Burek: stories from Croatia, Turkey, and my English kitchen

I’ve always loved burek. It was my favourite lunch treat at school. I used to have cheese burek with plain, and my best friend with strawberry yoghurt. We’d sit in the parks near our school and look at the sea. Surprised that a kid from Croatia lunches on what is by all accounts a Middle Eastern treat? Don’t be. Burek is firmly part of the eating tradition in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, a legacy of the Ottoman Empire. DSC_6413

DSC_6408   If you are yet to be introduced to this deliciousness, burek is layers of thin thin pastry, filo-like but somewhat thicker, stuffed with a variety of fillings. Cheese, meat, spinach, potatoes – these are just some of the examples. In our parts, there is even a sweet version stuffed with grated apples, probably a playful offspring of the Ottoman burek and the Central European apple strudel. To a Croatian, a burek is any of the afore-mentioned; to a Bosnian, burek is only the one made with meat, all others are simply pies (pite, or pita singular). Here bureks normally come in coils, or layered in trays (tepsije – probably from the Turkish tepsi). In Turkey, burek or börek comes in all shapes (cigars, triangles, coils, envelopes, layered larger pies, etc.), and is both baked and boiled. It is made with the thin yufka dough, or even with puff pastry.DSC_6414

The crispy beauty you can see above contained a simple but very tasty filling of fresh melting cheese, and made a great dinner (with some plain yoghurt, of course) sitting by the sea in Zadar with my brother one late summer afternoon a few years ago.

One of the (many) highlights of the Turkey workshop this autumn was certainly making several types of burek and Turkish pastries. In the photos below, Zeliha Hanim, one of our hosts, is using a thin Turkish rolling pin called oklava to roll the dough for a tahini roll super thin. This was a pleasure to watch and photograph.

Flouring

Rolling dough

I’ve always thought burek was Turkish , so you can imagine my surprise when I learnt that one of the types of burek we were going to make was called by our hosts – the Bosnian burek! Apparently it is the technique that makes it Bosnian: the dough for the burek was stretched thin thin, almost see-through, by hand. Indeed this is how the women of Bosnia and Northern Croatia make the dough at home. A Canadian Foodie has some amazing photos of making burek in Bosnia here and here, with the dough covering the table just like a thin tablecloth. Very impressive.

In Turkey, we stuffed our Bosnian burek with a mixture of herbs and cheese, and brushed it with butter before it went into the oven.

Brush with butter

The finished result was gloriously tasty. You can see below what it looked like.

Burek straight out of the oven

The burek recipe I’m posting today is inspired by Turkish traditions, and shaped by my tastes. While I like the thin and crispy cigar bureks, I actually prefer the slightly moister tray-layered versions. I find they work better with yufka than with filo, but do use filo if that’s all you can get. Or make your own, of course! I like the cheese milder (probably due to all those years of eating mild cheese burek in Croatia), so I used a combination of feta and Cypriot ricotta. I loved the herby Turkish number you can see in the photos above, but I also love spinach, so I combined them. I sometimes cook the spinach first, and sometimes not. Not cooking the spinach first produces a moister burek (from all the moisture in spinach). I don’t think the Turks would use nutmeg (do correct me if that’s wrong), but it goes great with spinach, so I did. I also adore the Turkish pul biber or red pepper flakes, so I added a good quantity here. The method of layering the burek and using the mixture of egg, milk and oil is from Ghillie Bassan’s Classic Turkish Cooking. So this is the burek I’ve been making in my English kitchen since the September trip to Turkey. Hope you enjoy it. With plain yoghurt on the side, naturally. Strawberry if you really have to, as my dear friend would.

Burek!

