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Puff the Magic Boureka

August 10, 2011 By:
Rivka Tal
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A TASTE OF ISRAEL

In Israel, summer is the time for bourekas -- those flaky, filled pastries of Balkan origin. You can buy them at any bakery in Israel, ready-made at the open markets, frozen and ready-to-bake -- and you'll probably meet up with them sometime as a first course at weddings topped with mushroom sauce.

Made from phyllo dough or puff pastry, bourekas are related to their fellow pastries in countries once part of the Ottoman empire and beyond: Serbia and Bosnia (Burek), Greece (Boureki), Bulgaria (Byurek), Russia and the Caucasus (Chiborek) and even North Africa (Brik).

Fillings vary widely, too, although Israel's most popular is potato -- handy because it's parve -- followed by cheese. Israeli bourekas come in several shapes, which are indicative of their fillings.

Cheese bourekas come in triangles, while potato-filled bourekas come in a box shape. Swiss chard-filled bourekas (you don't have to like chard to love these!) are roundish. The relatively new bourekas with pizza filling look like a concentric tower.

Years ago, I used to frequent a little hole-in-the-wall bourekas haven in downtown Jerusalem where they were baked all day in a tiny sit-on-the-counter oven of the type we used to see in Israel.

You had to get there early if you wanted chard bourekas, because they soon ran out. We ate them the Israeli way -- that is, with haminados: slow-cooked hard-boiled eggs, originally part of the traditional Shabbat morning stew called hamin.

Purists, I suppose, will make their own pastry dough for good bourekas. But an easier way is to buy frozen puff pastry and proceed with filling and baking. Even easier: Buy frozen pre-cut puff pastry triangles and fill as you please: potatoes, cheese, chard, ground meat, mushrooms. The sky's the limit.

Mushroom-Potato Bourekas

(Parve)

2 Tbsps. oil 
1 medium onion, chopped finely 
8 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced 
1 tsp. minced garlic 
3-4 medium mashed potatoes 
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika 
1/2 tsp. salt 
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper 
1 sheet from a 17.3-oz. package puff pastry sheets, thawed according to package directions 
egg wash (yolk mixed with 1 tsp. water) 
2 Tbsps. sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat oil in a frying pan and lightly brown the onion. Add mushrooms and garlic and stir-fry a few minutes.

Place mixture in a bowl and add the mashed potatoes. Mix to just combine. Add paprika, salt and pepper. Mix to combine and then taste and adjust the seasonings.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry sheet into 16 squares and place them on baking sheet. Fill each square with about 1 tablespoon of the mushroom filling, shaped into closed triangle. Pinch edges well to seal.

Brush the tops with beaten egg, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 15 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown. Remove immediately to a rack to prevent sogginess.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Roasted Eggplant Filling

(Dairy)

1 medium eggplant 
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled 
freshly ground black pepper 
egg wash (yolk mixed with 1 tsp. water) 
2 Tbsps. sesame seeds

Wash and dry eggplant and pierce several times with a knife. Wrap in aluminum foil and place atop a medium-high gas flame. Roast for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn over with a long-handled fork.

Allow to cool, then unwrap and remove peel and any tiny burnt pieces. Mash well.

Add crumbled cheese and pepper; mix. Fill and bake as directed in above recipe.

Spinach Filling

(Dairy)

2 10-oz. packages chopped frozen spinach 
2 eggs, beaten 
8 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced 
1/2 cup crumbled Bulgarian cheese 
1/2 cup grated mild yellow cheese 
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
8 green onions, diced 
salt and freshly ground black pepper 
2 sheets from a 17.3-oz. package puff pastry sheets, thawed according to package directions

Defrost spinach in a strainer, pressing out as much of the water as possible. Mix eggs, cheeses, parsley and onions. Add drained spinach, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry sheet into 16 squares and place them on baking sheet. Fill each square with about 1 tablespoon of the mushroom filling, shape into closed triangle. Pinch edges well to seal.

Brush the tops with beaten egg, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 15 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown. Remove immediately to a rack to prevent sogginess.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Bourekas With Ground Beef

(Meat)

1/2 lb. ground beef 
1 egg 
1/4 cup breadcrumbs 
2 tsps. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
8 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced 
1 garlic clove, minced 
1 Tbsp. olive oil 
1 sheet from a 17.3-oz. package puff pastry sheets, thawed according to package directions 
egg wash (yolk mixed with 1 tsp. water) 
2 Tbsps. sesame seeds

Combine ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, parsley and garlic in a small bowl.

Heat olive oil in a skillet and add beef mixture. Stir-fry on medium heat until thoroughly browned, pouring off excess fat.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry sheet into 16 squares and place them on baking sheet. Fill each square with about 1 tablespoon of the mushroom filling, shaped into closed triangle. Pinch edges well to seal.

Brush the tops with beaten egg, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 15 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown. Remove immediately to a rack to prevent sogginess.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Rivka Tal is a former Minnesotan who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 45 years. She is a food writer and translator. Email her at: talriv@gmail.com.

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