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I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful woman who immigrated to the US from Belgrade many years ago. A retired scientist from Caltech, Bea still makes recipes that remind her of Serbia in her small Connecticut kitchen. She would call her mother for reminders of how to make certain dishes, but she would also adapt and customize when need be.
One of her favorite dishes to make is “pita” (otherwise known as “burek”), a filled pastry available in bakeries all over Serbia and many other Eastern European countries, too. To make it, layers of flaky dough are wrapped around fillings of meat, cheese, and sometimes, for dessert, apples and nuts.
When it’s made in a bakery, where a very thin dough is typically twisted into impressive shapes, it’s referred to as “burek”; but when it’s prepared at home, many women use phyllo dough as a shortcut and call the dish as “pita” (as in spanakopita and tiropita).
Bea told me that the round burek was originally created in Niš, Serbia, which still hosts an annual competition called Buregdžijada.
She makes both the meat and cheese burek (the latter of which is called sirnica burek) often using store-bought phyllo dough. She doesn’t use a round pan, as is traditional, because a 9-by-13 makes the process easier and works just fine. She simply lays out the phyllo dough and sandwiches the filling in between.
Burek can be frozen either before or after cooking—which means a quick lunch or dinner is at your fingertips. To warm it up, Bea simply heats a pan and places a slice of burek on top. The oily phyllo crisps right up as the filling heats.
For the filling:
- 1 cup light olive oil, divided
- 1 small white onion, minced
- 1 pound ground chuck
- 1/2 pound ground veal
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1 egg beaten with 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1 packet phyllo dough, about 15 sheets
- kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper
For the topping:
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup milk
What's your favorite savory pastry? Tell us in the comments below.