Armenia

Armenian Cheese Phyllo Packets

Burek

As Maggie Saab, whose family was from Kilis, Armenia (today part of Turkey), taught Lindsay Sterling in Falmouth, MA.

Cooking Time: 45 minutes (plus thawing something in the fridge over night)
Serves 8-16 as an appetizer or along with a meal

Ingredients

  • 1 box phyllo dough
  • 1 cup shredded mild, unsalty cheese (she preferrs Munster)
  • 1 cup feta cheese
  • 5-6 sprigs parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds

Equipment

  • sheet pan or backing sheet
  • parchment paper
  • pastry brush
  • 2 small bowls
  • 1 medium bowl
  • cheese grater

Instructions

The night before:

1. The night before you want to cook, thaw the phyllo dough out in the fridge.

The day of:

2. about an hour before cooking put the phyllo on the counter to bring to room temperature before working with it.

3. Preheat the oven to 375. Melt the butter and add the oil to the butter in a small dish. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

4. Mix the cheeses together with chopped parsley in a medium mixing bowl.

5. Open the phyllo dough and unroll it so you have a stack of rectangular sheets. Keep a clean towel handy for covering the stack when you're not using it. This keeps the sheets from drying out and breaking.

6. Take two sheets from the stack at once and place them in front of you with the short end of the rectangle facing you. With a paring knife cut the rectangle in half the long way, making two really tall rectangles. Brush butter along the edges of each rectangle with the pastry brush.

7. Place a spoonful of cheese mixture at the bottom of each rectangle. Then fold the bottom edge of the phyllo over the filling and line it up with side edge so that you start to form a triangle. Then keep folding the triangle up the phyllo dough. You effectively close in the filling and make each triangle have many layers of pastry. Brilliant! Fold the triangle until you can fold no more. (If you've ever folded a flag into a neat triangle it's the same idea here).

8. Place the burek on the lined cookie sheet. Make as many more as you can with your ingredients. Brush the tops of the burek with the butter/oil, stab the tops with a sharp knife to let steam out while cooking, and sprinkle sesame seeds on each. Bake them in the oven 'til golden.

Maggie Saab (right) shares her favorite dish from Armenia.

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Armenian Bulgur in Lettuce Leaf

Itch

As Maggie Saab, whose family was from Kilis, Armenia (today part of Turkey), taught Lindsay Sterling in Falmouth, MA.

Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Serves: 4-6
Note: You'll likely need to find the asterisked ingredients online or at a Middle Eastern market.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp sumac*
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup fine grain (#1) bulgur wheat*
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 head fresh lettuce or 1/4 head cabbage or fresh grape leaves
  • 6-12 sprigs fresh spearmint
  • 6-12 sprigs fresh parsley
  • Small dish of delicious olives with pits (optional)
  • 6 pita bread or flatbread (optional)
  • 8 oz. mild white cheese such as hallum (queso blanco also works) (optional)
  • 6-12 small sprigs fresh thyme (optional)

Equipment

  • large pot with lid
  • spoon
  • liquid measuring cup (or eyeball it)
  • cutting board
  • chef knife
  • mixing spoon
  • serving platter
  • bread basket or serving plate
  • 4 small serving plates (for sides of olives, herbs, leaves, and cheese)

Instructions

1. In a large pot with lid, saute onions in oil until soft. Add tomato paste and three cups water and bring to a boil. Add salt, sumac, and lemon juice. Once this boils, stir in the bulgur wheat and cover. Let the mixture sit off heat for about 40 minutes.

2. Adjust the texture. If after resting the bulgar has not become a paste, stir in a little bit more bulgur, which will soak up more liquid. The texture you want is is a soft, yet firm paste. If the mixture is too firm and dry you could stir in little bit more water. If adding water or bulgur, let the mixture rest again before serving so the bulgur has time to soak up liquid.

