Thursday, 15 March 2012

EGGPLANT TURNOVERS – Bourekas de berengena or Borekitas de meredjena

Before we get on with the recipe, why not enjoy a special treat? Keep reading my darlings...
Today is March 15. Which means that...
It's the IDES OF MARCH today!!!
Let's take a few minutes to commemorate this very important day! First, we'll read a few lines from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," and then we'll listen to a lovely song.

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry "Caesar!" Speak, Caesar is turn'd to hear.

Beware the ides of March.

What man is that?

A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March."

Yes, it's the ides of March, today!  A day made famous by the "bard of Stratford-upon-Avon."  Why not spend the day brushing up on your Shakespeare?  "Start quoting him now! Brush up your Shakespeare, and they'll all kow-tow! Forsooth!!!"

And now, for the cooking part of today's post:

I am a native of Thessaloniki Greece, as some of you who read this blog may know.  That’s why I was interested in this recipe for eggplant turnovers or bourekas.  They are a specialty of the Sephardic community of Thessaloniki, and anything Thessaloniki related intrigues me!  

Recently I was doing a Greek web search for appetizer recipes, and I came upon a post which announced the publication of a Sephardic cook book (written in Greek), titled “Tastes from Sephardic Thessaloniki, Recipes of the Jews of Thessaloniki,” by Nina Benroubi, published in 2002.  The author shared this bourekas recipe, which includes eggplant, a vegetable that she characterized as the “star” of Sephardic cooking. 

There was other information in the post as well, and I’ve translated some of it so that I can include it here.  The Sephardic Jews moved to Thessaloniki in the 15th century, after they were expelled from the Iberian peninsula.  With them they brought a plethora of knowledge that had up to then eluded Ottoman held lands, such as was Greece.  (The Ottoman Turks were never interested in intellectual pursuits, and under their authoritarian rule progress was stifled. This led to the exodus of learned Greeks, who fled westward and were responsible for the flowering of the Renaissance).  The Jews brought with them to Greece knowledge in textile making, printing, medicine, and map making among other things. Soon they breathed new life into the city of Thessaloniki. The Sephardic community developed to such a degree that Thessaloniki was referred to as “Madre de Israel.” The Jews flourished there until World War II and the German occupation, when sadly, 96.5% of them perished. 

Here are some characteristics of Sephardic cuisine: a limited use of spices, a total absence of garlic, a coating of ingredients with egg before frying, and preparation of dough in hot water and oil.  It’s a Mediterranean cuisine, with Greek, Arabic, Spanish, Italian and Ottoman influences (the word bourekas has its roots in the Ottoman language, where it means pastries). All these facts combine to provide one of the more interesting chapters in gastronomic history.

I made the dough as per instructions, by adding the flour in hot water and oil. The final result was fantastic.  The dough was supple and smooth and soft. Lovely!  It didn't disappoint after it was cooked.  A great tasting dough, that can be used with many different fillings. Below I include the recipe for these bourekas. In English.  Translated and cooked to perfection.  By the way, in Ladino, the language of the Sephardic Jews, the name of this recipe is Borekitas de meredjéna.  

For the dough:
½ cup canola oil
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup water
3 to 3 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 ounces Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg yolk beaten with a small quantity of water, to use as eggwash
Sesame seeds for topping
  • Place a medium pot over low heat and add the oil, water and butter.  Leave on the heat, mixing occasionally until the ingredients are warm and the butter has melted.  Mix in the sugar and salt.
  • Turn off the heat and gradually stir in one cup of the flour.  Mix in the yogurt and then gradually add the rest of the flour to make a soft, slightly greasy dough. Mix only until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.  Do not over-mix. Gather the dough into a ball and cover it with plastic wrap.  Initially I used a fork for mixing, and then, as more flour was added, I let my hands take over.
  • Let the dough rest while preparing the filling.

Make the filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggplants
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
¾ cups feta cheese
¼ cup ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
about a tablespoon of breadcrumbs(optional)

  • Place the eggplants on a sheet pan and roast them at 400°F for 30-40 minutes, or until their flesh is soft.  Cut them open and scrape out the flesh, then place it in a colander.  Squeeze the eggplant flesh with your hands to press out as much excess liquid as possible.
  • Chop the eggplant into small pieces and put it into a bowl. 
  • Sauté the onions in the olive oil until they are very soft.  Add them to the eggplant, leaving behind any oil that has not cooked off.  Add the parsley, the salt and pepper, and mix.
  • Add the cheeses and the egg.  Mix everything really well.
  • If the filling is too moist, mix in a few breadcrumbs so that they can absorb the moisture.
 To assemble:
  • Tear small pieces from the dough and roll them into balls, each the size of a walnut. Roll each ball into a circular shape 3 inches in diameter. No need to use flour when rolling out the dough.    
  • Place a tablespoon of filling at one end of each circle. 
  • Then fold the other end over.  Press down the edges and decorate them with a fork.

    • Place the bourekas one inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Prick them with a fork to allow steam to escape while baking. 
    •  Brush them with eggwash and sprinkle some sesame seeds over them.  Bake at 375° F for 30–35 minutes until golden brown and crisp.
    • Serve hot or at room temperatureAlternately, you can make the bourekas ahead of time.  Once they have gone on the baking sheets you can cover them with plastic wrap and freeze them, taking them out and baking them a day or two later.