Saturday, April 4, 2009

Oven Baked Börek with Mustard Greens, Feta and Walnuts Recipe

Last summer, while vacationing with my husband at my family's house on the Aegean coast of Turkey, I went to market. It is the market I usually go to when there, the Saturday food market in Turgutreis, and I'll fill up with bags of tomatoes, eggplant, green peppers, garlic, cucumbers, parsley, apricots, peaches, grapes; the usual suspects. This time, I knew I would be forced to push my culinary boundaries when I came across a woman sitting in front of overflowing bags of mysterious green herbs.

I strained to understand her accented Turkish, and learned that one of the greens, istifno, is indigenous to the region, used for medicinal purposes, and even shipped north to Istanbul because of high demand. The other, sirken, is often used in börek, a type of savory pastry appearing in many different forms. I decided to combine the greens, add some feta cheese, and make a pan börek, or tepsi börek, similar in structure to lasagna, but made with yufka, a dough a little thicker than phyllo. Later that evening, thrilled, my husband declared the börek one of the top ten foods he'd ever consumed, but I knew it wasn't all me: I wanted to find out more about those ingredients.

Looking up the Turkish names of these wild greens, I found that istifno, or black nightshade, is known to be poisonous when consumed raw, but has been used medicinally to treat liver ailments, skin conditions, and inflammatory problems, and also to reduce fevers and the pain of menstrual cramps. Sirken is a species belonging to the genus Chenopodium, which also includes lamb's quarters and quinoa. An ancient relative of spinach, these plants contain large quantities of vitamin A, C, calcium, phosphorus, and smaller amounts of iron, niacin and thiamin. So, not only was my börek decadent, it was a doctor's visit on a plate.

I saw lamb's quarters on the online produce list of my food coop last week and started planning. I had some triangular yufka dough in the freezer which I'd fill with the lamb's quarters, walnuts, and feta. I'd roll the börek individually, and bake them, topped with sesame and nigella seeds, and I'd be right back in Turkey, cooking, and trying to beat the falling sun so we could watch it set over the water (and the minaret, and the island), the beauty enhanced by the flavors in our mouths. But, alas, at the food coop there were no lamb's quarters to be found. The greens arrive, I was told, from only one farm in Pennsylvania, on Fridays at 10 am, and sell out in an hour and a half. I chose mustard greens instead, and am happy that I will have to wait to return to Turkey in order to recreate the dish. There's no produce like it anywhere in the world. And no sunset, either.

Oven Baked Börek with Mustard Greens, Feta and Walnuts

For the filling:

olive oil
1 large bunch mustard greens, chopped, stems cut into small pieces (or lamb's quarters or spinach)
1 medium onion, chopped
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

For the pastry:

1 package triangular yufka, 28 sheets (This may be purchased online at, or at any Turkish grocery store. If you choose to use the more commonly found Greek phyllo, double the number of sheets.)
1/4 cup yogurt (I used goat milk yogurt)
2 eggs, beaten, plus one egg yolk for brushing the tops of the finished pastries
1/4 cup olive oil
sesame seeds and/or nigella seeds

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan), and add the onion. Saute over medium high heat until the onion is translucent. Add the stems of the greens, and cook them, stirring occasionally, until they soften. Add the greens, stirring to encorporate them into the onion mixture, and lower the heat. Cover the greens, and cook them until they wilt, about 3-4 minutes. Remove them from the pan, put them in a bowl and let them cool. When they are cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess moisture, and add the crumbled feta and walnuts to the greens. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the yogurt, the two eggs, and the olive oil.

Separate one of the pastry sheets from the rest, and brush liberally on one side with the yogurt mixture. (I used 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons.) Layer another pastry sheet directly on top of the first one, and brush it, too, with the yogurt mixture. Spoon about 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons of the greens mixture onto the large end of the triangle, and roll up the börek, being sure to fold the sides in as you go. Place the rolled börek on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat (or you can brush a little olive oil directly onto the baking sheet), being sure that the tail end of the pastry is underneath. Continue until all the pastry is used. You should have 14 rolled börek when you are finished.

Brush the remaining egg yolk over all of the börek, and sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds or nigella seeds, or both. Bake in a 375 degree until golden brown.


Curtis Duffy said...

Looks tasty!!!! And your blog looks wonderful.

Banu said...

Thanks, Chef. So does yours! I look forward to eating at Avenues soon.