 

Turkish-style burek with spinach, herbs and cheese

 

SOURCE: inspired by Turkish burek flavours and my tastes; method of layering the burek is from Ghillie Bassan’s Classic Turkish Cooking

PREPARATION TIME: 30 min

COOKING TIME: 40 min

CUISINE: Turkish

SERVES: makes 8 large slices

 

400 g yufka (filo-like dough, but a little thicker)

Filling:

1 medium to large bunch of dill

3 tbsp parsley

200 g spinach

200 g feta cheese

200 g Cypriot ricotta

a few spring onions (optional)

1 tsp dried mint (or 1 – 2 tbsp of fresh mint)

2 tsp Urfa pepper (isot)

2 tsp medium heat Turkish red pepper flakes (pul biber)

1 tsp hot Turkish red pepper flakes (pul biber)

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

1 tsp sea salt

freshly ground pepper, about 1/2 tsp

‘Sauce’:

2 large eggs

150 ml vegetable oil

300 ml milk

Topping:

About 20 g diced butter (plus some more for buttering the baking dish)

2 tsp sesame seeds

2 tsp nigella seeds

 

Prepare the filling. Chop the herbs and the spring onions if using finely, and the spinach a little bit more roughly. Crumble the cheeses. Combine together and add the mint, spices and seasonings.

Prepare the ‘sauce’ (for want of a better word). Whisk the eggs in a jug, and then whisk in the oil and the milk.

Build the burek. Butter a baking dish. Place a sheet of yufka around the bottom, letting the edges drape over the dish. Put in a bit of the egg and milk mixture, and then fold another sheet and add to the bottom.

Now add half the filling and spread evenly on the bottom. Pour over some more egg and milk mixture. The aim is to layer the yufka and the filling, moistening the layers with the egg and milk mixture. I had six sheets of yufka, so I divided these up between the layers.

Now fold two more sheets on top of them, spreading a bit of milk and egg mixture in between.

Add the remaining filling, and some more egg and milk mixture, and then another sheet of filo and some egg and milk mixture. Now fold over the draped sheet, spreading with some more egg and milk. Finally, place the remaining sheet on top, and brush with the remaining egg and milk mixture. Cut into 8, sprinkle with sesame and nigella seeds, and put the cubes of butter on top of each piece.

Bake at 200 C until golden, about 40 minutes.

Enjoy warm or cold. Great with yoghurt.

 

Notes

Cheese

I like milder cheese, so have used a mixture of feta and ricotta. You can experiment with what you’ve got and like. Just remember to use less salt if your feta is salty.

Greens and herbs

There’s a fair bit of space for variation here. Dill is frequently used in Turkish cooking, and great in cheesy bureks, combined with parsley if you like. The mint I added contributes a touch of fresh minty flavour, not overpowering, but totally contributing to the overall symphony of flavours.

If you cook the spinach and drain it, the burek will be less moist. Try that if you prefer a drier pastry. I like it moist, so I’ve not cooked the spinach for the recipe above. Use other greens, too, experiment.

Spices

I think a bit of chilli heat is nice, and I think the chilli pepper flavour ‘lifts’ up the flavours of the spinach and cheese nicely. Add the chilli flakes you’ve got if you can’t get the Turkish peppers, or even add a bit of chopped red chillies or peppers for the peppery flavour.

Nutmeg is entirely optional, and probably not at all traditional, but I like it with the spinach, so here it is.

Eating Samobor: Samoborska pivnica

SAMOBORSKA PIVNICA
Smidhenova 3
10430  Samobor
Phone: 3361 623, 3361 333
E-mail:
gelas@zg.htnet.hr
Contact person: Matko Kovacic

Facilities: Parking place, Disabled access

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SUMMARY

Food: 5/5

Service: 5/5 Atmosphere & Decor: 4/5

Would I eat there again: Absolutely! I’d come back just for the perfectly barbecued cevapcici!

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If you ever visit the gorgeous little town of Samobor, which you must do (!),  I definitely recommend that you drop in Samoborska pivnica or the Samobor Beer House! It offers what every good beer house should offer: a variety of perfectly grilled meats and homemade sausages. They also serve Zagorje strukli, a strudel-like pasta with cottage cheese, which is a speciality of the Zagorje region. In addition, you can get here the local Samobor specialities such as bermet (an aperitif made of red wine and citrus fruits, made to a special recipe of the Filipec family), samoborska mustarda (Samobor mustard, made to a secret recipe by the Filipec family again) and samoborska kremsnita, a type of custard slice that made this little town near Zagreb famous all over Croatia.

