Now that we’ve started using filo dough (see: Baklava – we’ve made it twice since posting it!), we’ve gained a little bit of confidence in working with the thin, finicky dough. So I knew Selim would want to tackle börek next. He loves börek – although it’s kind of hard to say it’s his favorite food, because there are about a million different types of börek. In Turkey, börek is essentially any dish prepared with yufka, which is (depending on when and where you read about it) the same as filo dough, the precursor of filo dough, or a slightly different texture from filo dough. I’m not educated enough to know which one it is. I do know that börek is delicious in every form I’ve ever had it and that this spinach-stuffed version is a quite traditional one.
I was eating some of this börek for lunch the other day in a breakroom at the hospital, when someone said, “Oh wow that smells delicious… What is it, spanakopita?” I could feel my husband cringing from a floor away. We’ll pause to let him go on his rant about Turkish food – how he would’ve answered had the friendly, innocent question been posed to him.
Selim: Many Americans love Mediterranean food and seem to always associate this with Greek food. So somehow, this has turned into Greek food being the most beloved cuisine, representing an entire region. Even more so, I feel like Americans think that the Greeks were the originators and only true architects of so many of the best dishes of the Middle East and Mediterranean. In fact, many of your favorites, originated elsewhere: baklava came out of the Ottoman palace kitchens in modern day Istanbul, while hummus was first documented in 13th century Cairo. The vast reach of the Ottoman empire and centuries of trading routes surely contributes to the regional spread of cuisine – you can find dishes with very similar ingredients and preparations, but different names from the Balkans to the Levant, the Caucasus to Northern African. (This is not to say that there aren’t amazing Greek chefs or delicious dishes of Greek origin – the Greeks truly aren’t the subject of my rant.) I just hate that other cultures don’t get their due. Obviously, I’m biased as I’m ethnically half Turkish, but I wish Turkish cuisine was more recognized, available, and beloved in the US. So in short, while similar, this is börek, not spanakopita.
Spinach & Feta Börek
(Adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen by Özcan Ozan)
2 lbs fresh spinach
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1/2 cup clarified butter, divided
1/2 cup diced onion
3 eggs, divided
16oz feta cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup milk
~20 sheets filo dough
Salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Prepare the filling: cook the spinach briefly in boiling water over medium heat until wilted. Drain the water and squeeze the spinach to remove any additional water.
Chop up the spinach.
In a large pan oven medium heat, heat 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup clarified butter.
Add the onions and spinach and cook for just 3-4 minutes until onions have softened.
Allow the mixture to cool.
Once cool, stir in the cheese, parsley, and 2 whisked eggs. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup clarified butter, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 egg, and milk.
Brush this mixture on the bottom of a cookie sheet. Begin layering the filo dough, brushing each new layer with the butter mixture.
Once halfway through the filo dough (~10 sheets), spread all of the spinach and cheese mixture out evenly.
Resume layering the rest of the filo dough, brushing with the butter mixture as before, including a thorough coating over the last layer.
Using a sharp knife, slice the börek into squares or triangles.
Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and bake an additional 20 minutes.
Allow the börek to stand for 10 minutes before eating.
Filo dough can be very intimidating to work with. It’s hard to find, not used in American cuisine, and requires patience to handle. We learned that filo dough originated in the kitchens of Topkapı Palace, where the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire once lived. When people think of filo dough, most think of decadent sweets like baklava, but filo dough is also be used for savory snacks like borek (filo layered with spinach & feta). We haven’t made borek yet, but trust us, it’ll be on the blog soon enough.
Naturally, when we started to make baklava, we had to call my father, Baba (Turkish for father), since he’s our resident Turkish food expert. He loves the blog and hopefully will love the shout out as well. He gave us some tips for how to make the best baklava possible and include how finely to grind the walnuts, how thick the walnut layer should be, and also that the best baklava sets for a couple days to really absorb all the sweet syrup. Baba also shared a great story from when he was a child and my Babaanne (father’s mother = grandmother) would make baklava, she would have to lock the finished baklava in another room so my father and his siblings wouldn’t eat it all before it was perfectly set. Of course, we had to try it as soon as we poured the syrup over it… but when we tried it again for breakfast the next day, we both agree that it only gets better as it sets for a day or two.
