Royal Ottoman dish or the food of Turkish nomads? The Turkish borek symbolized the hard life of nomadic shepherds. Its few ingredients were available in the steppes: butter and cheese made by the shepherds from goat and cheese milk, wild parsley from the plains, and grains bought or traded in the markets. The simple pastry was baked over a bonfire and carried in backpacks; and yet, it found its way to the tables of khans and kings for a reason.
The multi-layered pastry became an immediate favorite with anyone who tasted it. In Israel, it was originally associated with the working class, yet recent local variations have begun appearing in hot restaurants. Some gained iconic status like chef Michael Gartofsky’s crab bourekas, a water bourekas (su börek) made of layers of delicate, paper-thin dough, which are cooked in water prior to baking, stuffed with leeks and herbs, and served with buttery crab meat on top.
For the dough:
3¼ cups (450 grams) 00 flour
1 generous teaspoon (7 grams) salt
2 tablespoons oil
For the filling:
3 tablespoons butter
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 fennel, finely chopped
⅓ cup wild fennel fronds, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped oregano leaves
Salt, to taste
For cooking the dough:
1¼ cups + 2 tablespoons (300 grams) melted butter
5 tablespoons (80 grams) mascarpone
1 lemon, zested
For the crab topping (optional):
2 kg (4.4oz) blue crabs
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons butter
Salt, to taste
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ lemon, juiced
- Prepare the dough: Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on a low speed for 7-8 minutes, to a smooth and elastic sticky dough.
- Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and using a dough scraper, divide into 8 equal balls. Transfer to a floured tray, cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
- Prepare the filling: melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped leek, onion and fennel and fry until softened, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and remove from the heat. Stir in the fennel fronds, basil, and oregano, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Cool.
- To assemble the börek: 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. Grease the baking pan with the melted butter and line with parchment paper.
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F on the turbo setting, if available. If not, bake at 210C/410F and be sure to rotate the trays halfway through baking.
- Roll out a dough ball on a well-floured surface to a circle 29 cm/11½-in accross. Arrange loosely in the pan, so that folds are formed, and brush with the melted butter.
- Roll another dough ball into a circle the same size and carefully lower into the simmering water. Steep for 30 seconds and, 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 loosely in the pan and so that folds are formed, and brush with the melted butter. Repeat with 2 more dough balls, a total of 4 layers.
- Spread the filling in an even layer. Using a teaspoon, place small mounds of mascarpone on top and sprinkle the lemon zest.
- Repeat steps 7-8 with the remaining 4 dough balls.
- Brush melted butter on top and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and crispy. Carefully flip the börek onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper, release the pan and bake until golden on all sides, 15-20 minutes.
- Prepare the crab topping: rinse the crabs to remove any sand. Cut each crab lengthwise and scrape the meat into a bowl.
- Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and fry for 30 seconds while continuously stirring. Add the crab meat, season with salt and fry until the meat turns white, occasionally stirring gently.
- Sprinkle the crabs over the börek, add lemon zest and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice on top and serve.