever in the country you may find yourself.

What is börek?

Börek is a delicious layered pastry made from filo pastry and a filling. Because the pastry is usually bought ready made, it’s an easy and quick meal to put together at home.

Börek comes in endless shapes and sizes, from the rustic tray versions (similar to lasagna) to more elaborate coils or even cigar shaped börek. The latter looks similar to spring rolls (indeed, Asian restaurants in Turkey often translate spring rolls as “Chinese börek”), though their flavour is completely different.

The most common filling is with cheese, of which feta cheese (known as beyaz peynir in Turkish) or cottage cheese (lor peyniri in Turkish) usually feature. Spinach or flat-leaf parsley may be added. Other popular fillings include minced meat, potato or plain spinach.

How to ensure the börek is perfectly moist

Making börek at home is simple. Although experience helps in nailing the texture, it’s rare for even beginners to fail. Sure, it may end up looking a little more rustic looking than that of a Turkish grandma who’s been making them for 60 years The flavour, however, is usually delicious nonetheless!

The experience is helpful because not all filo pastry is created equal. If you’ve got access to a good Turkish or Middle Eastern grocer, chances are you’ll have plenty to choose from.

Which filo pastry/yufka to choose

Filo pastry, known as yufka in Turkish, is an unleavened dough stretched paper thin. It’s used to make layered baked goods such as börek and baklava.

While you can make your own, most people buy ready made filo pastry from their local shop. In Turkey, most places will have a local yufka maker. This ready-made pastry is briefly cooked before packing, meaning it may have a few char marks. It may also dry out more quickly.

Hand cutting pieces off of Turkish tray börek on white table cloth from eye level
Stack of Turkish tray börek pieces

There are two primary types of filo pastry.

One, so wafer thin as to be virtually transparent, is used for baklava and other millefeuille-like baked goods. These typically come in rectangular shapes and is usually a creamy white colour with no spots. There may be starch or flour in between layers to keep them separate. Each sheet of filo for baklava usually weighs in at 15-20 grams (about ½ oz).

The other type is slightly thicker, usually circular and much larger. It usually has golden spots on it from cooking and looks much like a thin flatbread. Each piece usually weights in at around 150 grams (5-6 oz). This is what’s usually used for Turkish börek.

That’ said, if the only filo pastry you can get your hand on is the type made for baklava, you can still use it to make börek. Just use them in double layers. By this I mean taking off two sheets at a time, and using them as if they were one. This makes them a little thicker, giving a better texture to your börek. Not to mention making the process much faster!

The liquid for making börek moist

For your börek to become deliciously moist, you need to add liquid to the layers of filo pastry. Each has their own preference for what this liquid should be.

For a super crispy börek, you can just brush with oil or melted butter. For the homey, comforting Turkish tray börek we’re looking to make here, a mixture of egg, olive oil, milk and yoghurt is my favourite. The slight tanginess of the yoghurt and light richness of the olive oil adds just what I’m looking for here.

Since I’m using quite a lot of it, I make sure to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil. A good olive oil will never make your food greasy, just extra delicious! I don’t want my börek to taste of olives, though, so I use a mild flavoured olive oil.

How much liquid to use when making börek

The experience part comes in when using the liquid. Each batch of filo pastry will not be the same. Sometimes it will be moist, in which case it’ll need just a little liquid. Other times, the pastry may be a little dry. In those cases, use more liquid.

As such, you will need to judge for yourself how much liquid each batch of Turkish tray börek will need.

Don’t worry too much about it, though. I assure you it’ll still come out delicious! And just make a mental note to adjust next time.

Turkish tray börek on blue plate, seen from above
A perfect börek should have clearly separated layers, but still be moist.

If you use too much liquid, fhe final börek will be quite dense and compact. Use too little, and it will be dry. For this reason, I always prefer erring on the side of using a little too much rather than too little.

How to layer a Turkish tray börek

There are three steps to layering a Turkish tray börek.

First, you need to cover the base and sides of your tray. This ensures the filling is trapped inside and nothing oozes out. Make sure to grease your chosen tray first, or use baking parchment.

Second, you need to layer up the inside with a combination of filo pastry and filling. You can brush and layer each layer flat on top of each other, but I prefer a more rustic approach. Instead,

I roughly tear off pieces of filo pastry and dip them partially in the liquid. I then lightly rub this piece so it’s covered in the liquid nearly all over. Finally, I lay these pieces not flat, but wavy, into the börek. This helps make the börek airier and lighter compared to using flat layers.

