What’s green and leafy and makes your biceps pop up? Spinach, of course. We have many tasty ways to eat spinach, like our Moroccan Chickpea and Spinach Soup and the elegant Roasted Tomato and Spinach Quiche.
And now for another soulful and spinach-full dish: bourekas stuffed with spinach and cheese.
Who can resist bourekas, those crisp, flaky pastries enclosing a savory filling? Similar pastries are eaten from the Balkans, down the Mediterranean and all the Levant down to North Africa. They’re known by some variation of the Turkish name Börek. It’s presumed that they were invented in the kitchens of ancient Turkey, and spread throughout lands under the government of the Ottoman Empire.
Sephardic Jews brought their regional versions of bourekas to Israel. The filled pastries, with their distinctive crisp crust, are an inseparable part of Israeli culture. Back in the day when the public brought their own snacks to the movies, a particular type of schmaltzy flick was known as “bourekas movies.”
Israeli bourekas are commonly stuffed with mashed potatoes, mushrooms, cheese, pizza sauce, or meaty vegetables like eggplant. You can pick them up at bakeries to take home, or order some to enjoy as a snack at a café. You can also find frozen bourekas at the supermarket, and they’re not bad… but home-made is always tastier.
Bourekas are most often shaped as triangles or rectangles to fit in the hand. They’re an easy nosh on picnics and at informal meals. Necessarily informal meals, because bourekas’ light, crisp crusts shatter the minute you sink your teeth into one, so you’ll be brushing crumbs off your shirt, no matter how daintily you eat.
Here are spinach and cheese bourekas I made at home recently. Not as elegant as those sold in bakeries, they’re nevertheless tastier, because they’re filled with fresh ingredients and didn’t sit in industrial freezers before being baked.
And speaking of freezing – you’ll be using frozen puff pastry for this recipe. Let it thaw out in the refrigerator overnight or 8 hours before starting to cook. Buy the kind that doesn’t need rolling out thinly, just unrolling and setting down. I used a brand of pastry that comes handily pre-cut into squares. I recommend puff pastry over phyllo dough, because unlike phyllo, it’s easy to handle.
Israeli Spinach and Cheese Bourekas
1 one-kilo package puff pastry, previously thawed out in the refrigerator
250 grams feta cheese
250 kashkeval cheese (or other firm, somewhat sharp yellow cheese)
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
1 kilo (2 lbs.) fresh spinach, rinsed, drained, and finely chopped, then set in a colander to drain again.
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to at 375° F – 180° C.
Grate the cheeses into a large bowl. Mix them.
Fry the onions and garlic in the olive oil or butter, over medium heat, until soft. Take care not to let them brown.
Add the chopped, drained spinach to the skillet. Cook in its own moisture until just wilted.
Let the spinach mixture cool, then scrape it into the bowl with the cheeses. Leave any spinach/onion cooking juices behind.
Mix the vegetables and cheeses. Taste, and season as you wish.
Set the puff pastry out on a lightly floured surface, or on a baking parchment. Cut the pastry into squares about 3” x 3” – 8 cm. X 8 cm. Cut the squares larger if you wish. The main thing is that they should be square.
Place a generous tablespoon of filling in the center of each square.
Paint a stripe of beaten egg on one interior side of each square.
Fold each filled square over and press the egg-painted side down. Make indentations along the side with your fingertips, to seal the bourekas.
Glaze with more beaten egg.
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown.
Don’t worry about some filling oozing out. Just scoop it up while still warm with a spoon. Consider it a rustic look.
Serve bourekas with a hard-boiled egg and pickles. Enjoy!