Börek with Squash Leaves
"What you give away, you keep."
There is no better way to describe the essence of the wonderful Turkish food blog, Give Recipe. Blogger Zerrin uses her keen understanding of the social role of food to give readers profound insights into her country, culture and cuisine while sharing amazing traditions and flavors that are less familiar to some of us but deserve to be celebrated by all.
I can't recall exactly when I began reading Zerrin's posts but I do remember the immediate sense of recognition and camaraderie - as if I were re-connecting with a dear friend from long ago rather than simply meeting a new one. Friendship through sharing is a key theme in Give Recipe, where each post offers not only delicious recipes and lovely photography, but also illuminating lessons on Turkish social customs and the foods that are associated with them. In her blog bio, Zerrin notes that some people hold back from proffering their full experiences in cooking, as if they were in a competition. But as a teacher, she fully embraces the opportunity to share her knowledge, believing that not giving entirely of one's gifts is a loss for everyone:
"I feel happy when I cook something [for] my family and friends. It's a pleasure [for] me to watch people with their smiles on their faces while eating . . . I feel that you can multiply your happiness by sharing."
(from Zerrin's 'About Me' page)
Her recipes for traditional dishes, many from cherished family sources, engage the appetite with their sensory qualities, but it's their symbolic meanings that make them at once unique and universal. Zerrin's posts often incorporate essays on the social customs that underpin Turkish commensality and demonstrate how cooking and eating are acts of support, love and reciprocity. Among my personal favorites are the wonderful wedding dishes, Yüksük Çorbasi (Thimble Soup), delicate meat-filled dumplings in a savory broth topped with yogurt; and Keşkek, slow-cooked mashed wheat served with tender lamb. As delicious as they are, the dishes are made more special by descriptions of the natural cooperation between community and family members in creating these celebratory meals. Though the details may vary among different cultures, I think we can all recognize in Zerrin's accounts how our own social and familial bonds are strengthened across a festive table.
Above all, Give Recipe is about cooking and eating with a light heart. Throughout her blog, Zerrin features whimsical illustrations made by her 'second mom' (her mother-in-law), which she pairs with original stories: there is 'Mom and Child Leeks', about learning acceptance, and 'The Perfect Couple', about inter-vegetable love. These charming drawings and tales are like gems scattered throughout her site - reading through them is like going on a treasure hunt!
Zerrin gives her all with Give Recipe, holding nothing back about her pride for her country and culture, her love of family and friends, and her talents for cooking and teaching. What she gives, she keeps and then shares again, until we are all enriched by her gifts.
Borek with Squash Leaves
(adapted from a recipe by Zerrin)
For Zerrin's original recipe, Vegetable Börek, please click here.
I felt that one particular post in Give Recipe really exemplified how food nurtures not only the individual body but also the community spirit. Zerrin wrote of an impromptu neighborhood gathering to bid farewell to one family's son on his way to military duty. With music, dancing, food and drink, it was a festive mood for what could be considered a private event in other cultures. She explains that the celebration is a long-standing tradition that turns a somber moment into one of good cheer and instills in the young man a sense of self-confidence and assurances of his family's and community's support. For her part in that support, Zerrin prepared a Sebzeli Börek (Vegetable Börek) to serve at the party.
Composed of layers of sautéed vegetables and an egg-and-yogurt sauce between sheets of phyllo, sebzeli börek may bring to mind Greek spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese pie) but börek also refers to several kinds of phyllo-encased pastries in Turkish cuisine that vary in fillings and cooking method. Among Zerrin's many recipes are baked versions filled with chard, potato or stinging nettles, and another fried in the shape of cigarettes (Sigara Boregi).
A few months ago at the Minneapolis Farmers' Market, I impulsively purchased a bunch of squash leaves without knowing how to use them. Thanks to the all-knowing Google search engine, I found that they closely resemble tenerumi, the leaves of the zucchini-like cucuzza (an Italian summer squash), but their fuzzy, hairy stalks also made me think of prickly nettles - like the ones Zerrin used for her Börek with Stinging Nettle Herb. Fortunately, my greens did not require protective gloves to prepare, but as intrigued I was with that recipe, I was even more taken by her vegetable börek in the aforementioned post. In place of leek, potato and carrots in Zerrin's original recipe, I used the squash leaves, which were, after sautéing, similar in texture to spinach and whose stems imparted a subtly sweet flavor much like tender asparagus.
4 cups squash leaves, chopped and stems cut into 1" pieces
1 large onion, diced
5 Tbsps olive oil, divided
2-3 Tbsps red wine vinegar
Salt to taste
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup yogurt
1 pkg prepared phyllo dough
Preheat oven to 400° F. In the meantime, thaw out phyllo dough according to package directions.
1. Rinse chopped squash leaves but do not dry completely. In a large sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsps olive oil and cook onions until soft;
2. Add squash leaves and sauté just until leaves begin to wilt, then add red wine vinegar and salt to taste. Cook until leaves wilt and stem pieces are tender. Remove from heat and set aside;
3. Mix egg, 3 Tbsps olive oil and yogurt, and mix well.
4. In a square baking pan or glass dish, place one layer* (3-5 sheets) of phyllo on the bottom and cover with 1/3 of egg-yogurt mixture.
5. Place a second layer of phyllo over first, then cover with 1/2 of sautéed squash leaves followed by 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese;
6. Place a third layer of phyllo over that and spread 1/3 of the egg-yogurt mixture;
7. Place a fourth layer of phyllo over previous, covering with remaining sautéed squash leaves and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese;
8. Place a final layer of phyllo over the last and spread the remaining 1/3 of egg-yogurt mixture;
9. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the layers in squares or triangles before placing in the oven, to ensure even cooking throughout the dish;
10. Bake in oven for approximately 30 minutes**, until phyllo is golden. When done, remove from heat and let cool for just a few minutes before cutting and serving.
* I was not sure if the phyllo dough I used is anything like what Zerrin uses in Turkey in terms of texture or thickness. The number of individual phyllo sheets for each layer was approximate and can be adjusted depending on preference.
** The cooking time in the original recipe called for 50 minutes of baking; my börek started to turn a nice golden color well before this point and was done by 30 minutes. Again, this may be due to the layers of phyllo I used, which may have been thinner than what Zerrin uses and therefore cooked faster. Watch your dish as it bakes!
Afiyet olsun! (Enjoy your meal!)