The Shavuot holiday is upon us. We celebrate our becoming a people committed to living the gift of receiving and living Torah. Shavuot also marks the spring harvest season. Growing up, I recall marking the holiday with ‘first fruits’ of the season. We now share the tradition of serving dairy foods as part of the holiday festivities.
In our Sephardic community, our roots being Ottoman Rhodes, we make a few special dairy foods for the occasion; sutlach, a creamy rice pudding is one, and burekas, a community and family favorite, is another.
A bureka is flavorful, savory, tasty filled pastry that can simply melt in your mouth! Each Sephardic community has their unique varieties; each family, their favorites! Our ‘Rhodesli’ family, (from the Island of Rhodes, currently Greece, but in the times of our family, a Turkish or Ottoman possession) loves this moon-shaped pastry, filled with a ‘conduchu’ (filling) of rice and cheeses, as well as those filled with a mouth-watering mixture of sautéed eggplant, onions and tomatoes!
My grandmother was always baking burekas in the kitchen, along with lots of other homemade goodies! I remember my mom and her aunt spending hours preparing and baking these treats, and the amazing aroma that filled the house when I got home! As our sons have grown, Grandma’s burekas have been a favorite for snacks, special meals, breakfast….even in their lunch boxes! I think they are my husband’s favorite Sephardic treat. They are flavorful, delicious and definitely filled with love!!!
Now that I am learning the art alongside my mom, I can absolutely appreciate the work, skill and patience that goes into making them.
Kaye (Hasson) Israel’s Burekas Recipe
This recipe will make approximately 84 burekas.
Rice/Cheese Burekas Filling
5 C Water
1 tsp Salt
8 oz Cottage Cheese
2 C Rice (rinsed and drained)
1 C Feta Cheese
1-1/2 C Romano Cheese
(Optional) Parmesan instead of Romano
½ to 1 C Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
4 Large Eggs (5 to 7 if smaller)
Bring water and salt to boil.
Add 2 Cups rice, cover, and keep on a simmer flame until all the water is absorbed. (Approximately 30 minutes constantly watched.)
Remove from flame; allow to cool!
Mash rice w/potato masher.
Add cheeses and eggs and continue to mash. Mixture should be damp, not dry.
3 C Ice Water
2 1/2 C Oil
1 tsp salt
10 – 12 C Flour
1 egg for glazing
Fill measuring cup with ice cubes, add water to 3 C mark on measuring cup.
In large mixing bowl, add mix of water and ice, oil and salt.
Let stand for as few minutes for water to get ice cold before beginning to add flour.
Continue to mix.
As flour begins to take on elastic consistency of dough, remove ice cubes.
Knead until dough is not sticky and has the consistency of a pie dough.
Separate dough into 4 portions and cover.
Working with one portion at a time, pinch off “walnut” sized balls and place on a work surface.
Work each ball in the palm of your left hand (if you are right handed or vice versa.)
Use your right hand to tuck the dough under and into itself, working to make it a smooth ball.
As balls are formed, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Once all the balls are prepared and the dough has had a chance to “rest,” begin by placing 6 balls on work surface.
Using your fingers, press out the dough; then, with a small rolling pin, make oval shaped, flat forms.
Using a tablespoon or small scoop, scoop filling into the middle of the flatten dough.
After all 6 have been filled, fold each on in the middle, pinching the edges shut and making a moon shaped, filled pastry.
You can make a beautiful edge by pinching and rolling under the edges.
Or you can use a fork to crimp the edges with a nice, clean pattern. (Remember, you “taste” first with your eyes.)
Continue with all the dough.
Place on parchment lined baking sheets.
Using a pastry brush, “paint” with a wash made by beating an egg and 2 drops of water.
Finish with a sprinkle of grated cheese.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes…or until golden brown.
They are divine right out of the oven!
Can be frozen and easily be warmed again in oven or toaster oven. Great for a brunch!
(Note: Microwave makes them soggy.)
A version of this piece orginally appeared on BendichasManos.com