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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Semlor – Swedish sweet buns

Semla

For the last 6 years I’ve been hearing about semlor, cardamom-scented, almond-stuffed Swedish sweet buns. Semlor is plural, and semla singular. My husband goes to Sweden regularly, and usually in March. This normally involves a lot of semlor! I’ve been wanting to try them myself so much. When I visited Stockholm in autumn, they were not available, and I was gutted. There really is no other way – I shall have to make them myself, I realised. So when semlor came up as the topic of this month’s kuVarijacije, I simply had to take part!

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Chickpeas, cannellini and chorizo soup-stew with chilli, mint and sherry

Chickpea and chorizo soup-stew

Fragrant and clear broth flavoured with sherry and mint and smoky chorizo bathes the chickpeas and cannellini beans. There’s a gentle kick from the chilli, and a freshness from the mint, caramel notes of the sherry. Glorious with buttered sourdough toast, and perhaps a side of kale, this is a perfect winter dish, fragrant and warming. I’ve been making it regularly for over a year now, and now it’s time to share it here.

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Happy Christmas to all

Wishing you all peaceful and relaxing holidays.

In the photo: my father-in-law lighting brandy on top of a Christmas pudding. A delicious British Christmas tradition.

Jenna’s glorious coconut dhal

Jenna was an East African Asian, of Indian descent, who moved to the UK from Uganda, fleeing the bloody dictatorship of the violent dictator Idi Amin. ‘Tender and feisty’ she was, says her daughter, lovingly. I wish I had known Jenna. I hadn’t, but I got to know her through her daughter’s book, her memoir in food.  In Settlers’ Cookbook, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown tells so wonderfully her mother’s story, intertwined with her own, and which forms a part of her people’s history.

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“Our family tree is puny, barren in large part. The roots don’t go down deep enough to produce a plenteous crop of ancestral stories or fruity relatives. The few memories hanging on are losing colour and juice, soon will wither and fall away.

The human urge to trace long, biological bloodlines is strong. But our far past was swept away by careless fate impetuously carrying off my folk across the seas, away, away to new beginnings. They took little and left behind even less. Like many other East African Asians whose forbears left India in the nineteenth century, I search endlessly for (and sometimes find) the remains of those days. Few maps mark routes of journeys undertaken by these migrants; hardly any books capture their spirit or tell the story. Then Africa disgorged us too, and here we are, people in motion, now in the West, the next stopover. There is no place on earth we can historically and unequivocally claim to be ours, and so we have become adept wayfarers who settle but cautiously, ready to move on if the winds change.”

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Every recipe in the book is interwoven in the fabric of Yasmin’s Jenna’s life, or the life of their people.

Jenna’s coconut dhal has become a favourite in my home.

This post has been long in making, I’m sorry to say. Hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I do.

 

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This is one recipe where mise en place is not necessarily essential.

 Jenna's coconut dhal

 

Jenna’s Coconut Dhal

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SOURCE:  Adapted from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s ‘Settlers’ Cookbook’, her mother’s recipe

PREPARATION TIME: about 5 min

COOKING TIME: 1 h 5 min

CUISINE: Indian (Ugandan Asian)

SERVES: A crowd!

 

 

2/3 mug channa dhal

2/3 mug red lentils (masoor dhal)

2/3 mug moong dhal (split and hulled)

water

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 1/2 tbsp oil

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

8 green chillies, sliced (deseed if you wish, or reduce number of chillies)

1 1/2 tin tomatoes

1 tsp turmeric

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2 handfuls of coriander leaves, chopped

Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste

A pinch of jaggery (or brown sugar)

3/4 tin of good-quality coconut milk

 

 

METHOD:

1. Wash the channa dhal until the water runs clear. Then wash the mung and masoor dhals together.

2. Boil channa dhal for about 10 minutes, then add the mung and massor dhals, turmeric and more water, and continue cooking until the munch and masoor dhals are soft and mushy, and the channa dhal is soft. This will take about an hour in total.

3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan, then add the cumin seeds, garlic and green chillies and cook until the garlic turns golden. Then add the tomatoes, the remaining 1 tsp of turmeric salt, and sugar. Cook until the oil separates, and then add chopped coriander, and cook for another 5 – 10 min.

4. When the dhal is cooked, add coconut milk to it, cook for about 5 min, and then add the tomato mixture. Cook for another 5 min to combine, and then finish off with lime juice, a pinch more of sugar, and some more salt to taste. I like my dhal rather thick, but do add some water if you’d like it soupier.

 

Serve with rice, or bread, as a part of an Indian meal or for a simple lunch or dinner. It’s delicious either way.

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