It seems that almost every country knows how to snack better than we do. We grab coffee and a muffin from a drive-through, or mindlessly reach into the chip bag while staring at the screen on our desk. I recently visited a friend in Spain's Basque country who pointed out, with disdain, the lone cafe in his town that would give you coffee in a to-go cup rather than the standard little demitasse. The idea that you wouldn't have a few minutes to sit and fully appreciate a cup of coffee and a little snack, either with a friend or the daily paper, was nearly unfathomable.
I hear where he's coming from. Every now and then, when I catch myself wolfing something down without even registering (let alone appreciating) it, or forgoing breaks altogether, I make a mental note to make up for it. With a proper cup of tea, a proper moment of respite. A proper borek.
Borek are delicious little turnovers from Turkey, the country that invented the meze (well, the word, anyway). In fine Ottoman fashion, Turks are known for putting out table-groaning displays of little bites, from tangy thick yogurt to savory stuffed vegetables. However, as a fan of all things wrapped in dough, I gravitate toward borek.
Maybe it's because I don't get enough Turkish food in my life. Or maybe it's because an individual borek, like any sort of dumpling or turnover, just seems so lovely. It's like a little gift-wrapped package, just for you, with a delicious surprise inside. And it's often a bit rich, either from a cheese filling or the oil/butter brushed between layers to keep pastry crisp, so it's practically built for enjoying between sips of a nice hot beverage.
Many countries have their own version of savory pastry-covered turnovers, from samosas to empanadas — it's too good an idea to stay in one place. And it's no surprise that Turks, the people behind phyllo dough (don't let the Greeks tell you otherwise), have a particularly developed tradition. Borek are made at home as delicate party snacks or enjoyed in shops as a little break, either with a cup of tea or a glass of tangy yogurt-based ayran.
Borek take so many forms that it's almost hard to talk about them as a whole. But let's start at the outside: the dough. Your Turkish mother might make her own, but these days it's totally acceptable to pick up a package of phyllo for those flaky layers (if you live in a place with a particularly well-stocked Middle Eastern market, you can seek out yufka, a slightly thicker version of phyllo that is favored for certain borek). The layers can be greased for crispness, moistened with a savory custard, or even boiled like pasta (for the famous water borek). Alternatively, they can be made with puff pastry for a slightly flakier version.
Fillings also vary, from lamb to vegetables to briny cheese, depending on the season or region (borek have spread beyond Turkey, to become a standard in the Balkans, or a staple of Sephardic cuisine). The fillings are rolled up in dough to form empanada-like half-moons, narrow cigars, coiled snails or ornate rose shapes, or cut into dainty squares from a large pan.
Yes, "borek" covers a pretty big catchall category, encompassing all sorts of delectable snacks. But this wide range shouldn't be off-putting — it makes it all the more likely that you'll find a variation you adore. So find a recipe, put the kettle on, and take some time out of your day to enjoy the moment.