Bourekas are delicious Middle Eastern hand pies. These baked, stuffed pastries are popular in Israel and throughout the Middle East. Different versions of this turnover pastry exist all over the world—knishes, calzones, samosas, bridies, and strudel are all regional variations on the same concept. Bourekas originated in Asia as a deep-fried filled dumpling known as a burga. When the Turks of central Asia moved to what is now the country of Turkey, they brought their stuffed burga dumplings with them. Over time, the dumpling evolved into a variety of stuffed, layered pastries known as börek. Sephardic Jews who settled in Turkey adopted the pastry, merging it with their version of the same dish (empanada) and adapting it to make it kosher. Börek + empanada = boureka. The boureka was born!
Bourekas are made with a variety of savory fillings, including cheese, meat, spinach, and eggplant. They are generally made with either puff pastry or filo (phyllo) dough, and served as appetizers, alongside a meal, or as a portable snack. I like to serve them with homemade soup for a light and tasty winter meal. Paired together with scrambled eggs, they would make a great breakfast. Of the many boureka varieties out there, cheese bourekas are my favorite. They are super easy to make, especially if you use store-bought puff pastry or filo dough. They also freeze well, which means you can make them ahead and pop them in the oven just before your meal. I keep a stash in the freezer for unexpected company; they’re such a treat with tea or coffee. Be sure to use a quality feta cheese. I like Israeli feta, it’s creamy and slightly sweet with the perfect texture for bourekas. A good quality Greek feta will work well, too. Don’t buy the pre-crumbled variety—a block is better, and it’s easy enough to crumble yourself. If you can’t find kashkaval cheese, substitute another ¼ cup of feta cheese. They’ll still taste great.
Some people like making bourekas with puff pastry (store bought or homemade), while others swear by filo (phyllo) dough. Puff pastry bourekas are softer and thicker, while filo bourekas are lighter, crisper, and more delicate. I like them both ways. For this particular blog, I used puff pastry. They can just as easily be made using filo dough – click here to learn how. The cheese filling recipe would remain the same for either style of boureka, so feel free to experiment to figure out which style you like best.
These Cheese Bourekas are also a fun recipe option for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim. Purim is sometimes celebrated with a meatless menu in honor of Queen Esther, who became a vegetarian to keep kosher in the palace of her non-Jewish husband King Ahasuerus. Stuffed foods are traditional for Purim, as are triangle-shaped foods. These Cheese Bourekas are both triangular and meatless, making them a great choice for your Purim menu!
This recipe creates lightly stuffed bourekas that should not overflow or leak out with cheese. If you’d like to stuff it with more cheese, you can double the filling– just know that the filling may leak out a bit when baking.
I have shared this recipe with my friends at Zabar’s.com. Click here to check out their amazing site.
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- 2 sheets puff pastry (you can also use filo dough, click here for directions using filo)
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1/3 cup grated kashkaval cheese (or substitute another 1/3 cup feta)
- 1/3 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg
- Salt and pepper
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon sesame or poppy seeds for topping (optional)
- Nonstick cooking oil spray
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine feta, kashkaval, ricotta, egg, a pinch of salt and a pinch of black pepper (if using all feta cheese, you may not need to add any salt). Use a fork to mix ingredients together till well blended. Make sure to break up any large crumbles of feta with the fork. Reserve mixture.
- On a smooth, clean, lightly floured surface, unfold one of your puff pastry sheets. Use a rolling pin to roll out the sheet to a 12x12 inch square. If using homemade puff pastry, roll your dough out to the same size - a 12”x12” square. Cut the sheet of puff pastry dough into 9 equal-sized squares, each about 4”x4” large.
- Place 1 scant tablespoon of the cheese filling in the center of each dough square.
- Fold the dough squares by grasping one corner and folding it over to the opposite corner to make triangles. Pinch firmly along the outer open edge of the triangles to seal. If you're having trouble sealing the dough and getting it to stick together, wet your finger with a bit of water and run it around the edge of the square before folding-- this will help it stick together.
- You can also crimp the edges with the tines of a fork, if you wish.
- Repeat this process for the second sheet of puff pastry—roll out the pastry, cut into squares, add filling, and seal the triangles.
- Spray your baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray or line with parchment paper. Place 9 bourekas on each sheet, evenly spaced, giving them some room to expand during baking.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and 2 tsp of cool water. Use a pastry brush to brush a light layer of the egg wash onto the surface of each boureka.
- Sprinkle the bourekas with sesame or poppy seeds, if desired.
- Bake the bourekas for about 30 minutes, switching the baking sheets between the upper and lower racks halfway through cooking. Bake till golden brown and cooked through.Serve warm. Store in a sealed container or plastic zipper bag.
- To freeze bourekas: prepare, fill, and seal the pastries. Do not coat with egg wash or bake. Place the unbaked pastries in a Tupperware or plastic bag in single layers, separating each layer of bourekas with a piece of parchment paper or wax paper to keep them from freezing together. Freeze.
- When ready to bake, take the bourekas out of the freezer (no need to defrost) and arrange them on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick oil. Coat with thin layer of egg wash and sesame or poppy seeds, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes till golden brown.
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