Old Souls…and Borek soaked with Mineral Water

My husband, Jay, often wonders why it is that most of my friends are much older than me. Many of the best friends I’ve made over the years happen to be between the ages of 45 to 65. Pair this with the fact that I love going to bed at 9:00 (and of course, on the flipside of that, waking up at 5am!), and you understand how I earned the nickname “Senior Citizen”  when I was in grad school.

But I wonder, how come I have been so lucky to have met these women, and I have been hanging out with them since I came to the U.S… I don’t know… Maybe it is because they know how to have fun, because they know when to say “to hell with the world!”… they have the wisdom you can only get through the experience of having raised a family, and they know how to go through rough times and emerge unscathed… and they know how to comfort and cheer others… So how can you NOT be friends with these women?

But… I do ponder the “why?” from time to time as well. Like Jay, I can’t really explain how come I gravitate towards older people when making friends.

Until this week… It started with my craving for borek. But not any borek… it had to be the really juicy, buttery, takes-me-back-twenty-years type of borek. So I started looking for a recipe until I had “Ohh this is gonna be good”  feeling.

It was late at night when I made it… Then took the first bite… It was midnight by that time  (waaay past my preferred bed time) and all of a sudden it all dawned on me “why?”… It might have been my lack of sleep, or maybe just the amount of butter that was in the borek…

But I had a flashback all of a sudden with that bite: Me, the little second grader, packing my books and homework with me in a backpack that was twice my size, getting my little brother ready to go as well, and off we all go with my grandma, to yet another get-together with the ladies in an Istanbul afternoon. There, I sat down with my books to do my homework at a coffee table, down on the floor, at the feet of my grandma. Doing my homework, and sometimes entertaining my little brother while listening to all that chatter, clinging of the tea glasses, a little gossip here and there, feeling the warmth of all those women around me, eating cake, kurabiye, stuffed grape leaves, kisir… and borek… There was ALWAYS borek…

When I took the second bite from my own borek, many years and miles away from that scene… It all fell into place. I understood why I’m naturally so well at ease around older women… Because they have been always around me, and from the first moment I can remember, I was one of the regulars at these get-togethers with my grandma… From that moment, there were always a lot of women my grandma’s age who cheered me through my first words and first steps… Every day I came home from school to my grandma’s house—until my mom picked us up—and I did not have any friends living close-by to run around and play with, so I got to hang out with grandma and her friends!

Back then, this was the social life of a housewife. The whole circle of friends get together, usually weekly, at someone’s house. This becomes a tradition and goes on many years in some cases. Now I am 34 years old, and the same women in my grandma’s group are still meeting regularly. Kids have gotten married, grandkids have come, husbands have gone… but there is always borek…

I am not sure whether many of the new housewives of the 2000s make time to do this now, or  if somehow the hectic  life took this last standing tower of friendship down. Or maybe people prefer not to go to too much trouble in the kitchen and meet instead at Starbucks to catch up… keeping the kitchens clean and minds worry-free. Who knows?

But I know that I am relieved to figure out my “why?”. It is the familiar feeling that wraps around me when I am with my friends. It might be the kind of security blanket I was yearning for, back when suddenly I found myself alone here in the U.S.

So, I proudly accept now that I am an “Old Soul” as a friend once told me. Give me a cup of coffee, and sit with me by the window or at a kitchen table, and sometimes I will talk as if I have lived a 100 years. But it is probably all the experience I have  gained through osmosis from those women who fed me borek all those years.

So I leave you with the recipe. Tell me: which dish takes you back 20 years?

Borek with Mineral Water (Sodali Borek)

I used the recipe from Portakal Agaci. Her recipes take me back to the places and the times I always want to remember.

I used my 14 inch deep dish pizza pan to assemble this borek, but the pan was not deep enough apparently. Everything was fine when I put it in the oven. But in the middle of the baking, all the sauce started bubbling and flowing from the sides and dripped on the oven floor. Smoke filled the house, I had to open the windows and turn on the ceiling fans in a 32°F night. So if you don’t have a very large, deep pan, you might want to assemble in two dishes: a 9 by 13 inch pan and a smaller pan if you are using the amounts called below.