3. Serve itch on a family-style platter, garnished with fresh parsley sprigs. Put out additional fresh leaves of lettuce, cabbage, or grape vine; and fresh spearmint and/or parsley leaves. Guests spoon the itch (the bulgar dish) onto the leaves and top with a fresh sprig of parsley and/or mint. Delicious! Armenian itch also goes well served along with olives, pieces of pita, and slices of mild white cheese with sprigs of fresh thyme.

Maggie Saab (right) shares her favorite dish from Armenia.

THE STORY BEHIND THE RECIPE

PRINT THIS RECIPE

HOW DID IT WORK FOR YOU?

Help me improve this site by sharing your experience in the comment box below. 

Armenian Baklava

As Maggie Saab, whose family was from Kilis, Armenia (now part of Turkey), taught Lindsay Sterling in Falmouth, MA.

Cooking time: 1 hr (plus the phyllo needs at least 3 hours to thaw beforehand)

Serves: about 40 pieces

Note: you may have to order the asterisk-ed ingredients online or find them a a Middle Eastern market near you. Phyllo dough is in the freezer in a rectangular box.

Ingredient

  • 1 box phyllo dough
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp rose water* (optional)
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 12 oz. walnuts
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • unsalted pistachios, chopped finely (optional)*

Equipment 

  • Pastry brush
  • parchment paper
  • sheet pan or cookie sheet
  • small bowl 
  • food processor
  • large mixing bowl
  • small pot
  • mixing spoon

Instructions

Ahead of time:

1. Thaw the phyllo dough one of two ways. You can either put the box of phyllo in the fridge one or two days before cooking and then put it on the counter an hour before you want to work with it (so that it becomes room temp.) Or you can take the frozen phyllo out of the freezer 3 hours before you want to work with it, take it out of the box (leaving the phyllo sealed in plastic), and thaw it on the counter for 3 hours. 

2. Make the syrup. In a small sauce pan, bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring a little bit so that the sugar melts into the water. Let boil, add lemon juice, and turn heat down to medium-low for about ten minutes. Turn off heat. Once cooled, add rose water, and cool further in the fridge.  

When you want to cook:

3. Preheat the oven to 375. 

4. Make the filling. Pulse walnuts in a food processor so that you have a crumbly mixture of nuts, with most pieces about 1/4 inch or less. Put into a medium sized bowl. Stir in cinnamon and just enough of the syrup so that the mixture kind of holds together but not all the way. You may also choose to use honey for this part.

5. Prepare and layer the phyllo dough. Melt the butter in the microwave or on the stove. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Open the phyllo dough and unroll it so that the stack of rectangular sheets lays flat. Clear a workspace in front of you. Have the butter, phyllo and cookie sheet handy. Take two sheets of the phyllo dough off the stack and lay them in front of you on the counter with the the longest edge facing you. (Cover the stack of phyllo dough with a clean towel so the rest of the phyllo doesn't dry out and break while you're working). Brush a thin layer of butter on the top sheets that you just placed in front of you. Take another two pieces of phyllo dough from the stack and lay them right on top of the ones in front of you. Brush the top layer with butter.

6. Make an inch-thick row of the nut mixture on the phyllo along the edge closest to you.  Roll the phyllo layers over the filling as tightly as you can, squeezing the nuts once they're enclosed, to get them into the cylinder shape. Continue rolling away from you through the rest of the phyllo dough so that you end up with a long cylinder that's about an inch in diameter. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

Maggie Saab (right) shares her favorite dish from Armenia.

7. Brush the top of the roll with butter, and use a paring knife to cut across the roll at a diagonal making pieces that are about an inch wide. Make more rolls just like the first until you run out of filling. Bake the baklava until golden, 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately spoon the cool syrup slowly over each roll. Listen to it sizzle. The syrup will pool a little below each row by about a half of an inch, but don't worry. Over time the hot pastry will suck up all the syrup. Sprinkle the tops of the pastry with crushed unsalted pistachios if you like. Present the pieces in a pretty shape like a spiral or concentric circles on a platter.