The beer house is pleasantly decorated, with beautiful vaulted ceilings, and an exhibition of paintings for sale. It also has a patio, so one can sit outside. The place was not like your usual beer house, but with just a little bit more of everything: tasteful decor, excellent food and service. The service was particularly good: fast, friendly and very professional.

We had a fantastic mixed grill here, along with some side dishes of chips, beans and mixed salad. From the grill, I would definitely highlight the cevapcici, minced beef and pork kebabs, which were possibly the best cevapcici I’ve ever had! They were deliciously juicy and barbecued to perfection! The beans were also to die for, cooked in a vegetable sauce, and finished off in the oven afterwards. Alongside the grilled meats we had the inevitable ajvar, and the famous samoborska mustarda (Samobor mustard). I quite liked the Samobor mustard, it was rather spicy, slightly sweet and smoky.

With all the beer we had, we forgot to have bermet, sadly. And the desserts and the kremsnita? Trust me, there was no space left for the desserts! Also, I hate to admit that the three big eaters that we are did not manage to finish off their fantastic mixed grill… We don’t like to admit this, but we were defeated by the sheer size of it…

Yeap, we will definitely come here again!

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Stuffed Peppers OR Punjene paprike

IMG_6739 

I sorted out my image posting problems, thanks to the kind people who replied to my pleas! Once again, thanks, people! Here is a post, long overdue, that I prepared ages ago, but I’m posting it only now.

Stuffed vegetables are hugely popular in my part of the world: courgette, aubergine, sometimes tomatoes, but above all – peppers (punjene paprike in Croatian). Basically, uncooked peppers are stuffed with a mixture of beef (and sometimes pork) and uncooked rice. The peppers are then placed in a big pan, and covered with very smooth tomato sauce, to simmer until done. Every cook has his or her own variant of the recipe, adding a bit of this, and a bit of that, too add their own personal touch. This is how my mum makes stuffed peppers (punjene paprike).

Stuffed peppers were my favourite dish when I was growing up. I used to break the pepper in half, scoop out the meat, eat it, and leave the pepper ‘skin’ on my plate! Nowadays I know better, and eat the pepper, too! I love the combination of meat, pepper and tomato sauce. I love to dip bread in the sauce, or a piece of potato. This makes me smile already! Gosh, I had this this a few days ago, and I’m craving it already!

This is not a quick dish, but it is well worth the time. The peppers taste great the next day, too, so we often make a larger quantity. We did this this time, too, and had it the next day, too! Yum! Lucky me! We – I mean mainly mum! I was busy taking photos and making notes, during which mum was wonderfully patient! I thought she’d chase me out of the kitchen, me and my clicking, and moving the dishes around! – Thank you, mum! :)

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Stuffed Peppers / Punjene paprike

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SOURCE: mum’s recipe

PREPARATION TIME: 20 – 30 min

COOKING TIME: 2 – 2.5 h

CUISINE: Croatian

SERVES: 14*

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INGREDIENTS

14 large peppers*

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STUFFING

1 kg beef mince

0.5 kg pork mince

1 small bulb of garlic, finely chopped or crushed

2 eggs

1 mug of rice (uncooked)

a small bunch of fresh parsley

some bread crumbs

a little oil

salt, pepper,

vegeta (optional)

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TOMATO SAUCE**

Recipe HERE. Please note that you will need to double or even tripple the quantities for the sauce if you are making the recipe as above, i.e. not scaled down.

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METHOD:

I. Tomato sauce

  • Prepare the tomato sauce first, if you don’t have it already made. 

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II. Prepare the peppers

  • Now prepare the peppers. Wash them, and remove the core and the seeds. See photo below.

IMG_6760

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III. Stuffing

  •  Mix the ingredients for the stuffing together in a bowl. Adjust the seasoning.

Stuffing 

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IV. Stuff the peppers

  • Stuff the peppers with the mixture, but do not overfill.

IMG_6764

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V. Assembling and cooking

  • Place the peppers in a pan, with the opening pointing upwards (see photo below).

