boereg (cheese filled phyllo)

This is a universally favorite Armenian dish so many variations exist in the particular choice of ingredients, but the overall result is pretty standard. Having had it all her life made by other hands, Ani followed her mom Isgouhi's instructions once she decided it was time for her to try it out herself. Got it right on the first try and continued to practice successfully. It is really straightforward. And becomes addictive. Melted cheese, the magic component of the philly cheesesteak, married to paper thin buttery phyllo dough. Comfort food, probably better not to analyze the nutritional profile.

How to pronounce this word? It sounds like "burak" (boo-rack) to bob's untrained ear. Muenster or feta cheese seems to be the common ingredient in its many variations of mixed cheeses, some of which include cottage cheese. Adding spinach to the cheese layer(s) is another option.

ingredients

1/2 lb (lite) muenster cheese
1/2 lb (fat free) feta cheese
1/2 lb (lowfat) mozzarella cheese
1 t salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 T flour
1 egg
1 1/4 stick butter (1/4 lb plus 1/16 lb), melted
1 lb phyllo pastry dough (about 18 12" x 17" sheets)
   OR 1.1 lb package 2 frozen puff pastry sheets, rolled thinner to at least 12"x12" [see update]
optional 1 lb package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, moisture squeezed out
   [sautéed with chopped onion in 2 T of butter for an extra kick]
1 c (nonfat) milk

instructions

  1. Get the phyllo dough out of the freezer an hour before assembly time, but do not open the package. Work with it quickly once you do open it since it dries out quickly.
  2. Grate the three cheeses with a large hole grater and mix them together with one hand and mix in the salt, pepper and flour and egg with a spoon. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile melt the butter and spray the roughly 11" x 17" baking pan with veggie spray.
  4. Unfold the phyllo dough sheets and begin assembly. There are typically about 18 sheets roughly 11" x 17" in a 1 lb package. Start with one sheet on the bottom. Use a brush to roughly coat the sheet with butter minimally, being careful to get the edges done well so they don't dry out during baking. After this first layer, you are on your own.
  5. The simplest sheet layering configuration is just to put one layer over the next (brushing with butter each time) until you stick the cheese layer in the middle (9 plus 9), or half the cheese mixture at the two points equidistant from the top and bottom (6 plus 6 plus 6), BUT somehow there was an alternating overlapping sheet tradition that continued over to our first attempts at doing this recipe explained below in a note.
  6. Once finished with the layering, take a thin sharp knife and cut in half both ways and then in half again lengthwise, but divide each of the widthwise halves into thirds, making a 6 x 4 pattern of almost 3"x3" cheese squares.
  7. Dribble the cup of milk evenly into all the grooves between the squares so that it will be absorbed by the internal structure of the pie.
  8. At this point it can be refrigerated overnight so that it can be baked just before serving.
  9. When ready, bake 30 to 40 minutes at 350° until golden brown.
  10. Remove and let cool about 10 minutes before serving so nobody burns their mouth while ingesting.

notes

  1. Leftovers are great for many days. Refrigerate. When ready to go for it again, microwave 20 to 30 seconds on high (experiment here, depending on how many squares you heat up).
  2. Our initial fold over maneuvers were a bit absurd:
  3. 2009 UPDATE NOTES: the puff pastry makeover
    We quickly abandoned the crazy fold-over stuff. Any way you get layers is fine, laying down one layer after another, and afterwards you just cut the rectangular portion sizes. We also evolved to using puff pastry, and hence only two dough layers: a bottom and a top layer, with the cheese in between. And then to individual puffs made with puff pastry sheets rolled out a bit thinner and cut into 3-4 inch squares, then filled and folded either across the diagonal to make a triangle or in half to make a rectangle, and then pressing the open edges with a fork to seal them. Before using these sheets for individual pastries, roll them out thinner to about 12-16 inch squares. Only work with one sheet at a time, keeping the second sheet refrigerated after thawing out overnight in the refrigerator. [The butter in the dough will become too soft to work with if left at room temperature.] Baking time is reduced to about 20 minutes. See the illustration page for the different look and feel of the results. The texture is clearly different than the many phyllo dough layer approach, but too often the latter are dry at the top sheet and around the edges anyway (not when we do it---it is the other Armenians who are trapped by their tradition) . After years of evolving this recipe, in 2012 we decided to try adding spinach, an occasional variant of this traditional recipe.
  4. Illustrations available.
boereg.htm: 29-sep-2012 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]