Sunday, January 16, 2011

Skillet Pastry with Ground Beef (Kiymali Tava Boregi)

In Turkish cuisine Borek is the name of a family of baked or fried filled pastries made out of thin and flaky dough layers or leaves known as yufka (or phyllo). It was probably invented in Anatolia and became popular in Ottoman Empire's cuisine. That's why it is also widely popular in Middle East, the Balkans, North Africa and the Turkic cultures in Asia with regional variations among different cultures. (See: Wikipedia entry)
You can create and use any type of filling you like for boreks, but the most traditional and common fillings used in Turkey are feta cheese, ground beef or lamb, potato and spinach.
Below recipe is just one of those variations; actually it is one that is not baked or fried, but cooked in a pan or skillet on the stove top which is also popular, but not typical. What is typical for all borek types is that the preparation takes longer than the cooking/baking/frying. But the result is worth it.
The typical pastry dough leaves which are used for boreks in Turkey are not as thin as the Greek phyllo dough you will commonly find in the USA; Turks actually use that kind of very thin phyllo dough only for baklava or similar desserts; you can find the thicker phyllo dough in most ethnic supermarkets where they sell Middle Eastern and Greek foods. But if you can't find those, it is also fine to use the paper thin Greek phyllo dough; it is just a bit more delicate to handle.
I hope you can give borek a try and enjoy it as much as we do. This is a comfort food after all...

Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)

  • 1/2 lb. ground beef (preferably 80/20)
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil (depending on the fat amount of the ground beef)
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2-4 tablespoons plain parsley, finely chopped
  • One 500 g-package pastry leaves/yufka (Recommended brand: Omur; contains 3 26"-wide round pastry leaves) or one 1 lb-package Greek phyllo dough (Recommended brand: Apollo)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (like canola oil or corn oil)


  • In a medium-size pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and ground beef and saute together until onion is soft and beef is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Set aside.
  • In a bowl, beat eggs; add milk and vegetable oil and mix. Set aside.
  • On your counter, have egg/milk/oil mixture, sauteed ground beef, pastry leaves, a pastry brush and a 12" skillet (that's been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray or brushed with vegetable oil) ready.
  • Layer one of the pastry leaves on the skillet (do not stretch the pastry, layer it flat, but loosely) letting the edges hang over the skillet. Brush the pastry leaf generously with the egg mixture all over, including the parts that are hanging over; make sure the pastry is thoroughly moistened with the mixture (if you do not have a pastry brush you can also use a spoon to pour and spread the egg mixture over pastry leaves).
  • Tear the second and third pastry leaves into big pieces and layer a few of these pieces side by side, making sure they stay within the skillet and brush them also with the egg mixture; and spread a big handful of filling evenly over this layer of pastry.
  • Repeat the same steps with the remaining pastry pieces and filling until you use them all. (The last layer on the top should be pastry, not filling.)
  • Fold the overhanging edges of the first pastry leaf inward over the top pastry layer; and wet them generously with the mixture.
  • Put the skillet on the stove top over medium-low to low heat and cook the borek until the bottom turns golden brown (we need to cook/brown it slowly, since we want the heat to penetrate to and cook all the layers evenly). Put a plate or a lid that's large enough to cover the top of the skillet; turn the skillet upside down and let the borek sit on the plate. Slowly slide the borek back onto the skillet, so the brown side is now on top and the other side is cooking/browning over the heat.
  • Once the other side is also golden brown, remove from the heat. Let the borek sit for 2-3 minutes; then cut into squares or wedges and serve.

Additional Points:

If you choose to use the paper thin Greek phyllo dough, it may be a bit intimidating to work with at first, but you just need to have all your tools and ingredients ready before you open the phyllo dough package and try to handle it as delicately and quickly as possible. This kind of phyllo dough tends to dry and crumble fast after it gets in contact with air; so while you are working with one layer, keep the rest of the layers to be used covered with a damp kitchen cloth or paper towel (damp, not wet; if you wet this kind of phyllo with water, it turns into wet dough and the layers stick to each other).
You can use half of the package for the bottom layers of the borek and the other half for the top layer. You can even divide the package into three and have three layers of pastry dough and two layers of filling in-between.

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