This morning I walked up to Hoxton Street to buy some fresh herbs from my Turkish shop — they are cheaper and more plentiful than at Waitrose. On the way back, I decided to check the jerk chicken stand on the other side to see if it was any good but it looked too dirty. So, I skipped my craving and continued back home and all of a sudden I fall on a woman rolling out dough for saj boreks in the window of a very modest café, just like you would see in Turkey. Amazing sight in the heart of east London even if there is a large Turkish community there. It was just after 11 am, so, not too far off lunch. I had to try one and fortunately the lovely looking saj maker took a shine to me and gave me a freshly baked one filled with spinach and cheese — she normally makes them ahead of time and reheats them which I am sure is fine but I prefer mine made on the spot. I had never had such a good saj borek outside Turkey, and she is now my most favourite person in the neighbourhood. All I can say to you is go and have some before she leaves! In the meantime, here are a few pictures of her at work together with a couple of video clips. I inadvertently turned off the camera halfway through filming hence the two clips. I really need to learn how to edit!
Here she is spreading a spicy potato mash and feta cheese. She is very meticulous and makes sure the filling is evenly spread so that you can enjoy every bite which I certainly did. Not sure about the calorie count but who cares with something so good!
Folding the dough over the filling and below are as you can see one nearly ready and the other just laid on the saj.
And here is the tray of the ready-made ones. I am not sure how she can tell which is which, probably from the colour. The only filling I didn’t like the look of was the minced meat which was a little too watery. Perhaps a lot more onion than meat but I am sure it is good once baked. And if you feel like making your own, you can try the recipe below which I adapted from one in Nevin Halici‘s Turkish Cookbook. I stayed with Nevin when I was researching Mediterranean Street Food and she took me to try the boreks in Meram gardens in Konya. They are still the best I have ever had!
Saj Borek with Spinach and Cheese (Saç Boregi)
The making of saj boreks, an Anatolian specialty, has become a tourist attraction in Turkey. Walking down Istiklal Street in Istanbul, you see Anatolian ladies settled in the windows of some restaurants making saj boreks in full view of passers-by. Sadly, their boreks are not a patch on those I had in Anatolia.
The traditional dough for saj borek is made with different flours, strong bread flour, all-purpose and whole wheat. Mixing the flours produces a superior dough but that made with just unbleached all-purpose flour, like the one here, is fine — the texture may not be as perfect but it is good all the same. For a potato filling, grate two boiled potatoes and mix with a little chopped parsley and onion then season with salt, pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. You can also use the cheese mixture below on its own. Serves 4
For the dough:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, and more for kneading
(or 1/3 cup strong bread flour, 1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour & 1/3 cup whole wheat flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 1/2 ounces spinach, finely shredded (about 2 1/2 cups)
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons butter, melted
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the salt and a touch over 1/3 cup water. Knead for 5 minutes until you have a smooth firm dough. Divide into 4 and roll each into a ball. Let rest, covered with a damp cloth, for 30 minutes.
To prepare the filling, mix the cheese with the parsley. Heat a non-stick griddle or pan over a medium heat. Flour your work surface and a thin rolling pin. Take one ball of dough and roll out as thinly as you can, flouring it all the time, to a 30 cm/12-inch diameter. Sprinkle a quarter of the spinach over half the dough and then a quarter of the cheese mixture. Fold the dough over the filling in a half circle and lift onto the hot griddle or pan. Cook for a minute or so on one side and again on the other until lightly crisp and golden on both sides. Transfer to a plate, brush with melted butter and serve immediately.
@Anissa Helou from Mediterranean Street Food — You can try the saj boreks at the Hoxton Grill Cafe, 100-102 Hoxton Street, London N1 6SG, tel: 07961 119 186