'There are many borek-type recipes in Arab, Turkish and Armenian manuscripts, one of the oldest is sanbusak which is found in Massudi's Meadows of Gold. Another is oughi-dobrag - 'brains in a bag' - found in an eleventh-century Armenian manuscript.
Food history has always fascinated me and it was with great interest that I read the chapter titled 'Boreks' in Artro der Haroutunian's Middle Eastern Cookery - one of Peter's few cookbooks that has become a favourite for me. Curiously enough, out of all my numerous Middle Eastern cookbooks, only this one makes any mention of the topic. Methinks I shall pass on the brains in a bag, however!
'There are many large pie-type dishes in the Middle East with different fillings,' the author writes. 'It is in modern Turkey where the finest examples are found ... These borek come in many shapes - triangles, fingers, half moons and small parcels, as well as in individual pots. The usual doughs are filo, flaky and shortcrust. Some boreks have their own doughs... Shapes vary from region to region as do fillings, but generally the most popular ones are cheese, meat, spinach and chicken.'
Actually, when first making it I hadn't specifically set out to create a börek or burek, as these 'pies' are also known. Rather, it was one of those 'shake the fridge' afternoons, that just happened to result in a recipe that would become a 'keeper'. I love it when that happens, don't you?!
So, without further ado, my borek a la Lizzy with baby spinach, ricotta and minced lamb or beef. Enjoy xox
BOREK WITH BABY SPINACH, RICOTTA AND MINCED LAMB OR BEEF
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sized brown onion, chopped
550g minced beef or lamb
sea salt and cracked pepper
1 teaspoon Baharat
3 free-range eggs
375g smooth ricotta
2 cups baby spinach, washed, patted dry
1 tablespoon rice crumbs or breadcrumbs
250g phyllo or filo pastry
melted butter or EVOO, for brushing and greasing
Heat the oil in a frypan and sauté the onions until golden brown. Next, add the mince and brown it well, breaking down any lumps with your wooden spoon. Turn up the heat if you need to do so to prevent the mince from stewing. Season with sea salt, pepper and then add the Baharat. Remove the frypan from the heat and allow the mince to cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, then beat in the ricotta. Spread a clean tea towel onto your kitchen bench and place half of the phyllo sheets on top of the cloth. Working quickly, brush each sheet with melted butter or olive oil. Grease a 23 x 23cm ovenproof dish with oil or butter and line the base with a sheet of parchment. Layer half of the buttered/oiled phyllo sheets into the prepared dish, then sprinkle the rice/bread crumbs into the base. Now, spoon in the browned mince mixture. Arrange the spinach leaves over the top of the mince, then pour the egg and ricotta mixture over the top of that.
Now either fold the edges into the middle over the top of the fillings. Then scrunch three or four additional sheets of pastry and place them over the top of the pie. Brush the top liberally with the butter or oil. Bake for 45 minutes until golden. Slice into squares and serve. Any leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated the following day. Actually, the flavours are even better on day two! Serves 4.
Tell me dear readers, do you have a particular recipe for borek? Tell me, how do you make yours? And don't you just love thrown together recipes that turn out to be 'keepers'?!
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.