Whenever someone immigrates, gets engaged or married, or visits from out of town, my grandmother celebrates the occasion by frying up a big plate of burek, which she usually serves unceremoniously on a plate lined with paper towels, since everyone is always lurking around the stove waiting for her to lift them out of the deep fryer. Burek doesn't need to be served on fine china, dressed up with a fancy presentation, or served with a clever assortment of dipping sauces in order to be celebratory. It's just inherently so! And if you make these for your next party, they will be the first thing to go (seriously, even if you triple the recipe), so make sure you save yourself a few in the back of the refrigerator, because they're also fabulous left over (it's a very cold-leftover-pizza experience).
This recipe is totally flexible—you can add more cheese, parsley, a clove or two of garlic, or a few pinches of allspice. My family loves to eat burek with salsa or Sriracha, but it's also delicious just on its own. You can even make a special vegetarian version, with mushrooms instead of beef; I've included a note with the recipe about how to make this substitution. There are other vegetarian versions made with mostly cheese. Assyrian chef Lana Shlimon, who cooks Lebanese and Iraqi Assyrian food, recommends mixing a combination of mild and briny cheeses, for instance feta and mozzarella.
If you'd like to make your burek ahead of time, you can either roll them up the night before and then fry them at the last minute, or fry them earlier in the day and then later crisp them up in the oven before serving.
If you're new to deep frying, don't be intimidated! The thing is, it's very easy if you know a few tricks. Just make sure to set up a safe deep fry station and to keep the heat at a constant temperature. If you do both, deep frying is a piece of cake. The easiest way to keep a constant temperature is to buy an inexpensive deep fry thermometer so that you can easily monitor and adjust the heat. As long as you keep it around 350°, the oil shouldn't sputter or smoke. But if you don't have a thermometer and need burek now, there are a few low tech workarounds. To keep your fry station safe, find a heavy pot, make sure you have several inches of space above the oil line so that it doesn't bubble over, and keep the pot toward the back of the stove.
Also known as borek or börek
Yield: approximately 20 rolls
Total time: 1 hour
2 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil
1 small onion (or half of a large onion), minced
1 pound sirloin, minced finely into very small pieces (or ground) *
1 cup loosely packed shredded mozzarella (not fresh mozzarella) *
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1 package large wonton wrappers (1 pound / 20 to 21 wontons)
2 or 3 tablespoons water in a small bowl
1 to 2 quarts oil for deep frying (e.g., peanut, canola, olive oil, but not extra virgin)
Make the filling:
- Heat 1 tablespoon of neutral oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Once the oil has heated for a minute or two, add the minced onion and cook until it softens and becomes translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes.
- Once the minced onion has softened, turn the heat to medium-high and push the onion to the sides of the pan.
- Add the other tablespoon of neutral oil to the center of the pan and add the minced beef * to the center of the pan. Spread it out evenly and then let it sit there for about a minute while you season it with salt and pepper.
- After the beef has sat in the center for a minute, mix up the beef, trying not to disturb the onions, scraping any bits off the bottom of the pan, and let it sit for another minute or two. Continue this pattern until it has browned nicely and any pooling liquid has been cooked off, about 6-7 minutes.
- Mix together the onions and the beef if they haven't already mixed together.
- Take the beef and onions off the heat and let them cool (about 10 minutes).
- Stir in the mozzarella, parsley, and any additional salt and pepper.
Wrap the burek:
- Set up a safe fry station on the stove or in a dedicated deep fryer. Turn the heat to medium so that the oil slowly rises to 350° F and keep an eye on it while you work.
- Place one wrapper on a cutting board.
- Put a couple spoon-fulls of the filling (approximately 2 tablespoons—pace yourself for 20 rolls) in the center of the wrapper in a diagonal line, from corner to corner, rather than side to side. Leave a large border all the way around the filling so that you can wrap it up.
- Place the wrapper so that the filling looks horizontal from your perspective and fold over the two side corners so that they meet in the middle. Then fold the triangle facing you over the top, and then roll everything tightly into a cylinder away from yourself. Make sure you roll them snugly, so that they don't hold in big pockets of air.
- To seal the roll: raise the loose wonton flap, wet your fingers liberally, brush water all over the triangular wonton flap, and roll it back over until it sticks.
- Repeat with the remaining 19 or 20 rolls.
Fry the burek:
- Once the oil has reached 350° F, add a few rolls at a time and fry for about 5 minutes, until golden-brown. Flip the burek over if they aren't tumbling around on their own. Work in batches, don't crowd the oil, and adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a temperature of 350° F.
- Once golden brown, remove the burek with a slotted spoon or spider and cool on a couple layers of paper towels.
* To make the vegetarian version, use 1 pound finely chopped mushrooms instead of minced beef and add an extra 1/2 cup of cheese. You'll need to cook the mushrooms until they've given up their liquid and have begun to brown.