Do you ever wonder how to make homemade filo (phyllo) for Balkan mixed burek (meat and potato) pie? Wonder no longer as we're delving into jufka (a fancy name for the homemade filo dough), stretched into thinnest of sheets intended for making stuffed pastries (such as this meat and potato pie called mixed burek).
First of all, don't run away!
Secondly, if this is your first time making phyllo for pies, read my earlier how to make jufka article. It has good instructions and a bunch of helpful tips.
You don't have to, of course. But reading both will make it easier to make homemade filo and today's burek, or mixed pie with meat and potatoes.
But what if you came here for the short - albeit homemade - filo instructions?
What do you need to make homemade filo?
In that case, you'll need four things:
- some sufficient working space;
- a tablecloth to protect your sufficient working space;
- a very thin rolling pin (if possible);
- an unopened bag of flour.
(Bonus ingredient? A little bit of patience. Or a lot.)
Thirdly - jufka, kore, filo and phyllo- all mean the same thing: dough stretched out until it's thin.
Think baking paper thin. (Or between baking paper and cigarette paper thin.) Or when you blow a bubble gum balloon thin.
Scrumptious, flaky and stuffed Balkan pies (balkanske pite) are the definition of comfort food. As comforting as a good rack of BBQ ribs for some, or a thick tomato soup plus a grilled cheese for others.
There are many different types of pies. This one is called šareni burek, which translates to "colorful meat pie." To simplify the name I named it mixed burek.
(It's fun having a blog with cuisine most people aren't familiar with. I get to rename dishes in English for the first time!)
That problematic mixed burek pie!
If you've read the article mentioned above, you're now aware of the Balkan "burek" wars. Burek is a contentious word across the region.
"Burek" comes from the Turkish word "börek." (After all, burek is an Ottoman dish.) "Börek" is the catchall name for most pies. All baked filo pastries with a filling are considered "börek" in Turkey. And the rest of Balkans.
Except in Bosnia.
In BiH, the only pie considered to be burek is the meat filled pie.
(Except one other pie, today's šareni (mixed) burek. It's the potatoes that make it "colorful." Otherwise, burek is the pie with meat.)
Burek equals meat pie. Always.
Also, in BiH every other pie has a name based on its filling. Cheese pie would not be "burek with cheese" in Bosnia. Instead it's "sirnica" as "sir" means "cheese." Meanwhile, "krompiruša" is the potato pie, as "krompir," you guessed it, translates to "potato."
Even if it's etymologically faulty, being from Sarajevo I'm on the side of burek being the meat pie only.
But I don't care what you call it. I just want you to make it!
(Naturally, if you visit my home and ask for burek with cheese I will end our friendship. Outside my home though, call every pie burek if you want.)
What burek means to the Balkans
Even if it is derived from the Ottomans, our beloved burek has long ago taken on the simplicity and straight forwardness that is the Balkan cuisine. Burek has become as Balkan as the Balkans itself.
Even Turks that visit the Balkans agree pies here have far surpassed all other filo pies.
People from the former Yugoslavia know they've arrived home when upon opening the door they're hit with the aroma of pie just taken out of the oven. The moment of recognition, starting from the first time this occurs, contains in itself an entire childhood. One immediately retreats into the safety of memories, bringing back Saturdays. Bringing back memories of mom making homemade filo pies.
The kitchen takes on a large symbolism in the familiarity of those lulled memories. There, shiny balls of dough sit on the kitchen towels waiting to be spread out.
Making Burek in America
When we moved to the US - a place where no one understood why we came, a place where also no one knew where Bosnia was; it sounded like a weird Boston in Africa), the food mom made was a type of a green card for us. Proof we indeed were good people, did things the right way, and had a history somewhere in the old world.
If it tasted good, this history was welcome to stay. By proxy, we were too.
I was a teenager then, with so many things to be embarrassed of. First the regular teenage stuff. Then the additional layers of embarrassment, amplified. Being a refugee. The accent. The world of difference in tongue placement to pronounce "d" and to pronounce "th."
And also the accent on all things making me unalike regular kids. I never felt more revealed than during that time.
Yet, I was relieved to learn American born Americans (while raised with too much optimism to have the capacity to understand our despondent refugee stories), had an affinity for foreign food. During those years, hoards of people passed through our home. All were served a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
There was only one occasion not even pie was able to fix.
Middle school. Lunch. I sat by a girl so hungry she spat in her fries immediately upon getting them so other kids wouldn't steal them off her tray.
It was mid 1990s. Twenty minutes away from Washington DC. And there existed kids who spat on their fries so they could eat all of them.
There were hungry people everywhere, I learned. For some school lunch was the only thing they'd eat that day.
Once, I took out a round of pie like the ones we're making. As I was getting ready to eat it, the spitting girl asked me what it was. "Flaky pastry with a stuffing," I explained.
She looked at me with a look of disgust reserved only for lowest of the low. Embarrassment engulfed me. I didn't bring pita to school again for years. And I despised the spitting girl with bottomless passion.
The thought of her pricks me even now.
If I saw her again, I'd feed her some of my pie. Force feed her if necessary.
