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.

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Honey-roasted parsnips with red onion, panch phoron, chilli, garlic and parsley

Hot, sweet, garlicky and bright with parsley and lemon – the good old parsnip is far more interesting in this company. A real revelation, in fact. The whole winter I’ve been roasting it with honey, red onions and panch phoron. I add the chillies and garlic when the parsnips and onions are nearly done (so that they don’t burn). Sometimes I roast the chillies and garlic only briefly, and sometimes a little longer, depending on how strong I want these flavours to be. I finish off with a sprinkling of parsley, and a squeeze of lemon. Life is always brighter with lemon.

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Kitchen Notes: Building flavour and a warm salad

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I think of flavours in terms of tones, going from earthy and sweet to sour and light, and various grades in between. And I like my food to have a range of tones of flavours, be multidimensional. I know it may seem strange to talk of food in such terms, but somehow it makes sense. A garnish of certain fresh herbs on a meaty stew or curry.  A squeeze of lemon or lime or a drizzle of brightly-flavoured extra virgin oil on pasta or salad lift that dish to more interesting heights. I also often use fresh chillies to give that uplift. I mix raw and cooked, grains and brightly flavoured vegetables, add the afore mentioned flourishes in order to achieve these tastes. They rock my boat, they just do it for me.

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In and Out of Blogging

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In an Istanbul traffic jam, half a fig passes hands. Plump and purple, glistening in the afternoon sun. A smile radiates a man’s face. His pleasure warms my heart.

The fig was a gift from a generous vendor at a wonderful weekly market in Sapanca in Turkey where we’d just finished a week’s workshop on food and photography. The man was a fellow participant at the workshop. I’ve taken a lot from the trip, and not just in the kilos of pepper flakes and helva in my suitcase! More about the helva as well as about what I’ve learnt will come in another post. For I am back to blogging.

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Istanbul Yoghurt Treat

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There was always yoghurt, tahini and honeycomb, amongst many other things, in our hotel in Istanbul for breakfast. One morning, I had an idea to combine them, and so I did. It was delicious! I loved it, and had it with my breakfast every day while we were there.

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I am not claiming this is an authentic Istanbuli treat. I have no idea, and so I wouldn’t even try. But I do know it’s absolutely delicious. Do try it! The bitterness of tahini added interest and nuttiness to sweet honeycomb, which in turn provided an interesting texture to nibble on. All this enveloped in delicious creamy, Turkish yoghurt.

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It really makes a stunning treat. At home, I use honey, as I don’t usually have honeycomb, but it’s still delicious. Just take a bowl of yoghurt and swirl some honey and tahini over it, and there you go!

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