Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls

Burekas

An Israeli Brunch Idea for Mother’s Day

Rachel and I have lots in common — culture, friends and philosophy. But there’s one thing we really differ on. Rachel will host a big Friday night dinner and then she will host thirty people for an epic Sunday brunch.

Much as I love Sunday brunch, I’m too tired from all the Shabbat cooking and hosting. I much prefer to have my husband Alan bring me breakfast in bed. Usually a fried egg on toast and a big mug of Earl Grey tea. It’s perfect!

In fact, the only Sunday of the year that you’re guaranteed to see me cooking in my kitchen is Mother’s Day. It’s become a tradition to host a big Sunday brunch in my garden.

At the top of the menu is my grandmother’s green frittata. I sauté a couple of onions and allow them to slowly caramelize. I chop lots of Italian parsley, baby spinach, green onions and juicy red tomatoes and combine all the ingredients with a dozen eggs. You drop the omelet mixture into a sizzling frying pan and the frittata becomes golden and crispy on the outside.

Along with the smoked salmon board, the whitefish board, the breads and lots of salads, we always have freshly baked scones. Simple ingredients like two cups of sifted flour, a stick of butter, two tablespoons of sugar, a pinch of salt and a cup of milk and a 15-minute baking time make scones easy to whip up. They are so very scrumptious, especially with fresh whipped cream and strawberry jam.

This year Mother’s Day falls closely on the heels of Yom Ha’atmaut, so Rachel and I were inspired to add an Israeli element to our Sunday brunch: flaky crispy burekas baked with a salty feta and egg filling. We serve them with squares of feta garnished with honey and pistachios and creamy labne garnished with grated tomatoes and freshly picked oregano from the garden. Dried oregano or za’atar will work as well.

Nothing is more Israeli than burekas. Wherever you go in Israel, you’re guaranteed to find burekas. At the Shuk, the supermarket, the gas station, at Aroma, at stands set up in the middle of the mall. They’re ubiquitous and for good reason — they’re perfect for snacking and filling as part of a meal. They come with all sorts of fillings — potatoes, cheese, mushroom, spinach and feta — and one is better than the next.

Like every good Sephardic grandmother, my mother always bakes burekas for her grandchildren. The only difference is that she gets really inventive and healthy with the fillings — she combines finely chopped spinach and kale with exotic mushrooms and mashed potato and freshly ground spices. You never know exactly what it is that you’re eating, but it’s always delicious. (My nieces and nephews have sophisticated taste buds thanks to her adventurous creations.) Burekas are super easy to make, especially with store bought puff pastry. Just lay out the pastry in small squares, lay out the filling, fold into a triangle (for cheese filling) or a rectangle (for mashed potato) or a crescent (for spinach and cheese). Sprinkle with sesame seeds and most importantly, bake in a very hot oven, so the dough becomes extra flaky and golden and crispy. We hope you have fun trying our recipe.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL THE WOMEN IN THE WORLD WHO NURTURE SOULS AND BRING LOVE INTO THE WORLD.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women in the world who nurture souls and bring love into the world.

– Sharon

Burekas

1 16oz package frozen large puff pastry squares or 2 sheets Pepperidge Farms frozen puff pastry
2 large eggs
2 cups crumbled feta
Black and white sesame seeds for garnish

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  • In a bowl, beat one egg and feta until smooth and well combined.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment paper and place puff pastry squares on top.
  • If using puff pastry sheets, roll out on a floured surface and cut into nine equal squares.
  • Place two tablespoons of the feta mixture on one half of each puff pastry square, leaving half an inch edge all around.
  • Fold the dough over into a triangle and press down the edges to seal. If the edges are hard to seal, add a bit of water to wet the edges and seal.
  • Use a fork to crimp the edges for a pretty design.
  • In a small bowl, beat the second egg. Brush the egg onto the top of the burekas and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  • Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
  • Unbaked burekas can be frozen and baked directly from the freezer at 425°F.

Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.

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