Tray börek in the making, with a piece of pastry covering the bottom covered with pieces of filo pastry
Half made Turkish borek, with cheese filling put on
Turkish tray borek in the making, with most of the pastry and all of the filling inside, showing the wavy way the pastry has been placed inside
Turkish tray börek, ready to be sprinkled with seeds and baked

Finally, you seal the börek with a layer of filo pastry onto which you fold the sides to close the börek and sprinkle over a generous amount of nigella seeds.

The black nigella seeds have a slightly bitter flavour which works perfectly with the richness of the börek and its filling. They’re worth seeking out, but if you can’t find them, substitute sesame seeds or omit.

For a step-to-step walkthrough, see my Instagram Stories highlights (from which the pictures above are taken) on how to make börek here.

What to serve with Turkish börek

Turkish tray börek is best served luke warm or at room temperature. I like enjoying it with a simple salad and a freshly brewed cup of Turkish tea. Or Early Gray from a tea bag, if I’m too lazy to make proper Turkish tea.

I usually serve börek as a light dinner, but it’s also delicious for lunch or even breakfast.

Any leftover börek can be stored in the fridge for several days. To reheat, simply cook in a non-stick pan straight from the fridge over a low/medium heat for a few minutes. You want the outside to turn crispy (but not burnt), while the centre should only become lukewarm.

Enjoy!

Plate stacked with Turkish tray börek on a rose patterned table cloth, seen from eye level

Turkish tray börek with cheese (Peynirli tepsi böreği)

Yield: 10-12 pieces, enough to serve 4-6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 150 ml olive oil (I use a mild extra virgin), plus extra to grease the tray and for topping
  • 75 ml greek yoghurt
  • 75 ml whole milk
  • 3 large yufka (or c. 450 g thin filo pastry, in which case see Notes below)
  • nigella seeds or sesame seeds, to sprinkle

Filling

  • 175 g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 75 g matured cheese such as cheddar or Turkish eski kaşar, shredded
  • 15 g leaves of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 C (390 F), fan. Grease a medium sized oven tray (mine is 34x24 cm (13½ x 9½ in)) well with olive oil, all the way to the top of the edges.
  2. Whisk the egg and olive oil, then add the yoghurt and whole milk and whisk again until smooth. (See recipe notes for alternate amounts.) Set aside.
  3. Mix the cheeses and set aside.
  4. Place one sheet of yufka in the oven tray, so it completely covers the base and sides in a single layer. Cut off any excess, making sure to leave at least 2-3 cm (1 in) over the top of the tray on each side. (If you're using thin filo pastry, see recipe notes below.)
  5. Spread a couple of tablespoons of the egg mixture on the yufka. Tear the second sheet of yufka as well as the excess you cut off into large pieces. Dip each piece into the egg mixture and layer it in a wavy shape, so all of the base is covered. Each piece of yufka should be moist, but not excessively wet (see text above for more details).
  6. Scatter the cheese mixture evenly into the tray and top with flat leaf parsley.
  7. Tear the third and final sheet of yufka into large pieces, keeping a roughly rectangular piece slightly smaller than your oven tray separate. Dip the yufka pieces (except the rectangular one) into the egg mixture and layer them in a wavy shape, just like the previous layer. You should be able to cover all of the filling with this.
  8. Place the remaining rectangular piece of yufka on top, then fold in the sides, making sure to brush with the egg mixture as necessary. Brush with more of the egg mixture on top, but don't overdo it. You may not need everything. For an extra crispy top, drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil on top.
  9. Sprinkle the börek with nigella or sesame seeds. Bake in the middle of the oven until the börek is golden on top and cooked through, 30-40 minutes.
  10. Leave to cool, then cut into 10-12 pieces. Enjoy lukewarm or cooled. See notes below for storing and reheating what won't be consumed the same day.
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Notes

For a börek with less olive oil, use 100 ml each of olive oil, greek yoghurt and whole milk. This will give a softer textured börek, including on top.

For a more wholesome version, mix the cheeses for the filling with 2 whisked eggs.

If using thin filo pastry, use them as you would yufka, but use them in double layers (i.e. two at a time on top of one another). Since thin filo pastry is usually smaller, you'll probably have to use two double layers side by side to cover the base of the oven tray. 

Store börek in a sealed container in the fridge. It will last a few days.

To reheat, simple fry each piece of cut börek in a dry non-stick pan over low/medium heat for a few minutes each side. The börek should become crispy on the top and bottom, but should still be only lukewarm in the centre.

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I’m Vidar. For the past few years, I’ve been exploring the foods of Turkey, the Middle East and beyond from my house in Balat, Istanbul. Let me show you around!

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