During the rule of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV (1648-1687), members of the imperial council would sit down to a royal feast after their official meetings. Each of the six dishes served was grander than the other, but the absolute favorite of the Sultan and his advisors was the borek, a savory pastry resembling what we now know as a water borek or su borek.
The “su” (water in Turkish) in the dish’s name comes from its preparation method: the bourekas “leaves” are first cooked in boiling water like lasagna sheets. The rich and delicate pastry, made of layers of thin yufka dough and filled with feta, parsley, minced chicken or meat and sometimes vegetables, became the national dish of the Ottoman Empire.
This dish is not simple to make, yet the resulting pastry, crunchy on the outside and rich in fluffy layers on the inside, is well worth the effort. Some believe a good Turkish bride is measured by her ability to make a perfect water burek; marriage will have to wait until she learns to make it properly.
For the dough:
1⅔ cups (250 grams) flour
2 large eggs
1¾ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
For cooking the dough:
⅔ cup (100 grams) flour
2 teaspoons salt
⅔ cup (150 grams) butter, melted
For the filling:
400 grams (14oz) lightly-salted feta
2 cups parsley leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves, chopped
Black pepper, to taste
3½ tablespoons (50 grams) butter, melted
¼ cup milk
- Prepare the filling: Mix all the ingredients in a bowl to combine.
- Prepare the dough: Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 4 minutes, until the dough comes together. Transfer to a floured tray, cover and let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and using a dough scraper, divide into 8 equal balls. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes.
- In the meantime, fill a large pot with water, add salt generously and bring to a boil over a high heat. Prepare a bowl with ice water and place it next to the boiling water. Preheat the oven to 180C/400F and grease the baking pan with the melted butter.
- To assemble the börek: Roll out a dough ball on a well-floured surface to a sheet slightly larger than the baking pan (do this patiently, you can also stretch the dough using your hands).
- Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and carefully lower the dough into the water. Cook for 3 minutes. Using tongs or a large spatula, quickly transfer the cooked dough into the ice water to stop the cooking process (you can also lower the dough into the water using a spatula and leave the spatula there while the dough cooks so it’s easier to extract). Transfer to a strainer to remove any excess water.
- Arrange the dough in the pan in an even layer and brush with the melted butter. Repeat with 3 more dough balls, for a total of 4 layers.
- Spread the filling on top in an even layer.
- Repeat steps 6-7 with the remaining 4 dough balls.
- Mix the melted butter, milk and egg and brush the top of the börek.
- Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Serve hot.
This recipe is adapted from “The Turkish Cookbook” © 2019 by Musa Dagdeviren. Reproduced by permission of Phaidon. All rights reserved.