My travels to Istanbul left me with a very long list of recipes I was excited to make at home. Sigara Börek was high up on the list. Börek is a savory pastry with filling. The most common fillings are cheese, meat and spinach. I love these little börek because they’re great for grabbing and dipping.
They’re perfect appetizers.
One of the best experiences of my Istanbul trip was lunch at the home of our friend’s Ihsan’s mother and sister. We were served a traditional Turkish meal that began with a rooftop cocktail party. The passed appetizer was Sigara Börek. That’s where I first fell in love with this dish. I’ve made it many times since I returned home, for my own parties. It’s always a big hit.
Another type of Turkish börek that’s extremely popular looks like a white lasagna or a noodle kugel with a flaky, buttery top. When I was in Istanbul there was a börekçi (börek shop) near my hotel that I walked past every day. That took serious willpower. If not for the fact that I was on a culinary tour and needed to save room for lots of other delicious foods, I would have gone into that shop every day for a sample.
I finally went in there on the last morning of my trip. I was beyond excited watching the shop owner cut off a nice big piece for me, chop it up, and pile it into a paper bowl to go. It was heavenly!
This recipe for sigara börek is fairly straight forward: make the cheese mixture; roll it up in strips of phyllo; and sauté the rolls. The hardest part about this recipe is learning how to handle the delicate phyllo sheets so they don’t dry out or rip.
Here are some tips about Working With Phyllo:
- Phyllo dough is sold frozen. If you defrost it according to the package directions, which takes several hours, it will be perfect to work with. A couple of times, when I needed to rush the thawing process, I had success with putting the whole unopened box of phyllo in a warm oven (preheated to 300ºF and then shut off) for 30 minutes. I can’t promise that it will work for you – you are safer to go by the book – but in a pinch you can give my unconventional thawing method a try.
- Once you remove your phyllo from the box and take it out of the plastic, it will immediately start to dry out. Be prepared with a clean, damp dish towel. Keep your phyllo sheets rolled up, placed on a cutting board or platter, covered with the towel at all times. Lift the towel off briefly, unroll the stack and pull out a sheet to work with. Then re roll and recover the stack.
- Don’t fret if your phyllo sheets tear or crumble a bit while you’re rolling them. Simply dab some water on the the roll and keep rolling, and everything will usually stick together and result in a perfect little roll.
- Expect to throw away a bunch of phyllo sheets. It’s virtually impossible to work with these delicate sheets without messing up a few times. As hard as I try to be gentle, I often end up ripping some of them badly as I pull them out of the stack. There are about 20 sheets in a 1-pound box. Multiply that times four (since you’re cutting the sheets into fourths) and that gives you 80 strips – more than you will need for this recipe.
HERE’S HOW TO MAKE SIGARA BÖREK
Mix crumbled feta with chopped scallions, parsley, eggs, and pepper. Set up a rolling station with a bowl of feta mixture, a small bowl of water, your defrosted phyllo dough covered with a damp dish towel, and a plate to place the rolls, as you make them.
Put about 2 teaspoons of the feta mixture at the end of one strip, leaving a border on the end and on each side so that you can fold the long sides of the phyllo over the cheese, to to meet each other in the middle.
Roll up the dough to the end. Repeat until you’ve used all of your filling.
Sauté the rolls in a skillet until crisp and brown. Drain them on paper towels.
You can make the rolls ahead and refrigerate them for a day or two before cooking. Or you can freeze uncooked börek and cook them straight from the freezer. To freeze, lay the rolls out in layers, with waxed paper in between, in a container with a tight-fitting lid.
If you want to see a video I made, showing how to make these, scroll down, below the recipe.
Here’s the recipe for Turkish Sigara Börek. If you make this I hope you’ll come back to leave a review and let me know what you think.
- Pizza cutter for slicing phyllo into strips
- Large cast iron or non-stick skillet
- A clean damp dish towel to keep phyllo sheets from drying out
- For The Borek:
- 12 ounces of crumbled Feta cheese
- 2 large eggs
- 4-5 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped (5-6 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, plus a bit to garnish the yogurt sauce
- ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or Maras pepper (or substitute ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika plus ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
- 1 pound of store-bought phyllo dough (or Yufka dough if you can find it), defrosted per package instructions. I buyorganic phyllo dough that I find in the freezer section at Whole Foods.
- ¼ cup vegetable oil (or more) for frying
- For The Yogurt Sauce:
- 1½ cups plain yogurt, not Greek (low fat is fine)
- 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced or pressed
- A pinch of salt, to taste
- A sprinkle of chopped parsley to garnish, optional
- Make The Yogurt Sauce: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill until ready to use. This can be made several hours ahead.
- Make The Borek: In a large bowl mix feta, eggs, scallions, parsley and pepper. Set aside.
- Set up a work station on a flat surface: Set out your roll of phyllo sheets and cover with a damp dish towel. You'll need a small bowl of water, a pizza cutter, and a large plate or tray for the rolls.
- *Place one sheet of phyllo on your work surface with the longer edge facing you. Cut it, vertically, into 4 equal strips. Put about 2 teaspoons of the feta mixture near the end of one strip, leaving a one-inch border on each side. Fold the 2 long sides of the phyllo over so they meet in the middle, covering the cheese filling. Roll up the filling and keep rolling until you get almost to the end of the strip. Moisten the end with some water and then finish rolling. The water helps seal the roll. Repeat with the other 3 rolls. Set them on a plate. Repeat the process until you use up your filling. Leftover phyllo sheets can be kept in the fridge for a few days, tightly sealed in plastic. (*see blog post for important tips on working with phyllo)
- Cook The Rolls: Line a plate with a double layer of paper towels. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat until the oil wrinkles. Brown the rolls in batches (don't overcrowd) for 3-4 minutes, turning often, until golden brown on all sides. Transfer to towel-lined plate to drain. Repeat with remaining rolls, adding more oil if necessary.
- Serve Borek warm or at room temp, with yogurt sauce to dip, if you like.
- Note about cooking ahead: Rolls can be assembled ahead and refrigerated for a day or two before cooking. Or uncooked rolls can be frozen and cooked straight from the freezer. To freeze, lay the rolls out in layers, with waxed paper in between, in a container with a tight-fitting lid.
Watch the Video: How To Make Sigara Börek:
Here are some more Turkish recipes you might enjoy:
Tiny lamb-stuffed ravioli topped with 3 sauces: caramelized tomato sauce, brown butter sauce, and garlicky yogurt sauce. Make this recipe for a special occasion.
Turkish Hot Layered Hummus
Creamy hummus, served warm, topped with buttery pine nuts and a chopped salad of cucumbers, radishes and sun-dried tomatoes. A fabulous festive dip for casual entertaining.
Grilled Turkish Kofta Kebabs
Skewers of spiced-up ground lamb or beef, served with fresh vegetables, pita and garlicky yogurt sauce. This is a great dish for grilling season.