Whether you're after delicious cornbread, Turkey's beloved börek, or an Istanbul-inspired 'A Laz Börek for Oğuz' for a sweeter tooth, these recipes by Caroline Eden are bound to impress your lunch guests.
A deeply savoury börek filled with rice, sultanas, pine nuts and chard. It is baked as a large pie rather than as small pastries, making it ideal for a lunchtime gathering. The fleshy sultanas give it a lovely sweet note. Yufka pastry, often for sale in Turkish/ Mediterranean shops, is slightly thicker than filo pastry and usually comes in generously sized sheets; if you can find it, buy it.
Serves four generously
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 shallots, finely diced
100g/ ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon basmati rice
50g/ 1 ¾ oz sultanas
200ml/ generous ¾ cup chicken stock
6 Swiss chard leaves (kale works as a substitute)
100g/ 3 ½ oz feta, crumbled
2 medium eggs, plus 1 extra egg, beaten, to glaze
40g/ 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
30g/ 1oz pine nuts
12 sheets of yufka/ filo pastry, cut to 18 x 24cm/ 7 x 9-in rectangles
2 teaspoons nigella or sesame seeds
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F/ gas mark 6.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently sauté the shallots with a pinch of salt. When softened and translucent, stir in the rice and add the sultanas, coating it all in the oil, then add the chicken stock. Season with plenty of ground black pepper and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked. Set aside to cool.
While the rice is cooking, cut off the tough tips of the chard but keep the stalks, rinse well and chop into bite-sized pieces. Combine the chard with the cheese and eggs in a bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Add the cooled rice.
Next, thoroughly grease a 20cm/ 8-in square tin and toast the pine nuts gently in a hot, dry frying pan until golden. Remove and leave to cool slightly before adding to the chard and rice mix.
Layer 4 sheets of yufka/ filo in the greased tin to cover the base, with 2 sheets forming a layer one way, another 2 the other way (as your tin is square and the sheets are rectangular), brushing each sheet with a little melted butter as you go. Add half the filling mixture, then add another 4 sheets of pastry in the same way, brushing with melted butter again. Add the remaining filling and, finally, add a top layer of 4 pastry sheets in the same way. Trim the excess, tucking under the corners and edges as you go so you have a neat top.
Brush the top well with the beaten egg and sprinkle over the seeds. Bake for 30–35 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Leave it to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Since sampling Oğuz’s Laz börek – to my mind the best – I went on to try many more versions, in Istanbul and much further east around the Black Sea. Klemuri, a small Black Sea lokanta on the European side of Istanbul, if you find yourself around there, also produces a great belt-busting version of this milk pudding. The black pepper adds a welcome dab of heat.
130g/ about ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
15 filo pastry sheets
For the custard
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
pinch of black pepper
25g/ 2 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
250ml/ generous 1 cup full-fat milk
250ml/ generous 1 cup double (heavy) cream
Preheat the oven to 190°C/ 375°F/ gas mark 5 and prepare the custard. Place the egg yolks, cornflour (cornstarch), pepper, sugar and vanilla in a medium saucepan and gently whisk together, off the heat, adding a splash of the milk and cream. Then put the pan on the hob over a low heat and slowly pour in the rest of the milk and cream. Cook very gently, stirring constantly, for 5–10 minutes, ensuring it doesn’t boil, until the custard is smooth and thick. Remove from the heat and pour the custard into a jug.
Use some of the melted butter to grease a 25 x 30cm/ 10 x 12-in rectangular dish. Take a filo sheet and place it in the dish, then brush it with melted butter. Repeat the process with another 5 sheets of filo – creating a bottom layer that’s 6 sheets thick in total. It’s fine if some filo hangs over the edge as it better holds in the custard. When the custard is cool, pour it into the filo-layered dish, and then gently repeat the buttered filo layering process with the remaining 9 layers on top of the custard. Brush the top generously with butter, trim the overhanging edges and very, very gently, with the tip of a sharp knife, score just the top layer into squares – if you go deeper than the top layer the custard will make an appearance, which you don’t want.
Bake for 25–35 minutes, or until totally golden. Leave it to cool, covered with a cloth, for around 4 hours and then serve at room temperature, cutting it where you marked the top layer.
Cornbread is quintessentially ‘Black Sea’ in Turkey. It is a dense bread, best served warm. I first tried it with red cabbage soup, in a tiny family-run café in Istanbul called Hatice that serves Black Sea food to just 20 or so loyal lunch-breakers. I have added Parmesan and herbs to this recipe as I feel these additions, while not authentic, move it up another level and stop the bread from being quite so dense and dry.
Makes 1 medium loaf
225g/ 1½ cups fine cornmeal
140g/ 1 cup strong white bread flour
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder (baking soda)
1½ teaspoons fine salt
50g/ 3½ tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces, plus extra for greasing
350ml/ 1½ cups full-fat milk
juice of ½ lemon
45g/ 1 ½ oz Parmesan or Grana Padano, grated
2 tablespoons chopped basil
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon nigella seeds (optional)
Preheat the oven to 220°C/ 425°F/ gas mark 7 and grease a 23cm/ 9-in round cake tin with butter.
Put the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder (baking soda) and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir together. Add the chilled butter to the mixture and rub it in with your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix together the milk, lemon juice and eggs in a separate jug or bowl, then pour over the dry ingredients and stir together until you have a batter. Add the grated cheese and chopped fresh herbs, as well as the nigella seeds, if using, and stir.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out, cut into wedges and serve with plenty of butter to spread on it. Cornbread is not great the next day, but you can refresh it by popping it in the oven for a few minutes to warm back through.
With a nose for a good recipe and an ear for an extraordinary story, Caroline Eden travels from Odessa to Bessarabia and on to Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey's Black Sea region, exploring its interconnecting culinary cultures for her new book Black Sea. From meeting the last fisherwoman of Bulgaria, to tracing the legacies of the White Russian émigrés in Istanbul, Caroline gives a unique insight into this fascinating region via its food.