Who can resist bourekas, these delicate, savory turnovers ?
Bite past the crackly, crumbly pastry and savor the soft filling.
In Israel, bourekas are mostly regarded as a snack, a big favorite at soccer games, even if you’re only watching from your living room. Although I wonder how many kilos of bourekas flakes get swept up from the grandstands after a game.
But sometimes bourekas can be part of a light lunch. In town, running errands and hungry, I’ll sometimes dart into a café and order a couple of hot bourekas, with a salad on the side. That’ll keep me going until I’m back home again. Discreetly brushing flaky crumbs off my lap – because there’s no way to avoid getting flaky when you eat bourekas – I look around and notice that quite a few other customers have made the same choice: bourekas of one kind or another.
You won’t find an Israeli bakery without a few shelves holding several varieties of bourekas. Some are what they should be: light and good. And some are pretty awful, heavy as lead. The truth is, bourekas have to be eaten the day they’re made, and not too late in the day either, unless you nuke a semblance of freshness back into them.
It’s worth making your own. To start, look for puff pastry in the frozens section of the supermarket. It has to be defrosted, gently. Let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, so that it’s cold but can be unrolled by hand. If planning to make a dairy filling, buy a brand made with butter.
Unroll the entire pastry, then cut it in half for convenience of work. Keep the half you’re not working with well wrapped in its plastic so it doesn’t dry out. If your kitchen is hot, put the unused half back in the fridge until you’re ready to roll it out. Warm puff pastry gets sticky and hard to work with.
The potato/mushroom filling described here is the one my family likes best. I use brown button mushrooms, but you can use any. And use more mushrooms if you like, or leave them out altogether if you don’t have any at hand. Only make sure there’s plenty of fried onion, and that the filling is a bit on the salty side, with ground black pepper. Keep tasting the filling and adjusting the seasonings until you’re satisfied.
Traditional accompaniments are pickles or olives, hard-boiled eggs, and a small salad. Personally, I like to drink beer with this homey dish.
Leftover filling can be stirred into an omelet or chilled, shaped as patties, and fried as potato cakes.