>Entrees – Vuslat’s Spinach Borek (Ispanakli Borek)
>When I moved to Turkey and got married more than 20 years ago, I had no idea how inadequate I was in the kitchen until one fateful day I tried to cook a pot of pink beans in olive oil. I had gotten the recipe from one of my newlywed friends who assured me it was sooo easy. She told me the basic ingredients, 1 kg of pink beans, 1/2 cup of olive oil, 2 onions diced, 1 potato and 1 carrot cubed, 2 cloves of garlic and tomato paste with 1 cup of water… these were suppose to be cooked on high until it boiled and then simmer for one hour. After gathering my ingredients I was ready to tackle the project with gusto the next Saturday morning. As a new bride, I was really excited about preparing my husband’s favorite dish for him; it started out as a surprise but as the day progressed on and my telephone calls to my Aunt Vuslat got more and more frantic, he began to wonder what I was doing in the kitchen.
My maternal uncle’s wife, Vuslat is probably one of the most creative, talented, resourceful and expeditious individuals, in the kitchen that I know of. She can create a feast in record time from the most humble of ingredients. So, she was my natural choice to call for help in time of need.
The first call was probably around 10 in the morning and I asked her if these ingredients could possibly be right; I was looking into a huge pot full of beans with a few measly pieces of carrots and potatoes and 1 cup of water that was nowhere in sight. My aunt assured me that it would be more than enough. I kept on repeating that I couldn’t see the water at the bottom of the pan but she said it was ok, that beans would cook quickly in about an hour and I didn’t need to add any more water.
After my third phone call, an hour later, she let me add 1 more cup; I had given up on the other ingredients and just worried about making sure the beans would cook already. I kept on staring into the pot full of beans, dubiously.
One hour turned into three and then five, six…. my huge pot of beans was getting more and more full of beans that were still hard as a rock. By this time, my aunt was sitting by the phone waiting for my next phone call. She kept on going over the ingredients with me and I assured her that I put in 1 kg but when I mentioned adding the whole bag, she realized what I had done. The recipe was for fresh beans, taken out of their skins…. I had put in a whole kilogram of dried beans… without soaking them overnight… so instead of cooking, they were only expanding and expanding, while the rest of the ingredients had turned into burnt mush.
The most important lesson I derived from this experience was to make sure I got the right measurement and ingredients for a recipe by any means possible. I used to drill my aunt until she could not take it anymore to get any kind of a recipe out of her that I could reproduce myself. After many hours of questioning, I derived my first formula for ‘Borek’ that turned out to be the golden recipe.
Borek is a wonderful Turkish pastry, that everyone absolutely loves, made of dough, eggs, milk and butter or oil with some kind of filling that is baked in the oven until it is golden brown.
For each layer of ‘Yufka’ (a Turkish dough that is thinner than a puff pastry but thicker than a phyllo dough, which can be found in Turkish grocers) I use one egg, 1/4 cup butter or oil and 1/4 cup milk. The more you add the better it is, and believe me with this recipe, it is very very good… The fillings can vary from feta with parsley to cooked ground beef with onions, to mashed potatoes to any kind of vegetable combined with some kind of cheese, I could go on and on for hours.
You start by greasing your baking pan and then spreading your first yufka with the sides hanging out. You mix the eggs, milk and butter or oil according to how many yufka’s you are going to use and spread this mixture liberally, in between each layer of yufka, the general rule is 3 yufka’s on the bottom of the pan then the filling and two yufka’s on top and then the sides are wrapped on top of the whole thing with the remainder of the egg mixture poured over the top. If you run out of the egg mixture before you get to the top, don’t despair, just make some more… remember, in this instance more is better. You put your pan in to a 350 degree oven for one hour and that’s it. One of the best parts of it is the wonderful aroma that fills the whole house as it is baking.
My Aunt’s recipe for the raw Spinach filling is so delicious that I use left over filling as a salad, mixed with tomatoes, peppers and olives. Since the spinach, onions and feta cheese are mixed with olive oil, It already has the basic ingredients for a good salad.
‘Boreks’ can be made to eat for breakfast, with your afternoon tea as well as an appetizer or a light entree. Over the years, I made so many boreks that I had to add a little variety and the borek I made for the night of the Global Dinner Party was in fact made by combining water and oil and spreading that on the yufka instead of the traditional egg mixture and at the end bathing the whole borek with the same water mixture and letting it sit for two hours in the refrigerator. Before putting it in the oven I spread a beaten egg over the whole thing. It would’ve been much better if it could have stayed in the refrigerator overnight since the more the yufka soaks the water mixture the lighter and fluffier it gets.
As I mentioned many times before, the main thing is to stay calm. If there is too much water floating above the borek when you take it out of the refrigerator, you can pour some of it out, the same thing is true for when you take it out of the oven as well. Sometimes, the top is bubbling with the water-oil mixture, I just pour it out before I serve it.
Afiyet Olsun. (Bon Appetit)