Spiral Beef Borek

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Sometimes, my partner insists on making some recipe or another he found online. Most of the time, I’m just over here shaking my head; sure, go for it, it’s gonna be a lot more work than you think. He always picks something elaborate and over the top, after all. Last time, it was a ridiculously elaborate Pavlova; this time, he decided to make an elaborate stuffed phyllo spiral, and probably underestimated how difficult it can be to work with phyllo at all.

I gotta say though, while he had a few missteps and had to adapt his recipe, the end result was pretty dang tasty. I was skeptical, but he pulled it off, at least well enough to call it dinner.

Why borek? What even is borek? History time: Borek, also spelled Burek, Byrek, Boureki, Byurek, and Bourek, is a pastry dish made with flaky layered dough like phyllo, and it originated in Turkiye and the surrounding middle eastern nations. It’s kind of like the meat-based version of Spanakopita, though it can be filled kind of just with whatever meat, cheese, spinach, or other ingredients sound good.

In our case, he was specifically trying to mimic a local Lebanese restaurant’s borek, which we had recently and greatly enjoyed. We got the flavors more or less correct, but they use a much less elaborate presentation. Probably a good thing; his got a little stuck to the parchment paper when it came time to move it, so we had to do a wild flip into the pan and then patch up a hole. Still, presentation is only part of a meal; it’s the flavor that really matters.

I’ve asked him what he would change if he made it again.

  • Try lamb instead of beef. The original recipe he used called for lamb, and beef is a little different, though still both traditional and delicious.
  • Buy refrigerated instead of frozen phyllo. The frozen stuff had a few kinks in it that really risked tearing it and made it harder to work with.
  • Leave out the cayenne. The spice isn’t bad, but the recipe he was mimicking wasn’t a spicy recipe.

The recipe we started with called for tomato passata, which we didn’t have. Since it’s just pureed tomato, we made our own by using canned dice tomatoes, draining and pureeing them with an immersion blender, and straining it through a sieve to remove the seeds. It worked fine, but is unnecessary if you buy passata in the first place.

Overall, though, for a first-time experiment, it turned out really well. So, if you have a few hours to make an elaborate phyllo-based recipe, here’s our version below. Or, if you want the original we based this on, it came from Nagi at RecipeTin. Give both a try!

Spiral Beef Borek

An adaptation of a lamb borek recipe, made in an elaborate spiral with phyllo crust.
Servings 4 Slices
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 1 hour
Cooling Time 20 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes

Equipment

  • Large Skillet
  • Rubber Spatula
  • Whisk
  • Mixing Bowls
  • Parchment Paper
  • Pastry Brush
  • Colander
  • Cast Iron Skillet At least 10"

Ingredients

For the Filling

  • 12 Sheets Phyllo Dough
  • 2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Onion Small; half an onion if larger.
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1.2 Lbs Ground Beef About 600 grams.
  • Tsp Cumin
  • ¾ Tsp Coriander
  • ¾ Tsp Cinnamon
  • ¾ Tsp Paprika
  • ½ Tsp Allspice
  • ¼ Tsp Cayenne
  • Tsp Kosher Salt
  • ½ Tsp Black Pepper
  • Cup Raisins Chopped small.
  • Cup Pine Nuts
  • 1 Cup Tomato Passata See post for substitution.
  • Cup Water

For the Yogurt Egg Wash

  • 1 Egg
  • 2 Tbsp Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter

For the Yogurt Sauce

  • 1 Cup Plain Greek Yogurt
  • ¼ Tsp Grated Garlic
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • ½ Lemon Zest
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Pinch Salt

Instructions

Make the Yogurt Sauce

  • Mix together the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and zest, oil, and salt. Stir well, cover, and set aside or fridge until ready to serve. The longer this sits, the mellower the garlic will be and the better the flavors mix.

Prepare the Phyllo

  • Phyllo is tricky to work with; you want it to be room temperature so it doesn't crack, but can't let it dry out. Keep a light, moist tea towel to cover it when you're not working with it, and follow whatever instructions are on the phyllo you buy.
    You can also make your own phyllo. If you do, you're crazy, and I salute you.

Make the Filling

  • Heat the olive oil over medium-high. Dice the onions and garlic quite small, and start to cook them until soft and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the ground beef and cook, breaking it up as it browns. Once it's mostly browned and broken up, drain the grease (I use a colander) to reduce the liquid in the filling.
  • Add all of the spices and stir, cooking for another minute or two.
  • On the side, in a dry skillet, start toasting the pine nuts. You want them to be lightly toasted for a more robust flavor and texture.
  • Once the spiced meat has simmered for a few minutes, add in the tomato passata and water, and mix together. Then, mix in the raisins and pine nuts, stirring to mix it all.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer this mixture for 5-15 minutes. Your goal is to cook off most of the moisture so it doesn't soak the phyllo later. Once the moisture is mostly gone, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Assemble and Bake

  • Preheat your oven to 390℉.
  • Make your yogurt egg wash. Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Then, whisk together the egg, yogurt, and melted butter into a creamy, slightly thick sauce-like mixture.
  • On parchment paper, lay out one sheet of phyllo. Dot and carefully brush some of the yogurt wash across this, being mostly thorough but careful not to get too close to the edges that you soften and make the phyllo stick.
  • Layer up four layers of phyllo with wash in between each layer. Phyllo – Wash – Phyllo – Wash – Phyllo – Wash – Phyllo – Wash. This will make one log.
  • Using about a third of the filling, make a pile along the long edge of the layered phyllo.
  • Using the parchment paper, roll the log by pulling the parchment over. Make sure it fully rolls, though ideally it shouldn't stick to the paper. It doesn't need to be too tight.
  • Repeat this process two more times, for a total of three logs, each made from four layers of phyllo and about a third of the filling.
  • Now make the spiral (if you want; you can bake the logs as-is on a baking sheet instead of spiraled in a cast iron if you like.) Start with one and roll it horizontally. Take the second, tuck one end onto the open edge of the first, and continue the spiral; repeat with the third.
  • Brush the bottom of your cast iron with melted butter, a generous layer to help prevent the pastry from sticking when it's done.
  • Transfer the spiral into the cast iron. If it's stuck to the parchment paper, you can put the cast iron upside down over the top of the spiral, slide a cutting board underneath the parchment paper, and flip it. If the phyllo tears when you remove the parchment, you can patch it with more phyllo, though ideally you shouldn't need to do any of this and it should transfer nicely.
  • Brush the top of the spiral with more melted butter, and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the phyllo is golden and crisp and the filling is warmed up. Slice and enjoy with the yogurt sauce!
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern
Keyword: Baked, Beef, Filo, Phyllo

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