We hope you enjoy this decadently sweet treat, your sweet tooth will thank us.
(Adapted from the cookbook Sultan’s Table, by Ozçan Ozan with tips from Selim’s father)
2 cups cold water
3 cups + 2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 cups (~300g) walnuts
1 1/2 cups unsalted, clarified butter
40 sheets of filo dough (usually 2 packages)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
(If you have clarified butter, melt the appropriate amount. If you only have regular butter, melt it in a saucepan and then skim off the foam and slowly pour the liquid into a bowl making sure to not transfer solid milk fats which are at the bottom.)
Prepare the syrup: combine cold water and 3 cups of sugar in a medium saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, then lower heat to a simmer. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
Stir in the lemon juice and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, combine walnuts and 2 tbsp sugar in food processor. Process until “medium” ground – don’t let it get too fine.
Now brush the inside of a large cookie sheet with clarified butter.
Place a sheet of filo dough in the pan. Brush with another little bit of clarified butter. Continue in this pattern until you’ve placed half of the sheets (~20) of filo dough in the pan.
Now spread the walnut mixture onto the top layer of filo dough. Drizzle with more clarified butter.
Return to the pattern of layering dough and clarified butter until you use all of the rest of the filo dough sheets. Brush the top layer and the edges with clarified butter.
Take a very sharp knife and dip it into hot water. Slice down halfway through the height of the dough into the size and shape of baklava pieces you want at the end.
Bake for 25 minutes in the center of the oven.
Lower heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.
Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
Slice all the way through, along the lines you previously made.
So the other evening, I tried to flip the ceiling fan on (after Selim told me not to because he thought it was broken, but I forgot ok?!), and instead blew a fuse. I tried to flip the breaker back and it sent blue sparks at me. So I quit doing that. I may not be the most savvy girl in the world when it comes to things like that, but I know that blue sparks + no electricity = call an electrician.
What does this have to do with challah? Everything and nothing. Unfortunately for my TV and internet addicted self, the fuse I blew covered our whole living room – where our TV and internet router are. Sure we could’ve moved them I guess, but it just seems sad if you can’t live without the Netflix and Hulu for a whole day. So instead of wasting my life on mindless TV, I baked instead!
I’d been thinking about challah because Passover was last week (and because it’s the best bread ever). I honestly never thought about making it before because its gorgeous appearance made it seem out of my league in terms of baking ability. Plus I figured the Jewish grandmas had some secret that they weren’t sharing with the rest of us. Turns out I was wrong – even I can make gorgeous challah! It’s actually way less complicated than I thought and you probably have all the ingredients on hand. (I did, hence spur of the moment baking afternoon.)
Since I don’t have a Jewish grandma handy, I got this recipe from one of my favorite corners of the internet – The Kitchn. Check them out if you want to learn how to do anything culinary related. Their step by step guide to making challah worked perfectly for me and is nearly verbatim what I’ll be sharing in this recipe. Thanks guys!! 👋🏼
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
4 cups flour + extra for sprinkling
1/4 cup sugar + a pinch
2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
A third egg, divided into yolk & white
1/4 cup neutral oil
Dissolve the yeast into the water. Stir and then allow to sit until yeast causes frothing on the top.
Meanwhile, sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt) in the bowl of your stand mixer.
In another bowl, whisk together the remaining wet ingredients except for the egg white (eggs, egg yolk, oil).
Pour the bowl of wet ingredients into the dry ones. Begin to mix together with a large spoon. Follow with the water/yeast.
Attach a dough hook to the stand mixer. Turn on low-medium and knead for 6+ minutes. [If the dough is to sticky, slowly add flour by the teaspoon. If too dry, do the same with water.]
Oil a large bowl. Place the ball of dough in the bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for two hours.
Now that the dough has doubled in size, divide it into six equal chunks.
Roll each piece of dough out into long ropes.
