Borek / Burek / Byrek / Pite / Rustico – Mediterranean Pies

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Warm, crispy and satisfying, filled pies are the ultimate in comfort food. Wherever you go in the Med you’ll find different versions. From Turkish Borek, Balkan Burek / Byrek / Pite and Mantija, Boureki of Greece to the Rustico of Southern Italy – fillings and shapes vary to form indulgent meaty feats, cheesy delights, simple vegetable snacks or sweet treats.  The possibilities are endless and the end result always satisfying.

It’s one of those foods which is loved; a staple from warm-hearted family kitchens or consumed from kiosks and simple eateries with mopeds whizzing by. I’ve always struggled to find the authentic stuff, reminiscent of the Med in London until I stumbled upon Akdeniz Gida Pazari on Station Road, Wood Green. For £1 a pop you can buy different types of Borek fresh out of the oven, made by the hands of two smiling Bulgarian women behind an abundantly stacked counter. Safe in the knowledge I have a place to go for a quick Borek fix, I usually prefer to make my own.

In the Balkans I  watched as women made dough from scratch, tirelessly kneading and rolling with the thinnest of rolling pins. They’d work the pastry to unbelievable elasticity, picking up the delicate sheets and stretching with careful plucks.    The pies were finished with neatly pinched pleats.  Needless to say my first attempt at this was disastrous.  To make pastry by hand is indeed a labour of love. I prefer to buy ‘Yufka’ pastry which is widely available in Mediterranean supermarkets.

Here are my Borek recipes;
Sevkiye’s Borek – Oven baked layered yufka pastry with various fillings (Meat, Cheese, Herby Courgette)

Village Style Borek – basic filo dough layered with white (feta) cheese

Pan Borek – quick borek made in pan with yufka pastry.

Mantija – Meaty Balkan parcels

A Breakfast Ritual – Turkish / Balkan Style

During a blistering Balkan summer, mornings greeted me with a delightful breakfast spread. Coffee, sizzling beef sausage, fried eggs and buttery peppers perfumed the air and awoke me from my heat induced slumber before I could even open my eyes.  Empty water drums clanged excitedly waiting in turn to be filled by a temperamental tap. Strays barked from dusty dirt roads in the near distance and the family Cockerell ended his doolde-doo on a bizarre flat note as if the heat had exhausted him too. As a guest I didn’t want to out stay my welcome as I was used to pulling my weight but my offer of a helping hand was politely refused. Eating in the open air under the shade of vines, we picked from a spread which took up the entire length of the table. Red and white checks poked out from small gaps between sun dappled plates.  The elderly bumbled to and from the table as they pleased and kids unable to sit for long were soon distracted by the rural landscape’s hidey holes.

In Crete, the ritual of breakfast continued. Even bigger, more elaborate spreads became us complete with a backdrop of sparkling sea. Then in Istanbul as we sat at the table bleary eyed from perhaps a touch too much Raki the night before, the early afternoon call to prayer floated on the air reminding us we’d risen later than intended.  After the food was cleared away Murat’s sister prepared syrupy coffee, serving not only as a digestif but as a talking point as she read our fortunes from the empty cups.

The breakfast ritual is one worth keeping as long as it’s practiced in good company. Here’s how I intend to keep it going in not so sunny London..

Read on…

From the Heart of the Balkans: The Pelagonia Range

Read on…

Memory from the Balkans

It had been an overwhelmingly humid day in Durres. Ida, my raven haired friend, drove us to the Tropikal resort for an early evening dinner and sitting back in our comfy chairs we watched the sun slump low in the fiery sky.

Welcoming the cool evening breeze, we dined on succulent fish and mopped up its juices with plump bread. When the chef, Giampiero, emerged from the kitchen to greet diners I was surprised to hear his thick Barese accent. We discovered that in the bizarre reversal of trend Italians were now emigrating over the tiny slither of Adriatic sea to seek work in Albania’s booming economy. How the ways of the World have changed!

Anyway, here is my recipe for Fish with Potatoes, Black Olives and Cherry Tomatoes. They used Sea Bass but I prefer to make it with Sea Bream.