There are so many bourek variations out there. Especially here in Melbourne, it’s like a bourek melting pot of Greek, Turkish and Lebanese renditions. Some are heavier on the spinach, some are all cheese. A few are light and crispy, others quite bready. I’ve made it a point to taste as many as possible – mostly because I can’t curb my spinach-feta addiction – but also to see if I can find a favorite. Somehow I almost always come back to my original recipe: light crispy phyllo dough stuffed with bold feta, mild spinach and a few extras…
I grew up eating bourek. My parents entertain a lot, so mom would make spinach or meat bourek when friends or family came over. In more recent years she started adding a bit of shredded mozzarella to the mix. Traditional? Not quite. But the melted mozzarella acts as a binding agent, and also gives the filling a bit of pull between your teeth to make these little treats a bit of reinforcement. She/I usually brush each sheet with olive oil. This time I used a quality extra virgin olive oil spray, which sped up the process and also cut out a fair bit of extra oil with equally crispy and flavorful results.
The recipe, of course, requires phyllo… the pastry with an unfairly nasty reputation of finickiness. Each box differs slightly, and yes, it can be moody. But if there was ever a recipe to experiment with phyllo, this is it. The layers do not have to be perfect; since the pastry is folded several times (and has a few layers of reinforcement) the finished product won’t show holes or tears. You can also work around the 2-hour thaw time by removing the phyllo from the box, and microwaving on high for 30 seconds in the plastic wrapper. If you have time to spare, do it the “real” way, but I tried the nuking technique and it worked a treat. Once thawed, lay the phyllo out on a clean work surface and cover with plastic wrap, then a damp tea towel to keep it from drying out. That’s it!
When I think of lunch/dinner/cocktail parties, my mind wanders to bourek. So, if you invite me to a party and there’s finger food involved, chances are I’ll bring along a few of these. These little pockets are delicious on their own, or as part a full mezze (small plates) spread. Or try them alongside a crisp baby greens salad for a light and refreshing lunch.
1 block (220g / 7.70oz) feta
1 package frozen chopped spinach leaves (approx 220g / 7.7oz), thawed and thoroughly drained
1/3 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
1 egg, gently whisked
1 tsp dill
Fresh black pepper, to taste
9 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Olive oil spray
Thaw your phyllo dough: you can either leaving it to rest 2 hours at room temperature, or microwave it for 30 seconds on high in the plastic wrapper. Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Crumble the feta in a medium sized bowl. Add the mozzarella, egg, dill and pepper, tossing to combine. Place the thawed spinach in a cheesecloth (or between paper towels), and squeeze thoroughly to drain all excess moisture – too much water will make for soggy pastry. Loosen the packed spinach with your fingers and sprinkle into the cheese mixture, tossing again to evenly incorporate with the egg.
Remove the phyllo from its package and place on a clean work surface. Cover it with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel to prevent over drying. Carefully peel off one sheet from the stack, spray both sides with olive oil, and lay width-wise in front of you. Repeat with two more sheets to make a base of three phyllo sheets, each one sprayed with olive oil on both sides.
Line up five rounded tablespoons of filling alongside the bottom of the sheet (closest to you). Slice vertically in between each bit of filling to make five columns. Fold one bottom corner over the filling to the opposite side, to form a triangle. Continue “rolling” the pastry diagonally, maintaining the triangle shape, until you reach the end of the pastry column. Place the finished bourek on a sprayed or lined baking sheet, and cover with plastic wrap until the sheet is filled and ready to bake.
Repeat the phyllo laying, filling and folding process three times (using three sheets of sprayed phyllo each time, and five tablespoons of filling) to make 15 boureks. Bake 20-25 minutes until lightly golden brown, and place on a wire rack to cool.
Tip: these boureks will store for several days in an airtight container or simply on a plate covered with aluminum foil. They will lose their crispiness while stored, but quickly toasting them in the oven or on a hot pan (no oil necessary) will restore all the original crunch.
Audio pairing: Chinese Man, “I’ve Got That Tune”