One of my favorite categories of dishes in the amazing Turkish cuisine is the borek category. Borek (börek) is a savory pie. There are tons of borek recipes across Turkey – the regional varieties come in all sizes and shapes – small and big rolls, spirals, bundles, envelopes – differing in the fillings used. Albeit their differences, one thing that unites them all is their foundation – yufka (it is called yukha in Azerbaijan), a paper thin flatbread baked from a simple dough made from water, flour and salt. The yufka encases savory fillings made with meat, spinach, cheese, zucchini, mushrooms, potato and other ingredients. Phyllo dough that sells in the US makes a great substitute for yufka but because phyllo is much thinner than yufka, more layers of the former go into a single borek.
This recipe for layered spinach borek made with yufka comes from my mother-in-law’s recipe collection. She is the best borek maker I have known and made us all addicted to them.
You can use the same recipe to make borek with cheese filling (variation given), ground meat filling or any other filling you fancy as well. Look for Turkish yufka in the freezer section of most Turkish/Middle Eastern markets and even in online Turkish stores. Bring the flatbreads to room temperature before using.
Turkish Spinach Pie (Ispanakli Borek)
3 yufka flatbreads about 20 inches in diameter, or 2 larges ones – cut one into half to obtain 3 pieces total.
For the Spinach Filling: *
4 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 pound fresh spinach
1/2 cup coarsely crumbled feta cheese (or any other white cheese)
Salt (if cheese is not salted) and ground black pepper, to taste
For the Milky Wash:
1 cup milk
2 eggs (reserve 1 egg yolk for the top)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (optional – but is said to give the layers a nice “lift”)
1/3 cup olive oil
For the Glaze:
1 reserved egg yolk + a few tablespoons milk or plain yogurt
Sesame seeds or Nigella sativa seeds
Prepare the filling: Heat the oil or butter in a medium frying pan. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is light golden. Remove from the heat and set aside. Meanwhile, cut the spinach coarsely and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoon water and a generous few pinches of salt on top. Rub the spinach with your hands until it is well wilted. Taking a handful at a time, squeeze the spinach to remove all the moisture (discard the released juices), until the spinach is dry. In a bowl, combine the onion, spinach, and cheese. If using unsalted cheese, season the filling with salt. Season with black pepper to taste (sometimes, crushed red pepper is added too, to taste, but it is optional). Set aside.
Prepare the wash to moisten the layers: In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the wash. Whisk gently to blend. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 380F.
Assemble the borek: Lightly grease a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish (I used a Pyrex dish). Layer the first yufka in the pan so that the sides are overhanging (best is one side is overhangling more than the other, so that it covers the top completely later). Evenly drizzle 1/3 of the milky wash on top of this layer. Arrange the second yufka by ruffling it so that it fits the pan without overhanging. Drizzle half of the remaining wash on top. Spread the filling evenly over this layer. Cover the filling with another “ruffled” yufka: moisten with the remaining wash. Bring the overhanging yufka to the top and cover the top completely.
Glaze the borek: Combine the egg yolk with milk or yogurt, stirring to mix. Brush the top of the borek with this mixture. Sprinkle sesame seeds or Nigella sativa seeds on top.
Bake the borek: Bake on the middle rack of the oven until golden on top, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool about 15 minutes. The top will appear a bit hard, but it will soften as the borek cools. You can also cover it with a kitchen cloth to facilitate the softening (but only when the borek is has somewhat cooled off). Cut into 15 square pieces. Arrange on a nice serving platter and serve.
* Filling Variations – Cheese Filling
In place of spinach filling you can stuff the pie with cheese filling. If option for this variation, combine 3 cups crumbled feta cheese or any kind of white cheese with 2 eggs and a generous pinch of parsley. If the cheese is unsalted, season the filing with salt. Stir to mix. Prepare the borek as directed in the recipe above.