  • 6 layers of yufka (Turkish filo dough. You can purchase from online Turkish stores like Tulumba or Best Turkish Food)
  • 1 big bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 4 cups (or enough to cover the pan when spread tightly) of crumbled feta cheese (preferably Turkish brands made with full fat sheep milk but any store brand will do. Soft, full fat ones melt and give a great flavor. I usually buy Tek Sut. It might be slightly salty. If so, let the block sit in water for 15 min, drain and then crumble it)
  • 250 ml of mineral water
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, melted and cooled.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of milk

1. Grease the pan. Break three layers of yufka and layer the bottom of the pan. There is NO need to brush the layers with any butter. Just plain yufka.

2. Mix crumbled feta cheese and chopped parsley. Spread evenly over yufka.

3. Cut one piece from a layer of yufka that would fit the pan size , set aside.

4. Break the remaining yufka into pieces and layer them over the top of the cheese mixture.

5. Put the single piece of yufka on top.

6. Cut it into 2 inch by 2 inch squares, making sure you cut all the way to the bottom.

7. Pour the mineral water over the borek and let it sit for half an hour. Make sure the water gets to the bottom of borek.

8. Lightly beat the eggs and mix with butter and milk. Pour over the borek, let it sit for another half an hour (or longer in the refrigerator).

9. Cook it at 380-degrees F for 45 min to an hour.


10 Comments:

  1. by Peggy
    9:10 am
    Nov 23, 2010

    This dish sounds delicious and I absolutely loved your story too! I think I’m quite a bit of an “old soul” myself… I just don’t know, but young adults, my age, just don’t interest me as much as the “experienced” older adult does. I just don’t know!

  2. by Ilke
    9:26 am
    Nov 24, 2010

    Thanks Peggy! I think it is because the older ones have much better stories to listen to :)

  3. by briarrose
    7:29 am
    Nov 24, 2010

    Oooo this looks light and savory. Wonderful. Lovely story as well. Oatmeal cookies always take me back in time personally….official kitchen helper that I was standing on a bar stool with a spoon bigger than I was stirring away. ;)

  4. by Ilke
    9:24 am
    Nov 24, 2010

    Cookies are always on the top of the list :) Do you have a traditional oatmeal cookie recipe on your blog?
    Oh it looks light , but so not!!

  5. by Kristin @ delishliving
    8:29 am
    Nov 25, 2010

    Ok, so that looks amazing, and actually doesn’t look that difficult. I have never tried anything like it – oh I wish I had a little bit of culture in me!!!
    I loved your story – good stories are what make the best blogs :)

  6. by Ilke
    9:13 am
    Nov 25, 2010

    Thanks Kristin!
    It is really not that difficult. Layer, layer, layer and bake :) You have a lot of great recipes with good memories, I call that culture!
    To tell you the truth, I kind of thought myself how to cook and cook Turkish in the US. My mom right now is a little mad at me! Last time we talked on the phone, she said “Oh now you start cooking?? Where were you 20 years ago when I needed another pair of helping hands!”

  7. by Didem
    6:50 am
    Nov 30, 2010

    I love love love peynirli borek — the challenge is finding good feta though:(
    I’d love to see a recipe for Kiymali Borek (borek w/ ground beef)!

  8. by Ilke
    7:01 pm
    Nov 30, 2010

    You are right about feta! But still good with all that butter :) Hope you will come here and we will have one of our dinners again:) I am so glad Ben made the borek for you :)

  9. by Jennifer
    11:49 pm
    May 13, 2016

    Hi Ilke! I have been trying to master borek as I love it dearly. Mine always come out dry and I’m wondering if this is because I need to let it soak in the liquids before baking? I think I recall a Turkish friend telling me this as well… Any advice?

  10. by Ilke
    10:46 pm
    May 18, 2016

    Hi Jennifer, yes soaking definitely helps.

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