Borek (Armenian Spinach and Cheese Turnovers)

Crispy, cheesy hand pies that are a must for any mezze spread.

an overhead shot of boreks on a marble surface

Andrew Janjigian

Why It Works

  • A mixture of tangy cheeses and aromatic herbs create a vibrant filling.
  • Squeezing the spinach dry prevents the filling and the pie from being soggy.
  • Using clarified butter yields crispier boreks.
  • Delicate, gossamer-thin phyllo is a forgiving material to work with, once you know how to handle it.

Along with cured olives, string cheese, dried apricots, walnut halves, and cured meats like basturma (the Armenian equivalent of bresaola) and sujuk (spiced Armenian sausage), boreks are required for any Armenian mezze spread. I don’t know if that’s 100% true for every Armenian household, but I've yet to attend a single gathering of more than a couple of Armenians where boreks weren't served. (My mother keeps containers of unbaked boreks in her freezer at all times, just in case.) 

Boreks—or borags, beregs, boregs, boeregs, depending upon who’s doing the spelling (they’re all pronounced the same)—are buttery, crisp, multilayered phyllo hand pies, filled with cheese, greens, vegetables, meat, or some combination thereof. They're usually triangle-shaped, although tray-style boreks, baked in a pan and then cut into squares, are also common. They're beloved by Armenians, but are equally prized throughout the countries that were once a part of the Ottoman Empire, such as Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, and Serbia.

While boreks can be made with puff pastry or yufka, a more rustic pastry dough that sits midway between a pasta and phyllo in thickness and heft, the vast majority of Armenian boreks are made using phyllo dough. The most common filling for Armenian boreks is either a mixture of cheeses—typically melty ones like Muenster or Monterey Jack, tangy feta, and something creamy, like cottage or cream cheese—or a combination of cheese and cooked, well-drained spinach. Aromatic herbs and alliums like parsley, dill, and scallion are common additions to either style, and eggs are usually added as a binder.

a borek cut in half to show the spinach and cheese filling

Andrew Janjigian

For this recipe, which gives you the option of both types of fillings, I hewed closely to the spirit of my mother’s, while making a few refinements and flourishes of my own. For the cheese filling, I kept the Muenster and feta cheeses, and added goat cheese, which upped both the mixture’s creaminess and its subtle funk (using a sheep’s milk feta here, rather than more demure cow’s milk feta, is best for achieving that notable funkiness). The spinach filling also uses both feta and goat cheese for similar reasons, and gives you the option of using greens other than frozen spinach, such as fresh spinach, watercress, arugula, Swiss chard, or beet greens (see notes section below). In both versions, I increased the quantities of herbs significantly. I also found that clarifying the butter used to assemble the boreks helps keep them crisp. And, for a final bit of flair, I like to garnish mine with a mixture of sesame and nigella seeds.

Assembling boreks is easy if you abide by some guidelines for working with phyllo dough, which is somewhat delicate. Since the phyllo turns brittle if left at refrigerator temperatures for more than a day or two, keep it frozen for as long as possible. When you want to use it, plan ahead, as you'll want to transfer it to the fridge overnight or leave it at room temperature for at least four hours. To prevent it from drying out and causing breakage, be sure to let the dough sit in its sealed packaging at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Since most phyllo is sold in one-pound packages, you can take what you need (plus a few extra sheets in case one or two tear beyond repair), gently reroll the remainder, wrap the roll in plastic, place it in a zipper-lock bag, and refreeze for up to two weeks.

When working with phyllo, keep the stack of sheets covered with a piece of parchment or wax paper weighed down by a dry kitchen towel (do not use a damp towel, despite what some recipes recommend). Finally, keep in mind that minor tears or cracks won’t be noticeable once the borek is folded and assembled, especially if they end up on the inside, so don’t worry too much as you work with it.

Recipe Facts

4.5

(24)

Total: 105 mins
Serves: 1 turnovers
Makes: 16 turnovers

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Ingredients

  • For the Herb and Cheese Filling:
  • 8 ounces (225g) Greek feta, crumbled
  • 4 ounces (115g) Muenster or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 2 1/2 ounces (70g) fresh goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup chopped mixed tender herbs and tender stems (about 2 ounces; 60g), such as dill, parsley, mint, and cilantro
  • 4 scallions (2 ounces; 60g), thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
  • 2 large eggs (110g), lightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • For the Spinach, Herb, and Cheese Filling:
  • 10 ounces (285g) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 8 ounces (225g) Greek feta, crumbled
  • 2 1/2 ounces (70g) fresh goat cheese, crumbled 
  • 2 ounces (1 packed cup; 60g) chopped mixed tender herbs and tender stems, such as dill, parsley, mint, and cilantro (about 2 packed cups picked herbs before chopping)
  • 4 scallions (2 ounces; 60g), thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
  • 2 large eggs (110g), lightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • For the Boreks:
  • 9 (13- by 18-inch) sheets phyllo dough, thawed and rested at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • 10 tablespoons (5 ounces; 140g) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon hulled sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds (optional; see notes)

