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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Persian baklava – the sweet end to our feast

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Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

We chose to end our Persian feast with baklava, served with a very untraditional accompaniment of vanilla ice-cream (which worked really well, btw!). And completely wrongly, as it turns out because Persian meals usually end with fruit, and baklava and other pastries are more commonly eaten during the day, often with tea. Although we bought a gigantic watermelon for that purpose, still, we just had to make baklava. You can’t really cook a Persian feast and omit baklava.

 

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Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

Baklava is made of layers of thin phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in syrup. The origin of this delicious pastry is unclear, but its popularity is firmly established: in Iran (of course), all over Middle-East, in Greece, Turkey, and even closer to (my) home, in Bosnia & Herzegovina. (My Bosnian cookery book has suggestions on how to cut the dough to create a variety of different pattern – gorgeous!) The rest of the world is not immune to its charms, either.

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Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

Persian baklava is made with cardamom-spiced almonds and/or pistachios, and with a rose-scented syrup. It’s a bit different from baklava elsewhere in that it’s a little dryer, and as a result crispier.

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 Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

We made an enormous baklava, with 1 kg of ground almonds, in a tin measuring 35 x 45 x 5! Our filling was made with almonds, and pistachios were used as garnish. The syrup was flavoured with rose-water and lemon juice. The filling is made using the recipe from the Taste of Persia, but we consulted our other Persian books, too. You see, we didn’t make the dough ourselves, like the good Ms Batmanglij suggested, so we had to get some advice on how to deal with the phyllo. Other Persian books, my Bosnian cookbook, and even Nigella helped us!

Margaret Shaida has a version where she makes two different colour layers: one layer with almonds, and the other with pistachios. I like the idea.

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Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

 

You may not be too surprised to hear we never made it to the watermelon that night. 🙂

And here we are at the end of the feast. We enjoyed it very much, and I hope you did, too.

Here are the other posts from my Persian series:

Persian feast in my kitchen: Intro

Persian feast in my kitchen: the first courses

Persian feast in my kitchen: the mains

And check out:

Persian food blogs

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