  • Pour the tomato sauce over the peppers. Simmer for 2 – 2.5 hours. Add some flour mixed with water to thicken the sauce to the desired consistency.

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  • Serve with boiled potatoes, or mashed potato.

NOTES

* If you are using large peppers, allow one per person per serving. If you’re using small peppers, allow 2 per person per serving. We got 14 servings out of these peppers.

** We normally make it in advance.

Suggestions

You can use beef mince only. Mum sometimes adds cubes of pancetta to the sauce.

Why not use a mixture of your favourite spices to spice up the mince? I might do that myself, although there is nothing wrong with going simple, and enjoying the tastes of the meat, and the vegetables just the way they are!

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Verdict

As I said, this used to be one of my favourite dishes when I was growing up. I still like it a lot! What more can I say? :) Do try this recipe!

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Eating Zagreb: Kaptolska Klet

Kaptolska klet

Kaptol 5

10 000 Zagreb

http://www.kaptolska-klet.com

During our recent trip to Zagreb, we were recommended Kaptolska klet, a well-known Zagreb restaurant serving a wide array of dishes, including a number of regional specialities such as purica s mlincima or roast turkey with mlinci (a type of pasta strips cooked in turkey juices), and štrukli (strudel-like pasta with cottage cheese). We love both the štrukli and the turkey with mlinci, so we decided to go there for dinner with a group of friends. Unfortunately for us, this turned out to be a rather mediocre dining experience, where fairly good food was spoilt by appalling service.

The restaurant is located opposite the Cathedral, and only a very short walk away from the main square, Trg Bana Jelacica. The décor is uninspirational, and slightly tacky. One highlight would be a few paintings done in the style of Naïve Croatian Art; that is, if you like this style of painting. There was live music there, which was not necessarily a plus – it was too loud, and it didn’t go well with eating atmosphere. Still, we decided to give it a go, because of its reputation, and because we thought it would be nice to sit on the terrace. The latter was a bad idea, since it was a rather cool night, so we quickly moved inside.

When we arrived, just before 8, the restaurant was full, so I made a reservation for 9 o’clock. I received a rather unfriendly welcome by a very young waiter who barked at me not to be late. I disregarded this sign, too, because I was in too good a mood to care that night. Alas, I didn’t know this was going to be our waiter for that night.

Ordering the food turned out to be a bit of a hit and miss situation: unfortunately, they had no turkey left, nor what seemed like half of the other dishes from the menu. In the end, most of us ordered baked or boiled štrukli for starters, and some people had kulen, a type of local spicy pork sausage with paprika, and tagliatele with pancetta and cream. For the mains, we had barbecued pork stuffed with prunes with mlinci or with roast vegetables, ćevapčići, pancakes with nettle stuffing, two types of steak (one of them with prunes), a dish called Merry Zagorec platter (grilled pork with potato and đuveđ, which is a type of tomato risotto), and grilled chicken. I enjoyed very tasty štrukli for starters, and beautifully grilled pork stuffed with prunes as the main course, but my mlinci were a little cold and slightly too greasy, and my prune sauce was a bit overpowering. Apart from the nettle pancakes which were completely tastless and greasy, the food was generally very good: the starters were excellent, tasty and plentiful, and so were the mains. However, we were very disappointed by the level of service. Our waiter was not particularly friendly; he was rather coarse actually, and made many mistakes. Amongst other things, he brought us a wrong dish, and then tried to persuade a man who doesn’t eat mushrooms that he did indeed order a dish with mushrooms, even when he told him he doesn’t eat mushrooms. Then he went back to the kitchen to check, and when he came back, he mumbled to me grudgingly in Croatian that this was an order from another table. No apology to anyone though. Also, my friend’s đuveđ was substituted with a potato side dish – of course, without consulting the customer – so he ended up with two potato side dishes!

So, here is the summary of our experience at Kaptolska Klet:

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Food: 4/5

Service: 1/5

Atmosphere & Décor: 2/5

Would I eat there again: No. I’m sure there are better places in Zagreb than this. I’d rather go and try to find somewhere else.

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