Ziona's Turkish Bourekas
Shared by Ziona Cohen
Recipe Roots: Izmir, Turkey > Tel Aviv, Israel
Staring at the high rises and luxury condos of Tel Aviv today, it’s jarring to remember that in the early years of the country, when immigrants arrived to the city and the surrounding towns, some lived in huts built atop sand dunes. Ziona Cohen’s mother was one of them. Her parents, Esther and Shmuel Pitchon, who immigrated from Turkey, lived in a shack with an outhouse in Holon, a town a few miles to the south. When Ziona married her husband Shlomo, they too moved into a shack on the dunes nearby.
He knew the life. Shlomo’s father, who emigrated from Egypt and his Iraqi stepmother, who the family called doda, or aunt in Hebrew, lived similarly in Yad Eliyahu, a neighborhood of Tel Aviv not far from an orchard with figs, mulberry, and bitter oranges. In the winter, their street once flooded with so much water that a neighbor picked up Shlomo’s family in a small boat to get to the grocery store a kilometer away.
It wasn’t until apartment buildings started to go up in neighboring Bat Yam in the early 1950’s that Ziona and her family moved out of the dunes. Even in their new home, her mother’s cooking was simple during the week, white beans and gevetch, a hearty vegetable stew, were staples. Elaborate cooking and meat was reserved for Shabbat when the family would have chicken or bourekas with gizzard sauce. On Saturday mornings, Ziona’s mother would prepare bourekas, a flakey puff pastry stuffed with feta, rich yogurt, and potatoes, formed into triangles. Drawing on Turkish cooking traditions, she served them with hard boiled eggs, adding fresh cut cucumbers and a semi-soft cheese like feta to the plate and finishing the meals with sweet rice pudding.
Ziona has kept her mother’s tradition of bourekas for Shabbat meals when her children and grandchildren join her, sometimes even making them on Friday night, if that’s when the family can gather. Borrowing from Shlomo’s Egyptian heritage, she serves them with boiled eggs and potatoes, drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil and finished with salt and pepper. Tahini and a chopped salad of tomatoes and cucumbers round out the meal, adding an Israeli touch.
Turkish Bourekas with Potato and Cheese Filling
Makes: 24 bourekas
Time: 1 hour, plus cooling time
1 large (12 ounce) russet potato
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup quark cheese or Greek yogurt
⅓ cup (3 ounces) feta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Two 17.3 ounce packages store-bought puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator overnight
Sesame seeds, for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 375° and line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Place the potato in a microwave safe bowl and pierce with a knife. Drizzle with the oil and cook in the microwave until soft, flipping halfway through, 7 to 9 minutes. Let the potato cool, then peel and mash. You should have 1½ cups of mashed potato.
2. To the mashed potato, add the quark (or yogurt), feta, half (1½ tablespoons) of the whisked egg, salt and pepper. Mix until evenly combined; you should have about 2½ cups of filling.
3. On a cutting board, spread 1 of the 4 sheets of puff pastry (each should be a 9-inch square) and cut into 6 even rectangles.
4. Take each piece and stretch it carefully in your hands into a 3-inch square. Place 1 tablespoon of potato-cheese filling in the middle of the square, and close the dough from one diagonal corner to the opposite, creating a triangle. Close the open ends lightly to allow proper rising.
5. Place the triangle on the prepared sheet pan and continue with the rest of the dough and filling until you have 24 bourekas. The bourekas can be placed right next to each other, as they won’t spread out to the sides. Each pan should hold 12 bourekas.
6. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, brush the remaining beaten egg over the bourekas then sprinkle the tops evenly with sesame seeds.
7. Place the pans in the oven and bake, rotating halfway through, until golden brown, 30 minutes. Serve immediately or at room temperature.