Lay the six dough ropes next to each other. Pinch the ends of all six pieces together at the top. Then braid together, taking the right-most strand and pulling it over the nearest two strands, under the next, over the remaining two, and then laying it down at the far left. OVER two – UNDER one – OVER two. (Check out The Kitchn’s lovely pictorial in their post for a visual!) Once you can go no further, pinch the ends together.
Sprinkle dough with a smidge of flour. Place on a cooking sheet lined with parchment paper (or a Silpat if you have one). Re-cover with your damp towel and let sit for another hour.
Brush the dough generously with the leftover egg white.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake for 30 minutes. When done, the challah will have a gorgeous deep brown crust and be warm and fluffy on the inside.
What’s the first thing people think of when they think of Turkish food? Kofte is the first thing for most people, but there’s so much more! Don’t worry, we’re going to keep cooking our way through them and sharing with you here. Gözleme is one of the many great Turkish street foods. (Lahmacun is another that if you haven’t tried from our blog, you should soon!) So good in fact that it has spread from Turkey to the rest of the world. In Australia, there’s a fast food place, called Gözleme King, devoted to making different types of gözleme. This spinach and cheese preparation is a fairly traditional one, but gözleme can contain pretty much anything! In the future we’re definitely going to throw in some sucuk (Turkish sausage). But as is, this dish is amazing. The dough is soft, light, and just a bit crispy on the edges. And it essentially goes without saying that the warm feta brings it all of the flavors together perfectly.
*So speaking of feta… Let’s talk about feta. I know so many people who loooove feta. I’m one of them, obviously. We could form a fan club if y’all want? But here’s the thing, a lot of people I know have only ever had the pre-crumbled, standard grocery store feta. I used to be one of them. As with many other things, when I started dating Selim, my narrowly bounded world of feta expanded. If you think feta only exists in its pre-crumbled form and you love it anyway, please go out and find some block feta in brine. Your world will be changed forever, I promise. (Mine was!) The flavor and texture are so much better – you’ll never go back. Sadly, not all of your standard grocery stores will have feta like this. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods usually do, but if yours doesn’t, try an international grocery store, a halal market, or a Middle Eastern specialty shop. While you’re there, try all the different types of feta and Middle Eastern cheeses, your cheese-world will be forever changed.
We have two go-tos when it comes to making Turkish recipes. The first is Ozcan Ozan’s cookbook that I’ve referenced on here before. But the second is a blog called Ozlem’s Turkish Table. Tonight’s recipe is adapted from there. It is a wonderful resource for all things Turkish food!
Begin by making the dough. Take 1/2 cup of warm water and stir in the pinch of salt and yeast. Allow to sit for a few minutes until it begins to bubble.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast mixture, yogurt, and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add additional water by the tablespoon. (I used an additional 2-3 tbsp). Using your hands, form into a big ball of dough.
Once you have a ball of dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for several minutes.
Divide into 4 similarly sized smaller balls. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for ~30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Pour 2 tsp of olive oil into a pan over medium heat.
Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and onions. Sprinkle with the spices and stir.
Cook just for 4-5 minutes until soft and fragrant, but not starting to brown.
Add the spinach and a couple drops of water to the pan and cover. Leave covered for just a minute or two, until the spinach has wilted just a bit.
Remove the lid and stir together well. Allow to cook for another minute or two with the lid off to get rid of any excess moisture.
Remove to a bowl on the side. Mix in the feta.
Now roll out the dough balls into large, thin, rectangular segments.
Divide the mixture from the pan among the dough segments, placing in the middle of each piece of dough. Make sure to leave plenty of room around the edges for folding.
Fold the dough around the mixture as pictured. (You want to end up with a little rectangular envelope.) Brush the edges with olive oil to help them stay together.
Now, bring a large pan, preferably a griddle one, up to medium heat. [Don’t start until the pan is hot!]
Brush both sides of each gözleme with more olive oil. Once pan is hot, place them on the pan. (You can do one at a time or if you’re more confidant in your skills than I am, as many as will comfortably fit in your pan.) Cover the pan and do not touch for three full minutes. At this time, flip to the other side, re-cover, and again, do not touch for three minutes!
