You will notice that this isn’t (really) a breakfast recipe. I’m branching out.
In recent weeks, my life and blogging have become somewhat incompatible with each other, much in the way that studying for my finals and nights of heavy drinking did all those years ago. Consequently I’ve been a bit absent from here for a while. It’s nothing sinister, far from it, in fact: I went on holiday to Croatia and came home to a new job. Now I’m in a place where I have enjoyed, and mourned the end of, the former and figured out the latter, so can start writing again. This is not the end for breakfast, but there will be some other things popping up here from time to time too.
Spinach burek was my holiday romance during the said trip to Croatia: loved to the point of obsession whilst away, and then a little trickier to recreate at home. I was hooked almost as soon as my Croatian friend thrust one into my hand outside of a bakery in Pula, telling me that they were the taste of his childhood. I couldn’t even wait until I had swallowed the first mouthful before telling everybody just how amazing they were, bits of flaky pastry flying rather inelegantly from my mouth.
Burek, or borek, byrek or boregi, can be found in many countries across the Balkans, southern Europe and the middle east, hence the variations in spelling. It is a twisted savoury pastry filled with a mixture of spinach and local cheese, similar to the Greek spanakopita.
Many of the recipes I found online advocated the use of homemade pastry for an authentic burek, which I agreed with, however said busy life meant that I had to relinquish a little authenticity to save time, so I used shop-bought filo. The result wasn’t bad, in fact I rather liked it as an alternative.
700g fresh spinach
½ an onion, finely chopped
½ tsp nigella seeds
Sea salt and black pepper
12 sheets filo pastry
1 egg, beaten
Sesame seeds, a mixture of black and white
Wilt the spinach and allow to cool. Using your hands, squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can. Chop the spinach finely and transfer to a large bowl. Crumble the feta as small as you can and stir into the spinach – I like to use the wooden spoon to smash the feta up a little bit more.
Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for five minutes until soft and translucent, but not browned. Stir in the nigella seeds for the last couple of minutes of cooking. Stir this into the spinach and feta mixture with a pinch of nutmeg and some seasoning. You may not need a lot of salt, depending on the saltiness of the feta.
Lay out one sheet of filo pastry with the long edge facing you and brush with olive oil; lay another sheet on top and brush with olive oil, followed by a third. Cut the filo vertically into three pieces, each measuring about four inches across. Take one twelfth of the filo mixture and make a sausage shape along the middle of the filo strip – it doesn’t need to reach the top and bottom of the strip and should be about five-six inches long. Roll the filo into a cigar shape and twist into a spiral, trimming the edges of the filo and tucking them in underneath. It should be more like a knot shape than a flat spiral. Do the same with the other two strips, and then repeat the whole process three times until you have 12 burek.
Preheat the oven to 200ºc and lay the burek out on a lightly greased baking tray. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake in the oven for about half an hour until the filo is brown and crisp.