Boreks are a necessary component of every Armenian mezze spread, along with cured olives, string cheese, dried apricots, walnut halves, and cured meats like sujuk (spiced Armenian sausage) and basturma (the Armenian version of bresaola). I’m yet to attend an Armenian gathering where boreks weren’t served.
Boreks are buttery, crisp, multi-layered phyllo hand pies filled with cheese, greens, vegetables, meat, or a mix of these. Depending on who’s doing the spelling, they may be spelled borags, beregs, boregs, or boeregs; though they’re all pronounced the same.
They are typically triangular, but tray-style boreks, which are squares baked in a pan, are also popular. Boreks are cherished not only by Armenians but also in Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, and Serbia, as well as other nations that had belonged to the Ottoman Empire.
The majority of Armenian boreks are prepared using phyllo dough, while they can also be made with puff pastry or yufka, a more rustic pastry dough that is between phyllo and pasta in thickness and heaviness.
Armenian boreks are often filled with a combination of cheeses, typically melty varieties like Muenster or Monterey Jack, sour feta, and something creamy, such as cottage or cream cheese, or with cheese and cooked, well-drained spinach. This particular recipe gives you the option of using both types of filling. I kept the Muenster and feta cheeses in the cheese filling and added goat cheese, which increased the mixture’s richness. For similar reasons, the spinach filling also incorporates feta and goat cheese. Additionally, you have the option of substituting fresh spinach, watercress, arugula, Swiss chard, or beet greens for the frozen kind. I considerably upped the amount of herbs in both versions. Additionally, I discovered that keeping the boreks crisp requires clarifying the butter used in their assembly. Additionally, I like to add a mixture of sesame and nigella seeds as a last flourish to my dish.
How to Work with Phyllo Dough: Some Tips to Note
Borek assembly is simple provided you follow basic instructions for handling the fairly delicate phyllo dough. Keep the phyllo frozen for as long as you can since if it’s kept at refrigerator temperatures for more than a day or two, it becomes brittle. Plan ahead so you can put it in the fridge overnight or at least let it out at room temperature for four hours before using it. Make sure to let the dough lie at room temperature in its sealed container for at least 30 minutes before using it to avoid it drying out and breaking.
When handling phyllo, keep the stack of sheets covered with a piece of parchment or wax paper pressed against a dry kitchen towel. Finally, bear in mind that minor tears or cracks will not be visible once the borek is folded and put together, especially if they occur on the inside, so try not to worry too much as you work with it.
For the Herb and Cheese Filling:
- 225g Greek feta, crumbled
- 115g Muenster or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
- 70g fresh goat cheese, crumbled
- ½ cup chopped mixed tender herbs and tender stems , such as dill, parsley, mint, and cilantro
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Spinach, Herb, and Cheese Filling:
- 285g frozen chopped spinach, thawed
- 225g Greek feta, crumbled
- 70g fresh goat cheese, crumbled
- 1 packed cup (60g) chopped mixed tender herbs and tender stems, such as dill, parsley, mint, and cilantro (about 2 packed cups picked herbs before chopping)
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
- 2 large eggs (110g), lightly beaten
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Boreks:
- 9 sheets phyllo dough, thawed and rested at room temperature for 30 minutes
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon hulled sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon nigella seeds (optional)
- For the Herb and Cheese Filling: Combine the feta, Muenster, goat cheese, eggs, pepper, herbs, and scallions in a medium bowl by gently tossing the ingredients together. Cover and leave aside.
- For the Spinach, Herb, and Cheese Filling: To squeeze out excess moisture, wrap the spinach in a clean kitchen towel or two layers of paper towels. You should end up with about 170g of spinach. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the feta, goat cheese, eggs, herbs, scallions, salt, and pepper. Cover and set aside.
- For the boreks: Oven temperature should be set to 350°F (190°C) with the rack in the middle position. Cut the stack of phyllo sheets in half to create 18 sheets that are 13 by 9 inches each using a sharp knife. Cover the stack with a sheet of parchment paper and a fresh kitchen towel.
- Butter should be melted in a small saucepan over medium heat, and it should be cooked for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently and being careful not to let the butter solids brown (if this happens, reduce heat to medium-low as needed). Foaming is a sign that water has been driven off the butter. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
- One phyllo sheet should be removed from the stack and placed on a clean work surface with its long edge parallel to the edge of the counter. Butter the half of the phyllo sheet nearest to you, working lengthwise, in a thin, equal layer. To cover the buttered portion of the dough, fold the sheet in half lengthwise toward you. Turn the sheet 90 degrees so the short side is now facing you, then lightly but evenly brush butter over the entire surface.
- Place a scant 3 tablespoons of filling on the bottom left corner of the sheet, about an inch from the bottom edge, using a 1/4 cup measure. Form the filling into a rough triangle with a spoon, its long edge (hypotenuse) towards the bottom right corner of the phyllo. To create a right triangle, raise the bottom right corner of the phyllo, fold it over the filling, and gently press. Until you reach the end of the phyllo strip, keep folding up and over like you would a flag. Trim off any phyllo that is drooping with a sharp knife. Butter the triangle’s top before placing it seam-side down on a rimmed baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Add a quarter of a teaspoon of the seed mixture.
- Repeat the procedure of making boreks with the remaining phyllo and filling, arranging the finished product in two rows of eight boreks, long edges facing one another.
- Bake for 20 to 23 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through, until crisp and golden. Before serving, move the baking sheet to a wire rack and allow the boreks cool for at least five minutes. Serve.