After this point, you may flip back and forth a few times, cooking another 4-5 minutes until dough is cooking and the outside crisped to your liking.
Before we moved to South Carolina for school, we were lucky enough to work on a unit (we were ICU nurses) with some amazing people who became great friends. Luckily for us, several of them share our love for food and cooking. Along the way, one recipe sort of became known as “the recipe,” and got passed around and around via email. We got it from Mike, who got it from Christy, who got it from… someone? As best I can tell, the recipe actually originates with the blog, My Kitchen Addiction.
This is “the recipe” because everyone loves it. We’ll use my family as Exhibit A. We go to the Outer Banks with my extended family on my dad’s side every summer. Traditionally, each night one pair of adults would cook dinner for the entire family – we’re talking 30+ people. After my grandparents died, there ended up being a free night. As one of the oldest grandchildren, I decided that my generation should probably step up and take over cooking one night… especially when you consider that we’re still getting a free vacation out of our parents for a week each summer! Two summers ago, Selim and I announced that we would take charge of that extra night, and that we’d be making this dish. There was immediate skepticism… my family prefers staples like hamburgers, spaghetti, steak, and tacos. They also think that Selim and I like “fancy, weird food.”
Well guess what? They all loved it! People came back for seconds and thirds. One of my cousins ate so much that he actually vomited. Not kidding. Moral of the story? This dish is delicious and everyone loves it. We’re sure you’ll love it too!
Spicy Slow Cooker Korean BBQ with Tangy Slaw
1 large onion, finely dice half and roughly chop the other half
10 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp of grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp chipotle powder (or other smoky pepper)
2 1/2 – 3lb beef bottom round or shoulder
3 tbsp flour
5 cups shredded vegetables (cabbage, carrots, peppers, whatever you want)
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
Zest & juice of 1 large lime
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
Extra limes, for garnish
Extra basil, for garnish
Combine the first 10 ingredients in a large bowl. [This can be done ahead of time and refrigerated to save time.]
Place liquid and beef in a large slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 10 hours.
At some point while your beef is cooking, prepare the slaw. Whisk together all ingredients and pour over the vegetables. Refrigerate until ready to serve. [This can also be done ahead of time.]
After 10 hours, pour the liquid out of the slow cooker into a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Let the meat remain in the slow cooker, with the heat turned off.
Stir the 3 tablespoons of flour into 1/4 cup of water. Whisk together so it is well-combined and forms a what resembles a paste.
Stir the flour/water paste into the saucepan. Stir while adding so it combines thoroughly into the liquid.
Continue simmering until the liquid has thickened to your liking. We reduced ours by maybe a 1/3.
Return thickened liquid to the slow cooker. Use two forks to shred the meat and mix with the liquid.
Make tacos with the meat and slaw on top of warmed tortillas! Garnish with additional basil or a squeeze of lime.
Post-dinner notes: This also goes great over rice, if for some crazy reason you’re sick of tacos! And, as per usual, I am not making any claims that this is an authentic, traditional dish the way your Korean grandma would make it.
South Carolina is known for many dishes in the world of all things culinary. Favorites include low country boils, boiled peanuts, shrimp & grits, sweet tea, cornbread, and of course… pimento cheese! South Carolinians seem use a fair amount of mayonnaise in their pimento cheese, but instead of Duke’s or Kraft’s mayo we made garlic truffle aioli. Cheddar is the standard cheese for a classic SC pimento cheese, but we swapped it out for some flavorful Italian classics, Asiago & Pecorino. The aioli sounds fancy, but in reality, it’s just homemade mayo, and probably one of the easier things we’ve made along the way.
Ally loves pimento cheese, and its abundance down here has made her quite happy. Every time we buy it though, we wonder why we don’t just make some ourselves. “It can’t be that hard… right?” Turns out, it’s not! There isn’t a standard recipe for traditional pimento cheese, because everyone’s grandmother has the original recipe that no one else’s grandmother can beat. But the basics boil down to cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and chopped pimentos. What could be easier? Or easier to modify and fancify, like we did here!
[Note: this makes a large batch. Good for a big picnic, large party, or handing out in jars to several friends!]
