On The Plate: Introducing the böreks

May 21, 2020 BY

A gift of surplus silverbeet from my green-thumbed neighbour was very welcome (I hasten to add it was passed over to me keeping strict social distancing etiquette!).

Silverbeet is not to everyone’s liking as it has a somewhat metallic, earthy flavour, a very clean taste methinks – and I love it. Almost as much as I used to love watching those cartoons of Popeye the Sailor Man! Showing my age now, aren’t I?
One staple ingredient I tend to have on hand is filo (or phyllo) pastry. I prefer the brand that is kept in the refrigerator, not the freezer, for two main reasons; it has a long use-by date, and is less fragile to work with than the frozen variety, which seems to dry out so much as it thaws. Even the refrigerated brand can be re-wrapped whenever you don’t use it all in the one go.
And it’s so versatile – you can wrap, roll, fold, and tuck it around all manner of fillings! Therefore, may I introduce you to the extended Börek (burek) family of baked or fried filled pasties? Made using phyllo pastry – the outer resemblances or chief characteristics, as in all families – can be detected. But it’s the fillings, and more importantly the shapes which determine which branch of the family these delicious, mostly savoury, parcels originate from!
Invented in Central Asia by nomadic Turks, börek, can be the genealogical tool by which we can trace how one cuisine borrows, copies and re-invents food to give it a new complexion. They can be filled with cheese – very often feta – or minced meat or vegetables. A börek may be prepared in a large pan and cut into portions after baking, or as individual pastries. The top of the börek is often sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Börek is very popular in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire – immediately your sense of the exotic should be aroused. Open up the map and envisage the area of north eastern coast of Africa – my research into the Börek introduced me to the term Maghreb cuisine – referring to five countries located in North Africa. An Arabic word, literally meaning “place of sunset” or “the west”, the term is generally now used, mainly by Arabs, to refer collectively to the African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and into the Western Sahara.

Silverbeet Rolani Börek

1 large bunch silverbeet
1 tsp sumac
1 dessertsp dried mint (or fresh)
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp chilli flakes
½ cup shredded mozzarella
½ brown onion
16 sheets filo (phyllo) pastry
¼ cup EVOO (or
melted butter)

Pre-heat the oven to 160C. Strip the leaves from the silverbeet, retain the white stems. Carefully wash leaves and stems in a large bowl of water – I used the water to give some of my pot plants a drink – no waste! Finely chop the onion and chop the silverbeet stems into roughly 1-2 cm pieces. Squeeze as much water as you can from the leaves, bundle them up and chop them into long shreds. Add 1 tablspn EVOO to a medium saucepan or frying pan and sauté the onion until just translucent. Add the stems and cook until slightly softened, finally ad the leaves, increase the heat and turn the mix over and over so the leaves wilt slightly. Add dried chilli flakes, black pepper, sumac and mint, and stir – reduce the heat. Scatter mozzarella onto this mixture, turn off the heat. Take 4 sheets of phyllo – brushing each sheet with olive oil and layer one upon the other. Spread a quarter of the spinach-cheese mixture along the length of the phyllo and roll the pastry over to make a long shape. Cupping your hands round the roll, coax the pastry into a coil shape and tuck the end in. Repeat for the other three portions of mixture – brush the tops of the pastry coils with olive oil and sprinkle with a little more sumac, some ground black pepper. Bake in a moderate oven until the pastry is browned and crisp – about 15 mins. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm. These can be frozen. Serves 4.