And she would love it. Just like you will.
More Recipes to Love:
- Lasagna with Bolognese and Bechamel Sauces
- Baked Stuffed Eggplant
- Breaded baked zucchini
- Ground beef potato moussaka
- Ground beef and potato pie
- Spinach pie
Balkan Meat and Potato Pie & Homemade Filo
- 2 lbs all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 4-6 large Russet or yellow potatoes about 2 lbs
- 2 medium yellow onions
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Cover your working space with a clean tablecloth. Dust hands with flour.
- In a large mixing bowl combine flour, salt, and 2-3 tablespoon oil. Slowly add about 2 cups of warm water and start working the flour into dough. Fold, press, knead, push and punch the mixture just as if you were making bread or pizza. Keep adding water, a little at a time. (In total, you'll add about 3 cups of warm water, or about 700 ml.) Knead vigorously for 7-10 minutes or until the dough is elastic. The dough should feel between dry and sticky to touch. If too sticky, add a little more flour. If too dry, add a little more water. Finished dough should have the consistency of an earlobe.
- Transfer dough onto your working space. Cut it in five equal parts. Knead each part for a few more minutes. Shape into a round, flat-ish, thick ball. Dab each dough ball with oil on all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel. Leave to rest AT LEAST 30 minutes.
- Peel and finely dice or grate the potatoes. Peel and mince or grate the onion. Combine onion and potatoes with ground beef. Add salt, pepper and two tablespoons of oil. Mix with your hand until well integrated. Set aside.
- Dust the working space generously with flour. Take one dough ball and knead it for a minute or two. Dust the ball with flour and get the rolling pin out.
- If you have a thin rolling pin (aka oklagija), you’ll be able to roll the dough out quite a lot before working it with your hands. Roll the dough out on your working space until it’s the thickness of few stacked pennies, or the size of a large circle. Dab the dough lightly and evenly with oil (2-3 tablespoons). Position rolling pin in the middle of the circle as if you were measuring the diameter, and then transfer one half of the dough over the rolling pin. As you lift the pin dough will hang equally on both ends. Shake the pin so the dough doesn't stick to itself. (Oil should prevent this.) Unstick it if it does.
- (If you have a thicker rolling pin, the process will be a little harder, but doable. Roll the dough out as much as you can, usually the size of an extra large pizza. Once you roll it as much as it will stretch with the pin, dab with oil lightly (1-2 tablespoons). Drape equally over the pin and lift the pin.)
- Let the dough weigh itself down. After it’s stretched out as much as it will under its own weight, turn the dough 45 degrees on the pin so it stretches on the other side. Patch up any rips by pinching the dough together. While the dough is on the rolling pin, slowly and carefully stretch it out with your hands as far as it will go. Use knuckles to do this to prevent tears. The dough should now be the thinness of cigarette paper and the size of a super large circle (or an ellipse). If you're using a long rolling pin transfer the dough back onto your working area.
- (If you are using a small, thick rolling pin, you may have to transfer the dough onto your arm in order to stretch it out more. Carefully take the dough off the pin and drape over one arm. Continue stretching the dough by pulling the dough ends with the top of the opposite hand. The pull is a slow, light and patient motion outward. If small rips occur, patch them up and continue. Continue this all around until the dough is of the thinness of cigarette paper and the size of a super large circle (or an ellipse).)
- Dab the dough with oil lightly (1-2 tablespoons). Continue stretching the dough out with your hands a little more trying to keep the form. Avoid rips the best you can. If they happen patch them up.
- If the dough is thick on the ends, cut half inch of dough ends with a knife. Discard. Grab batches of stuffing, and line the outskirts of the dough circle generously. (Use one fifth of the stuffing as you have another four dough balls to go.) Starting at any point, lift the end of the dough and cover the filling. Go around the dough circle covering all the filling. Dab the dough with oil again (1-2 tablespoons).
- Once all the filling is covered, continue going around the circle and rolling the filling into the dough. Essentially you're rolling the dough with the filling toward the inside of the circle for a few inches, and then pulling it back toward yourself. Do this equally around the circle. After a few rounds of rolling, the dough will tear in the middle. Keep on rolling the dough until most of the middle is torn. Cut the remaining middle part out. You should be left with a large hula hoop or hose shaped dough stuffed with filling.
- Cut the dough at one end and start making small spiral rounds. (You can also fill the middle remainder of the dough and form it into a round.) Spiral rounds are made by circling the dough around itself a couple of times and cutting it away from the hose. Each long hose should give you 8 pie rounds. Place rounds into an oiled pan. Dab the top of each round with oil.
- Preheat oven to 460°F. Repeat steps 5 through 13 for the remaining dough balls. (You may have to bake in batches. Do not bake two batches at once in the same oven!)
- Place pan on medium rack and bake 20 minutes or until golden on top. Lower heat to 375°F, and bake an additional 10-20 minutes. If at any point pita gets too brown on top, cover with foil and bake an additional few more minutes. Turn the oven off.
- Boil 1-2 cups of water with 2-3 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle generously over pita. Wait for it to cool, then serve.