Garlic & Truffle Pimento Cheese
2 lb Asiago cheese
1 1/3 lb Pecorino cheese
7oz jar chopped pimentos, strained
5 egg yolks
17oz truffle oil
2 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice
Shred all of the cheese and set aside.
Prepare the aioli. (You can do this by hand or with a stand mixer like we did since we were making a large batch. The process is essentially the same.)
By hand: Separate out the egg yolks from the whites. Whisk together. Add minced garlic and then slowly drizzle in the oil. Whisk vigorously and continuously. Once the mixture has combined well, add the lemon juice and whisk until that has been absorbed.
With the mixer: Separate out the egg yolks from the whites. Place in stand mixer and turn on medium. Add minced garlic and then slowly drizzle in the oil, while the mixer remains on. Again, once the mixture is well-combined, then add the lemon juice.
Yesterday was Selim’s birthday! We celebrated by both having weekend shifts at the hospital. I was only there until 11pm, while he was there overnight, setting me up perfectly to make him post-birthday breakfast. Usually he’s the breakfast guy… It basically requires heavy machinery to drag me out of bed in the morning. But I always get excited for a good surprise, so out of bed I went!
I have two broad goals that I’ve been working on recently in terms of picking new recipes to try. 1) I’ve been wanting to bake more. Baking makes me nervous. You can’t taste it halfway through and adjust. Once it’s in the oven, you’re stuck with it. And 2) I’ve been wanting to make more family recipes from the family cookbook. These things, plus the fact that Selim has been eyeing the massive cinnamon buns at the farmer’s market the past few times we’ve been there, sent me to my Aunt Bobbie’s recipe for homemade cinnamon buns. All of my aunts are great chefs, but my Aunt Bobbie might win in terms of baking. She creates amazing desserts, not to mention really delicious breads and rolls. (Here’s to hoping no other aunts read this post 😉 !)
Update 11/8/16: We decided to submit this recipe to Our Growing Edge, a monthly recipe link-up. The goal of this is to encourage the participants to conquer a food-related goal. As I mentioned above, I’ve been wanting to bake more – I think I’ve made good progression towards this goal with this recipe! This month’s link-up is hosted by Alicia at Alicia’s Bits ‘n Bobs.
Recipe courtesy of Ally’s Aunt Bobbie
2 packages of yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tsp + 1/3 cup sugar
3 cups + 1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Several tsp warm milk
Stir yeast and 1/2 tsp sugar into the warm water. Let sit for 5+ minutes, until the liquid begins to froth.
Scald the cup of milk. That is, bring it to just under a boil and then remove from heat and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, sift together 3 cups of flour, 1/3 cup of sugar, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer.
At low speed, begin adding the wet ingredients to the bowl (yeast/water, milk, oil, and eggs). Beat until well-blended.
Now slowly add the remaining flour while the mixer is set on low speed. You may or may not use exactly 1 1/2 additional cups – keep slowly adding until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a floured countertop. Knead for 5-10 minutes until elastic and smooth.
Place dough in a large greased bowl. Cover. Allow to rise for ~1 hour.
Cream together all of the filling ingredients.
Once the dough has risen, return it to your floured countertop. Use a rolling pin and roll out into a rectangular shape. [My aunt suggests roughly 10 x 18. I didn’t measure.]
Spread the filling mixture generously across all of the dough except for the very edges (leave ~1/2 inch).
Now roll the dough very tightly. The result will be a long log.
Using a large sharp knife, slice the log on the horizontal. Aim for your slices to be approximately 1 inch thick. Remove each slice to a foil-lined cookie sheet.
The ends of the log might not look as pretty. You can discard or gobble down the misshapen ones while no one is looking.
Again, let them rise – this time about 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Bake for 20 minutes. Check on them towards the end – as the edges just start to turn golden, they’re done!
While the buns are baking, whisk together your icing. Start with the sugar. Add the vanilla. Slowly add milk by the teaspoon until you achieve your desired consistency.
Drizzle icing over the buns to serve. (I think they’re also delicious sans icing, but some might think that’s sacrilege.)