Borek with feta cheese

In Istanbul, you can find börek on just about any menu in Sultanahmet near the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. It's a dish that you'll find a parallel for in nearly every culture - it's a layered egg casserole with phyllo dough, olive oil and oftentimes cheese, spinach, or ground meat. It's reminiscent of a creamier spanakopita or a less-eggy quiche. And, while börek typically finds its way into a lunchtime meal, I like to eat it for breakfast.

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While most recipes call for whole milk, this recipe can utilize unsweetened, unflavored almond milk successfully, adding a subtle, nutty richness you don't get from the bovine variety. Obviously, leave out the feta cheese if you'd like for the recipe to be truly dairy-free; spinach or ground meat can still be an adequate filling. (And obviously the Turks don't utilize feta, that Greek concoction – they'd opt for a beyaz peynir.)

This recipe is simple to assemble - it involves quickly whisking together eggs with milk or almond milk, olive oil and water. Layers of phyllo dough are interspersed with the egg mixture, feta cheese and, optionally, spinach before popping into the oven until just golden brown. It's easy to incorporate ground meat as well - beef would be the preference. You'll simply want to cook it completely ahead of time with some salt and pepper and allow it to cool before layering in alongside the cheese or spinach.

Hot or cold, this dish is a simple way to start the day, sliced into thick pieces for a work lunch served alongside a fresh salad, or for an affordable dinner among family or friends or both.

From start to finish, it'll take about one hour, including baking time. This recipe yields 8-10 hearty entree-sized portions or about 12 side portions.

A note on special equipment: A pastry brush is ideal for the layering process, though you can use the back of a spoon to spread the egg mixture between phyllo layers.

What you need

  • 1 8 oz. package phyllo dough
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cup luke warm water
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk or almond milk
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed with water completely rung out (optional)
  • 1/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped (optional)
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds, to garnish (optional)

How to do it

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs until smooth, then incorporate olive oil, water and milk until combined. Set aside.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish (or an equivalent-sized dish) with cooking spray to begin to prepare the börek. Layer 5 sheets of phyllo along the base of the casserole dish, using a pastry brush to spread a generous coat of the egg mixture between each layer of phyllo.

Sprinkle 1/3 of the feta cheese, spinach and parsley evenly across the base layer of phyllo. Then place 3 sheets of phyllo on top, continuing to coat each sheet of phyllo dough with egg mixture. Repeat process twice more with the remaining cheese, spinach and parsley. Top the final layer of cheese, spinach and parsley with 5 sheets of phyllo, all coated generously with egg mixture.

Pour the remaining egg mixture oven the top of the börek, and allow it to soak for at least 15 minutes and no more than 30 minutes. 

Before placing in the oven, use a spatula or knife to tuck in the softened edges of the phyllo dough to create a pillow-like surface. If using, sprinkle sesame seeds evenly over the börek. Place in oven and bake until golden brown for 30-35 minutes. Allow to sit for 10 minutes to set before slicing and serving. 

Serve while warm or cool for breakfast solo or for lunch or dinner with fresh chilled tomatoes and cucumbers. Store leftovers covered with plastic wrap in the fridge for up to 5 days.