To make bourekas add filo to filling and it's a wrap

April 18, 1993|By Faye Levy | Faye Levy,Contributing Writer

When I lived in Israel, I became acquainted with the delectable pastries called bourekas, made of filo dough with a tasty filling. Known in Turkey as beureks and in Greece as bourekia, these savory turnovers could be considered the empanadas of the eastern Mediterranean area.

In this part of the world, bourekas are a popular snack. You can buy them from bakeries, in cafes and in pizzeria-like restaurants that offer bourekas instead of pizza. Cheese, spinach and potato are the traditional fillings, but you can also find these flaky pastries enclosing beef, mushrooms or eggplant, or even a pizza-like filling of tomato and Parmesan cheese.

Bourekas are made at home, too. Whether they contain a savory filling or a sweet one, these hot, aromatic, tempting treats are the first items to disappear at parties.

Convenience is one reason bourekas are ideal for making at home. You can shape the pastries ahead and keep them in the refrigerator or freezer, so you can have freshly baked pastries when you want them. Best of all, there is no need to make the pastry from scratch, or even to use a rolling pin -- sheets of fine-quality filo are now easy to find in many American supermarkets in the frozen foods section.

Filo means "leaf" in Greek, and indeed the sheets are very thin. When baked, the pastry is light, delicate and flaky. In recent years filo dough has become part of fine cooking outside its traditional region. Chefs now use it to wrap everything from seafood to sweetbreads; they see it as a lighter, easier-to-use alternative to puff pastry.

Filo dough does have a great advantage over other doughs in that it does not contain fat. However, the pastry must be brushed with melted butter, margarine or oil before baking, or else it will be too dry. .

You can make filo appetizers in different shapes, from strudels and fingers to snails and wreaths. But triangles are the most practical shape for bourekas because they are easy to serve; each makes an individual portion, so no cutting is required at serving time. Folding the dough in a triangle is simple, too. People tell me the shaping technique is the same as in flag folding. I guess if I ever need to fold a flag, I'll know how to do it from making bourekas.

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Cheese is the most popular filling for filo appetizers.

Cheese filo triangles

Makes about 30 triangles, or 10 to 12 appetizer servings.

FILLING:

1/4 cup cottage cheese

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups shredded kashkaval, Swiss or Cheddar cheese

2 green onions, finely chopped

salt (optional), freshly ground pepper

oil

PASTRY:

1 pound filo sheets, thawed if frozen

3/4 to 1 cup melted butter or margarine

about 2 teaspoons sesame seeds

To prepare filling, place cottage cheese in strainer over bowl and press gently to remove excess liquid. Do not push cheese through strainer.

Leave cheese in strainer 10 minutes and press gently again. Mix together cottage cheese with eggs, shredded cheese and green onions. Taste before adding any salt. Add pepper to taste.

Lightly oil 2 or 3 baking sheets. Remove filo from package and spread sheets on dry towel. Using sharp knife, cut stack in half lengthwise to form 2 stacks of sheets of about 16 by 7 inches. Cover filo immediately with wax paper, then with damp towel. Work with 1 filo sheet at a time, and keep remaining sheets covered with paper and towel.

Remove 1 filo sheet from pile. Brush it lightly with melted butter and fold it in half lengthwise, so it measures about 16 by 3 1/2 inches. Dab lightly with butter. Place about 1 1/2 teaspoons filling at one end of strip. Fold end of strip diagonally over filling to form a triangle and dab lightly with butter. Continue folding it over, keeping it in a neat triangular shape after each fold, until you reach end of strip. Set pastry on oiled baking sheet. Brush top lightly with butter.

Shape more triangles with remaining dough and filling. Brush pastries again with butter. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. If baking on 2 racks, switch positions halfway through baking time. Serve warm (not hot) or at room temperature.

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This filling tastes best with a feta cheese from Greece, France or Bulgaria, made with sheep's milk.

Spinach and feta triangles

Makes about 25 pastries, or about 8 appetizer servings.

FILLING:

1 (10-ounce) package fresh spinach leaves, stems discarded, rinsed

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 cup finely chopped green onions

salt, freshly ground pepper

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

1 large egg

PASTRY:

3/4 -pound filo sheets, thawed if frozen

2/3 cup melted butter or olive oil (for brushing dough)

about 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, optional

To prepare filling, place spinach leaves and water in large saute pan. Cover and bring to boil over high heat. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible. Finely chop spinach and set aside.

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