This article first appeared on J. Weekly
After my first column appeared last May, in which I asked readers to share their family recipes, the following email from Cynthia Tauber of San Mateo arrived in my inbox:
“A ‘boureka’ is my favorite food. Just thinking about bourekas makes my mouth water! And when I make them with my daughter, it brings back pleasant memories of my childhood watching my Sephardic grandmother baking away in her Brooklyn kitchen.”
For readers unfamiliar with a boureka, it’s a savory pie made with a variety of fillings; meat, cheese, spinach and potato are common. Sephardic Jews from many countries have their own versions, but they originally hail from Turkey, and today they have become a popular form of Israeli street food.
While blintzes and cheesecake are the stars of Ashkenazi celebrations of Shavuot, bourekas (flaky, stuffed pastries) figure prominently in Sephardic traditions. They can feature any number of fillings, and in Israel they are commonly found stuffed with mushrooms, potatoes, spinach, or tuna fish. Cheese is another favorite filling, and one that is perfect for the dairy-infused holiday of Shavuot.
Burekas originally hail from Turkey, but have been fully adopted into the Israeli culinary cannon — showing up on breakfast menus, for lunch and, perhaps most commonly, for a midday snack.
Traditional Turkish versions are more often snake-like cigars (in fact, the word probably comes from the Turkish bur, which means “to twist”), while in Israel they often take the form of turnovers, both big and small.