Turkish Sigara Borek

Recipe
The Hursts at the dinner table in Ankara. I'm in red.

The Hursts at the dinner table in Ankara. I’m in red.

Over the past month I’ve written extensively about the influence that the people and food of Russia have had on me as a chef.  And while we didn’t spend nearly as long in Turkey, and I was quite young, the exotic flavors and sights and smells of this incredible country remain with me just as vividly.  When we arrived in Ankara in September of 1980, it could not have seemed more different from the forbidding Moscow we’d left behind. It was hot and dry and sunny and colorful and friendly. There remains a glow about the two years we spent there, a magical quality, that still lingers when I think of it. Yes, while I should have been enrolling in the second grade, we were confined inside because a military coup meant that tanks were rolling down the streets.  And, yes, to avoid being surrounded by Marines carrying machine guns, my parents insisted I attend the British School instead of the American. But these facts are only peculiar to me in hindsight, while we were there the trips to the seaside and the romps through the orchards and the fish eaten right out of the sea and the haunting call to prayer floating through the air made me very sad to leave as soon as we did.

photo 1Sigara borek, little cigar shaped parcels, fried and filled with goodness, are probably the recipe that most reminds me of Turkey. Our housekeeper, Taiba, a plump little lady with a mouth full of gold teeth and a scarf covering her hair, taught me to roll the phyllo (it might have been the more authentic yukfa pastry) around the various fillings she had prepared and then I’d watch her shallow fry them, the kitchen window always open to vent the fumes, and place them on a paper towel to dry.   Served with a glass cup of black tea, they were a delicious after school snack.

Circassian cheese

Circassian cheese

My mother-in-law who lives in Jordan, often pushes food on me as we’re packing our suitcases. Last April, I remember a cold pack with frozen Circassian cheese being slipped into my carry-on along with a huge amount of zaatar and Arabic coffee and sumac (shhhh, don’t tell customs). Anyway, I wasn’t sure what to do with the little frozen blocks of hard cheese until recently it occurred to me that this is a very close relative to the traditional sirene cheese used in Turkey. It’s kind of like a mix between feta and halloumi, very salty and easy to crumble. (You can read more about my husband’s Circassian background here.)  So, I pulled one vacuum packed container out of the freezer and decided it was time to play.  Please note for both of these recipes, that while they’re really best eaten right out of the pan, you can reheat these in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes or so and they will crisp up nicely.

Cheese & Dill Sigara Borek
makes 12

1 cup of crumbled cheese, feta most easy to find
3 tablespoons chopped dill
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 sheets phyllo pastry
lemon wedges to serve

In a bowl combine the cheese, dill, and pepper. Now lay your sheets of phyllo one on top of the other, cut them in half across the short side and then each half across diagonally (see the picture). Put all the triangles aside except for one and using your fingers dampen the entire surface with water.  Now place 2 tablespoons of the cheese filling in the wide end of the triangle about 1 inch from the bottom. Fold the bottom exposed phyllo up over the filling and bring the two edges in, like you’re making a burrito. Now roll the parcel up to the pointy end, securing with water as necessary. Complete with all 12 triangles.  Heat about 1/4 inch of canola oil in a heavy frying pan, add the borek to the hot oil and allow to brown heavily on all sides.  This should take about 5 minutes, but make sure not to let the oil get too hot or they will burn.  Drain the borek on a paper towel and serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over them to serve.

Ground Meat Sigara Borekphoto 3
makes 12

1/2 pound of minced lamb or beef
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 sheets phyllo pastry
lebneh or greek yoghurt to serve

Fry your minced meat, making sure to really work it so that it’s in small little pieces.  Once it’s cooked add the garlic, salt and pepper and let cook for a minute more.  Remove from the heat and add the chopped parsley.  Like you did for the cheese version, lay your sheets of phyllo one on top of the other, cut them in half across the short side and then each half across diagonally (see the picture). Put all the triangles aside except for one and using your fingers dampen the entire surface with water.  Now place 2 tablespoons of the meat filling in the wide end of the triangle about 1 inch from the bottom. Fold the bottom exposed phyllo up over the filling and bring the two edges in, like you’re making a burrito. Now roll the parcel up to the pointy end, securing with water as necessary. Complete with all 12 triangles.  Heat about 1/4 inch of canola oil in a heavy frying pan, add the borek to the hot oil and allow to brown heavily on all sides.  This should take about 5 minutes, but make sure not to let the oil get too hot or they will burn.  Drain the borek on a paper towel and serve with lebneh or yoghurt as a dipping sauce.

0 thoughts on “Turkish Sigara Borek

  1. My parents lived in Turkey 1946-1949. Besides a love of the dark rye “Russian Bread” they brought back a love of yogurt and borek. I make borek like my mother, buy brushing each layer of filo with butter, then filling and baking them. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t swoon over them. Much easier than frying, and the golden brown appearance is very attractive. I used an egg in the filling, and stretch the feta with a little farmer cheese, if the feta seems too sharp for my American friends. The unbaked borek freeze well wrapped in party-sized foil wrappers and zip lock bags, so I make a huge number. They go straight from freezer to oven, then we have available a delicious appetizer in the time it takes to bake them to a crispy puffed golden brown.

    1. These are all wonderful tips, Hannah, thank you! I’m going to try your technique next time I cater a party. When Taiba made them for us they were always fresh and always gobbled up straight away – no chance for her to freeze! So this is great to know. I’m also going to try the baking, sounds much less laborious (and smelly). Thanks so much!

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