What a delightful birthday month this has been so far! I can’t really say I’ve done too much out of the ordinary other than receive a Jason Brown hug and tell all of my favorite figure skaters to their beautiful glowing faces that I love them. (Stars on Ice was sooo good!!!) I picked rhubarb with Sven, made cake after cake, ate cheesy pickles with my homies, and listened to a lot of Live from Here and Little Fires Everywhere on tape. I also treated myself to funfetti pillowcases and socks. Nothing too wild, yet everything I love. And now this week I am heading to Paris for the first time ever, with Lily and Sarah and Bonne Maman, and I am so excited!!! I am bringing some new disposable cameras I just discovered, don’t those look fun?? More on Paris later...
Right now I am enacting a new birthday month tradition which includes reflecting back on all of the best things I ate this year during my travels and cooking one of them. There was an amazing crispy rice salad at Hai Hai, in Minneapolis, that was like eating a bowl of fried chicken breading and tons of fresh herbs, my favorite doughy breakfast burrito at Los Favoritos, in Arizona, an avocado toast to end all avocado toasts at Lodge Bread Co, in LA, a lobster in Maine, salmon in Alaska, and Bulgogi in Korea. One thing that haunts me particularly regularly though is the borek that I ate at Sofra, in Cambridge, with Zach and Jeff. It was October, it was unseasonably warm so we sat outside, we ordered one of almost everything, and I was sick as a pup! So I was mainly focused on navigating my utensils and bites in such a way that wouldn’t spread my cooties to anyone else. But then I tasted the borek and, goodness gosh geez, I could have died after that first bite.
It’s… illegally good. It’s kind of like a slice of mac and cheese that’s been crisped up in a skillet, but it’s milder and doughier than that. On the sweet/savory spectrum it's about halfway between a lasagna and a kugel. Structurally it's layered like a lasagna, with Yufka, which is a Turkish flatbread that's thicker than phyllo dough and thinner than a tortilla, and it has fresh mozzarella in it, so it’s very creamy and doesn’t have any sharpness. It's also yogurty, so it has some subtle sourness, and there’s an egg custard situation swimming into the layers, holding everything together, ohmygahhh it’s good.
After tracking down the recipe in Sofra's book, I’ve decided that It’s actually insane that such a simple set of ingredients can make something this delicious. Basically what you do, or rather what I did since I didn’t plan ahead far enough to order Yufka dough online, is you knead together a simple flour/water/olive oil dough and then roll it out until it's very very thin (I used my pasta roller). Then you layer it with yogurty milk and grated fresh mozzarella. I’d never grated fresh mozzarella before but it turns out you can do that! Unlike lasagna, the layers don’t get boiled or cooked at all before layering up with the yogurt and cheese which makes them soak everything up and stay soft and doughy in the oven.
Then after it's baked, you brown slices on both sides and eat them with grated tomato. Then you die!!!
If you don’t have yufka dough and choose to make your own, use a double batch of this recipe. Roll it out to the second thinnest setting on your pasta roller and cut out enough rectangles to make eight layers (it's ok if there's some overlap). You can either roll them all out at once and keep them separated with a dusting of flour and layers of parchment until the rest of your borek ingredients are ready, or you can roll them out as you assemble the borek. Doing this will make this process long but it will be 100% worth it. And a great thing about this borek is that you can make it a day or two in advance and reheat slices in a pan before serving.
1/2 c (113g) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 c whole milk
3/4 c (164g) plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tsp kosher salt
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
4 sheets store-bought yufka pastry, weighing about 2 pounds (907g) (many brands of yufka are available online)
4 (4-oz) balls buffalo milk mozzarella, grated
3 tb all-purpose flour
2 tb nigella seeds (note: I used poppy seeds!)
tomatoes, grated with the big holes of a box grater, for serving
preheat the oven to 425ºf. butter an 8-inch square baking dish or an 11 by 7-inch baking pan with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter.
in a small mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, yogurt, salt, and whole eggs until very smooth. whisk in the remaining 7 tablespoons of melted butter.
cut the yufka so that you have about eight large pieces that cover the bottom of the pan. it's okay if they don't fit the pan perfectly or if the edges hang over; you can fold everything over the top at the end of assembling.
place one layer of yufka on the bottom of the pan and brush lavishly with the milk mixture. repeat until you have four layers of brushed pastry. distribute the mozzarella over the top of the four soaked yufka layers. place another four layers of yufka over the cheese filling, brushing with the milk mixture between every layer.
using a small knife, cut the borek, scoring the pastry so that the custard seeps into the cuts. make 10 to 12 cuts. it doesn't matter if it breaks the pastry: you can press it back down with your hands. you don't need to worry about doing it neatly; the cuts will disappear while the borek bakes.
mix the remaining milk mixture with the egg yolks and flour. pour over the top and let soak for 20 minutes. eventually, the liquid soaks into the pie, so don't worry if it seems like a lot. sprinkle the top with the nigella seeds.
place the borek in the oven and lower the heat to 350ºf. bale for about 50 minutes, until golden on top and puffy. let rest for 15 minutes before slicing. either serve as is or heat a skillet and brown on both sides.
serve with grated tomato.