Sara Clevering relives memories of Sarajevo with this homemade burek-inspired savory pie.
By Sara Clevering
When I lived for a summer in Sarajevo, one of my favorite things was the local “fast food.” Enjoying cevapi (kebabs made with ground lamb meat) with hot charred bread on a warm summer evening in the old town center of Bascarsija was only made better when followed by a scoop of ice cream or a selection from a stunning array of baklavas. But for a meal on the go–breakfast, lunch, or dinner–the burek shops had you covered.
You have had something similar to burek if you’ve ever had a spanakopita (the Greek version) or a borek (the Turkish name). You could even stretch the definition a bit to include a Viennese apple strudel. The idea is the same, regardless of the language: a filling of meat, vegetables, or cheese, wrapped in flaky layers of phyllo dough, butter as the glue holding it all together. I usually went for the spinach or cheese versions–no surprise there–sometimes the meat, and once even the potato pie. (But to be honest, none of it is exactly what I’d call diet food).
I initially shied away from this recipe when I saw it on epicurious–were they really asking me to make my own phyllo dough? Let out your breath: you’re not rolling out 20 paper-thin sheets, but rather just two rectangles. The dough is extensible and easy to work with, and best of all can be made in advance. It’s tender thanks to the vinegar and yogurt in the crust, and even becomes flaky as it bakes in the oven. (And if you’re still panicking–or even just pulling a face at the idea of this–just use storebought phyllo dough or puff pastry. Because you still want to make this).
As for the filling, it’s a mix of many flavors that encourage the best out of each other, and that makes for a remarkably satisfying meal. Mild, gently cooked leek and celery are boosted by feisty aged cheese, and generous handfuls of chopped parsley, mint, and dill keep it lively.
I’ve made this a few times, each time doing at least one thing the ”wrong way,” but always enjoying the final product. To avoid the effort of chopping, I’ve whirred up the leeks and celery in a food processor, but learned that it’s preferable to do the chopping by hand (sorry). But you can go electric, just keep in mind that it’s very easy to over-process in the machine, and even if you don’t, using the processor releases a lot of liquid. You can drain it off before proceeding, as I did, with perfectly good results, but my more “old-fashioned” attempt with a big old knife turned out better.
I’ve also made this with less than the full 10 cups of leeks, which still yields wonderful, if perhaps slightly less generous, portions. And I’ve even used a mix of dried and fresh rather than just fresh herbs (horrors! heresy!), as my planning ahead skills are not always the best. If you are better than I in this regard, but like me hate shelling out for bunches of herbs that you’ll only use a measly few leaves of, don’t worry: you’ll get a lot of mileage (and tons of great flavor) out of your purchase here.Print
Sara sees cooking and baking as a delicious way to connect with the past and travel the world from her kitchen. She is commited to preparing homemade, unprocessed meals for her family and is always looking for tricks to fit this into a busy schedule. Sara is currently in the Boston area after several years living in London, Spain, and the Czech Republic, and travelling extensively in Eastern and Western Europe, always making sure to experience local culture through food. She also blogs with her sisters at www.threecleversisters.com