My mother-in-law (anne) had been unwell for a while: not really eating anything, getting quickly tired and easily irritable. She’s got diabetes which explains some of the symptoms but not all. So she thought it was time for a thorough check-up. Anne went to her doctor in Bolu, a small town in the North-Western Turkey, who was so determined to find out the wrongs that he hospitalized her for a week.
Friday came and anne still was not sure whether she would return the next day. Who will make the fresh pastry for the guests Sunday morning? I said, “No problem. I can make börek“. Özgür called his mom and got the authorization. “Olga has seen me making it many times. But she can call me in the morning for directions,”- anne said on phone.
She came back Saturday night canceling the need for my help. But I was impressed she granted me the permission to step into the sacred territory she has not been sharing with her assistants – making pastry. Letting in me, the one who does not know her bulgurs? What happened?
I came down to the kitchen at 7.15 am on Sunday to find 5 people bustling about the kitchen. Our breakfast preparation is like a small factory: early morning, still barely awake everyone marches to the kitchen and with a sense of higher purpose the work kicks off.
Potatoes and eggs get boiled, cut and seasoned with the olive oil, paprika flakes and herbs. Tomatoes and cucumbers get peeled and sliced. Eggplant, zucchini and green peppers get sliced, coated in dough and deep-fried for all time favorite kızartma. Then a dozen of cheeses gets sliced and arranged on a few plates. Kaymak, homemade yogurt and pieces of butter are prepared to be served.
Then go the bowls with dry fruits and nuts: pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts, different types of raisins, dry apricots, figs and cherries. An army of homemade jams in the little vases lines up too: kiwi, lime, wild strawberries, raspberries, quince, figs, lemon, pumpkin – are accompanied by the he tahini paste and grape pekmez (which make a great duet) as well as honeys. Then come the jars of olives marinaded in the olive oil and herbs.
Tea gets prepared and bread picked up from our bakery in the village or lovingly baked in our stone oven the night before gets arranged in the basket.
But all this would be just a mere assembly line without the real highlight of the breakfast – freshly baked pastry. Anne prepares a couple of böreks, layered pastry made of thin yufka dough, stuffed with seasonal vegetable, minced meat or cottage cheese. Then she kneads the dough to make poğaça, a savory parcel. And eventually she ventures into making a bunch of cookies – sweet (kurabye) and salty (çörek) ones.
Börek, poğaça, kurabye and çörek are the most common Turkish pastry types which any home cook makes and which you can easily get in the pastry shops. But having them as fresh and delicious as anne turns is a definite luxury. About 3 hours of her time each weekend morning and our breakfast gets the final touch – talk about authenticity.
As I came down to the kitchen I saw anne standing by the pastry table where she was preparing the stuffing for borek. Green polo shirt, sports pants and running shoes. A fashion icon who used to turn many heads before she has opted for the casual outfits ever since she has moved to her farmhouse. From the back I saw the same firm and confident movements. I came by her side, “Gunaydin anne“, cheek-kissed her twice, touched her shoulder and asked how she was. “Not so well“, – she said.
I prepared the spinach stuffing for the borek and brought it to the table where she was already preparing the egg-yoghurt mixture and yufka sheets. It is a pleasure to watch her working – confident movement, measuring by eye, amazingly right texture and great resulting flavor. She took one yufka sheet, unfolded it and started spreading the stuffing. And then she did something she rarely does. She said pointing at the egg-yoghurt mixture, “There are three eggs but those with double yolks and I put two yolks aside for the egg wash“. And then she raised her voice, “Adem! Tuça! Come here, have a look!” and she repeated the explanation on the ingredients and quantities.
I have then understood the thoughts she must have been bouncing off the whole week at the hospital. Who will make her specialties that drag people all the way from Istanbul and Ankara to drive miles when she’s unwell? Who will take over when she doesn’t have the energy to run the kitchen? Has she found the right people to pass the legacy? Has she shared enough? The grudges I was bearing after her harsh comments about my cooking now seemed ridiculous. She only wanted to hope she didn’t get wrong with choosing me. I too wanted to hope she did not.
Flaky Phyllo Triangles: Swiss Chard and Pastırma Börek
Stuffed with Swiss chard and pastırma and shaped into triangles this unusual börek can be a lovely hot starter or an accompaniment to your breakfast
Source: Inspired by www.evcini.com
Prep Time: 40 Min
Cook Time: 15 Min
Total Time: 55 Min
- 300 gram Swiss chard thoroughly washed, drained and finely chopped including the stalks
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 4 slices pastırma finely chopped
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1⁄3 cup hot water
- 1 egg
- 8 sheets phyllo dough
- 50 gram butter melted
- pinch nutmeg freshly grated
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- salt to taste
- Prepare stuffing: In a hot frying pan greased with vegetable oil simmer the chopped onion for a few minutes, or until golden. Add the chopped pastırma and fry for a few minutes to get that spice aroma come out. Stir in the chopped Swiss chard, season with nutmeg, black pepper and salt. Add hot water and let simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the water evaporates. Break in the egg into the frying pan and quickly mix it with the stew. Set aside.
- Prepare phyllo dough: Preheat the oven to 180C/355F. Carefully open up the phyllo roll and spread out on the working surface smoothing all the folds. Set aside the number of sheets you are going to use and with scissors cut them lengthwise into about 10 cm wide stripes (3 stripes per sheet). Arrange as a stack. Phyllo dough dries very quickly, and then looses its elasticity and starts breaking – you definitely want to avoid that by working quickly or covering the dough with a clean kitchen towel.
- Make triangles: Put the phyllo dough stack in front of you with the shortest end parallel to the working surface. Brush the upper stripe with the melted butter, take a heaped tea spoon of the stuffing and arrange on the end closer to you. Lift the left corner of the upper phyllo stripe and pull it right to cover the filling and align with the right edge of the stripe. Mold the stuffing to make a triangle. Not holding the right upper corner of the triangle flip the triangle itself left to align it with the left edge of the stripe. Continue flipping the triangle up and right until it comes to the top of the stripe and seal. (The photos show different stuffing but same principle). Brush with butter on both sides and arrange on the baking tray lined with greased parchment paper. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until slightly golden. Serve immediately.