Tables of Istanbul: The Journey of a Turkish Girl into Alaska

How to maintain your own culture in a different locale.

Prepared foods Photo credit: Zeynep Kilic
Zeynep Kilic

Zeynep Kilic

Zeynep Kılıç was born and raised in Turkey, and moved to the United States to pursue graduate school in 1993.

Ayten Sultan’s Su Böreği

Su böreği, ready to serve Courtesy photo
Su böreği dough Courtesy photo
Rolling the dough for su böreği Courtesy photo
Dough for su böreği, at rest Courtesy photo
Straining the dough Courtesy photo
The stuffing for Courtesy photo
Su böreği in the pan Courtesy photo
Su böreği layered in the pan Courtesy photo
Layering the su böreği to cook Courtesy photo
Su böreği cooked Courtesy photo
Su böreği, ready to serve Courtesy photo


1. For the dough: Combine the dough ingredients and knead into a shiny consistency (we used a dough hook on a heavy-duty mixer, which took about 10 minutes on slow to medium speed). Cover with damp cloth and let it rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour. When you cut into the dough it should be porous.

2. Divide the dough into two and then cut each half into four small balls. Round them up in your palm and roll out to a slightly larger diameter than your pan for the classic wrinkled look. Beware that you will need a lot of flour to roll these out. Think about at least 60 ml (1/4 cup) flour for each ball. You basically douse the sheets in flour under and over until it reaches the correct size.

3. Once the sheet of dough is ready, gently pick it up, dust off the excess flour and lay it on a clean dry cloth (or in my mom’s case, newspapers) so it can dry up a bit, while you continue to roll out the other dough balls. As the sheets dry, about halfway through, you can place the dry sheets on top of each other.

4. To cook the dough: Have a deep pot of salted boiling water salt ready. Prepare an ice-water bath and place next to the stove, as well as a deep bowl with a strainer turned upside down on it. Water must be at a rolling boil.

5. For the filling: In a small pan melt the butter, then add the oil. In a small bowl, crumble and mix the cheeses, and combine with finely chopped parsley; set aside.

6. To assemble: Once you are done with rolling the sheets, you will be dunking them in the water like you are preparing pasta (only much faster). This part of the process requires attention, quick reflexes, and gentle handling. Gently lower the sheet into boiling water and press to submerge. Cook for 30 seconds, then gather the sheet to a corner with a flat wide perforated ladle, and gently lift it out, making sure not to tear. (If it is tearing, you may be cooking it too long). Immediately submerge in cold-water bath. Then using your hands, lift and lay the sheet onto the upside down strainer to get rid of the water.

7. Pour 30-45 ml (2 to 3 tablespoons) melted butter at the bottom of the pan and place the strained sheet on it in a wrinkled manner. Brush with 15 ml (1 tablespoon) butter and repeat with the next sheet. Since we did smaller pans 30 and 35 cm (12 and 14 inches), we used only four sheets for the bottom layer. After the fourth sheet is buttered, add the filling in an even layer.

8. Repeat with the rest of the sheets (four total). Prick holes on top with a fork, cover with a lid and cook on stovetop on slow heat. Watch it closely while it cooks, as you have to rotate the pan for even browning. It should take about 30 minutes to have a golden brown bottom. Using a large plate (or the lid if it is flat), slide the börek and turn it upside down into the pan (butter first if necessary). Prick holes with a fork on top, cover and cook another 30-40 minutes. You can open the lid for the last 10 minutes or so for a crisp crust. Depending on whether your stove is gas or electric, you may have to adjust the cooking time. Make sure to watch it like a hawk to adjust temperature and cooking time for a beautifully golden crust. This börek is meant to have a crisp outer layer and a moist inside. You will not get this texture if you do it in the oven. It is worth the wait – do it on stovetop.

Enjoy with a glass of hot Turkish black tea or a cold glass of ayran. Afiyet olsun!