Directions

  1. For the Herb and Cheese Filling: In a medium bowl, combine feta, Muenster, goat cheese, herbs, scallions, eggs, and pepper, and toss gently to combine. Cover and set aside.

    ingredients for boreg filling:For the Herb and Cheese Filling: feta, Muenster, goat cheese, herbs, scallions, eggs, and pepper

    Andrew Janjigian

  2. For the Spinach, Herb, and Cheese Filling: Wrap spinach in a clean kitchen towel or double layer of paper towels and squeeze to remove excess moisture (you should end up with about 6 ounces (170g) spinach). Transfer to a medium bowl, along with feta, goat cheese, herbs, scallions, eggs, salt, and pepper, and toss gently to combine. Cover and set aside.

    collage: squeezing water out of cooked spinach with a towel; a different bowl filled with cheese, eggs, scallions and chopped spinach

    Andrew Janjigian

  3. For the Boreks: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F (190°C). Using a sharp knife, cut stack of phyllo sheets in half to form eighteen 13- by 9-inch sheets. Stack together and cover with a sheet of parchment and a clean kitchen towel.

    collage: phyllo sheets cut in half; covered with a kitchen towel

    Andrew Janjigian

  4. In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and cook, swirling pan frequently and taking care not to let butter solids brown (lower heat as needed to medium-low if butter begins to pop and brown), until foaming subsides (an indication that water has been driven off), about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat.

    melting butter in a saucepan

    Andrew Janjigian

  5. Remove one phyllo sheet from stack and transfer to clean work surface, with the long end of the sheet running parallel to edge of counter. Working lengthwise, brush half of phyllo sheet that is closest to you lightly but evenly with butter. Fold sheet in half toward you lengthwise, covering the buttered portion of dough. Rotate sheet 90 degrees so short side now faces you, and brush entire surface of sheet lightly but evenly with butter.

    collage: brushing a sheet of phyllo with melted butter; folding sheet in half; brushing again with melted butter

    Andrew Janjigian

  6. Using a 1/4 cup measure, place a scant 3 tablespoons (40g) filling on the bottom left-hand corner of sheet, about one inch from the bottom edge. Using a spoon, form filling into a rough triangle with its long edge (hypotenuse) facing the bottom right edge of the phyllo. Lift the bottom right corner of the phyllo and fold it over the filling and gently press to form a right triangle. Continue folding up and over, like folding a flag, until you reach the end of phyllo strip. Using a sharp knife, trim off any overhanging phyllo. Brush top of triangle with butter and transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, seam side down. Sprinkle with about 1/4 teaspoon seed mixture.

    collage: placing filling on the phyllo sheet and folding up into a triangular shape; cutting off the overhanging edge; brushing with melted butter

    Andrew Janjigian

  7. Repeat borek-forming process with remaining phyllo and filling, arranging boreks in pairs with long edges facing each other, so that they form two rows of eight boreks.

    16 boreks on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper before baking

    Andrew Janjigian

  8. Bake until golden and crisp, 20 to 23 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let boreks cool at least 5 minutes before serving. Serve.

    A baking sheet with 16 boreks after baking

    Andrew Janjigian

Notes

  • You can substitute a variety of tender, fresh greens, such as spinach, watercress, arugula, Swiss chard, or beet greens, for the frozen spinach. To do so, wash 10 gently packed cups chopped mixed fresh greens and tender stems (about 15 ounces; 430g) and place in a medium microwave-safe bowl along with 1/4 cup (60ml) water. Cover and microwave on high power until greens have wilted and decreased in volume by about half, 3 to 5 minutes. Keep covered for 1 minute, then uncover and let cool slightly. Once cool enough to handle, chop fine, and squeeze dry in a clean kitchen towel. You will need 7 to 8 ounces (200-225g) cooked, drained greens for the filling; set aside any excess for another use.
  • Each borek calls for about 3 tablespoons (40g) of filling. Use a spoon and a 1/4 cup measure to transfer the filling to the strip of dough.  
  • Rewarm the butter as needed to keep it melted so it's easy to brush onto phyllo.
  • You can make 22 to 24 slightly smaller boreks with this recipe, too. Just cut the full-sized sheets of phyllo into thirds, lengthwise, to form twenty-seven 13- by 6-inch strips, and use 2 scant tablespoons of filling for each borek.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The filling can be made up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated. Stir well before using.

Uncooked boreks freeze wonderfully. Just place them in an airtight container separated by sheets of waxed paper or parchment and freeze for up to 3 weeks. Bake directly from frozen, increasing the total bake time by 5 to 10 minutes. Leftover baked boreks can be reheated on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet,in a 400˚F (200˚C) oven for 15 minutes.