Thursday, January 2, 2014

Spinach and Feta Cheese Börek (Turkish Savory Spinach and Feta Cheese Pie)

Earlier this week I celebrated my 29th wedding anniversary.  For 29 years I have been married to my husband Asaf, and for at least 29 years I have been cooking the food of his homeland, not because he insists at all, but because I do.  Turkish cuisine is simply the greatest cuisine in the world. There, I've said it! 

So, having cooked so many Turkish recipes for so many years, how is it possible that I had never made a full on börek before?  After all, börek is a Turkish staple food, much like bread or rice or soup, and in fact every Turkish cookbook I own has an entire section devoted to börek.  Don't get me wrong -- I've made all kinds of sigara börek and little triangular börek, both stuffed with various fillings, but I never attempted to make full pan of honest to goodness börek, and I'm not exactly certain why.  I think I just generally have an aversion to frozen filo dough.  Frankly, the very thought of working with those paper-thin sheets of fragile pastry scares me a bit.  So why now?  Well, a few weeks ago I made an impulse purchase and bought a really pretty Turkish glass pedestal serving plate.  I had been enjoying the plate as a decorative piece, but I had been unable to figure out what to serve on it.  It seemed to call out for a dessert of some sort, such as a cake or a pie, but I'm just not that into desserts.  As I stared at it, I kept envisioning the golden glass serving plate filled with beautiful buttery pie wedges.  And then it dawned on me that my new plate might best fulfill its destiny if it were covered it with wedges of Turkish savory pie, (i.e., börek), cooked in a circular pan.  My vision was so clear that I decided I must confront my fear of filo dough head on and give this börek thing a try, and I'm so thankful that I did, as the börek was a resounding success.  Asaf, who is quite picky when it comes to börek, absolutely loved it as did the other Turks that were force fed my börek over the last two days.  In fact, Asaf's first comment was, "Mandy, you could sell this! It's that good."  (Thanks, honey.  You made my day!)  So here is the recipe, step by step. 

First defrost and squeeze all the excess water from 2 pounds of frozen chopped spinach.

Then assemble the remaining ingredients:  1 roll of defrosted filo dough (about 16-20 sheets), 1-1/4 cups of plain Greek yogurt, 2 sticks of butter, 10 ounces of good feta cheese, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of chopped white onion, and 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley.

First carefully melt the butter and allow it to completely cool down.

In the meantime sauté the chopped onion in a bit of olive oil, as well as a tablespoon of the melted butter, for about 2 minutes, and then add the chopped spinach and continue to sauté for about 5 more minutes.  Season with a bit of salt and allow the mixture rest until cool.

Crumble the feta cheese with a fork, and add in the chopped parsley.

Once the melted butter comes to room temperature, combine it with the yogurt.  Then lightly whisk the two eggs and stir them into the yogurt and butter mixture.

Now it's time to assemble the börek.  First, lightly grease the baking pan.  I used a large round pan, but you can certainly use a rectangular pan, which is actually the more common presentation.  Carefully place one or two sheets of filo dough on the bottom of the pan to fully cover it, allowing the sides to droop over the edges of the pan.  Generously brush on the yogurt mixture, fold in the drooping edges, and then add another layer of filo dough and brush again with the yogurt mixture. Continue layering in this manner until you have used half of the sheets of filo dough.

Now fold the sautéed spinach and onion into the feta cheese mixture, stir well, and spread all of it evenly over layers of filo dough in the pan.  At this point I like to add a few grinds of black pepper, and a teaspoon of Turkish red pepper, but both are optional.

Now cover the mixture with another layer of filo dough, brush with the yogurt mixture, and continue layering and brushing until you have used up all the filo dough in one roll.  Be sure to brush the very top layer with the yogurt mixture as well.

With a sharp knife, before any baking commences, cut the pastry into serving sizes, whether they be wedges or squares, and cook uncovered in a 375 degree oven for 40-45 minutes.  

The börek is ready when the top is golden brown.

It's best warm, 10 minutes out of the oven.  Wow, I feel like I've met a culinary challenge head on, and I am certain I have a lot of börek dishes in my future.

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