A quick recipe for burek, aka pita, from a cooking class in the mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
All photos by Gigi Griffis
Ask anyone who has been to Bosnia and Herzegovina—the lush, mountainous Balkan country where Europe’s most recent war was waged just 20 years ago—about the food and you’ll get the same answers every time.
They’ll tell you about pita bread stuffed with cevapi, the local minced-meat sausage made from lamb, pork, or beef. They’ll tell you about ajvar—thick, tart red pepper sauce served with pretty much every meat dish in the country. And, undoubtedly, they’ll tell you about burek, the king of Bosnian dishes: an extremely thin pastry filled with meat and onions or cheese (or even pumpkin), rolled, baked, and served up in slices like pizza.
During my own two-plus months in the country, burek was the delicacy I heard about most. So when I had an opportunity during a farm stay in the mountains to learn Bosnian cooking from a local, I jumped at the chance.
First I learned that not all burek is actually called burek. Locals refer to it all as pita—which simply means pies. The only pita known as burek is the meat and onion version. Anything made with cheese and greens, pumpkin, or other fillings is simply pita.
And during our time in the mountains, pita—filled with cheese and greens—is what we made.
It starts with a bowl half-full of fine flour and a pinch of salt (no yeast). Form an indentation in the center of the flour and add a splash of sunflower oil, a single egg, and a little warm water (perhaps a cup to start) and start to mix in some flour, forming a dough ball. Add a little more warm water as needed, and don’t worry about using all the flour. Some will be left behind for dusting. The key as you knead the dough is to mix and knead until the consistency—according to my teacher—is that of your earlobe.
When your dough feels like an earlobe, split it into two balls and let it sit for 15-30 minutes. We used the time to prepare a fire for our woodstove, but now’s a good time to preheat your oven, to maximum heat (will reduce to 400 for cooking). And it’s time to make the filling.
Making the dough for burek/pita in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mix two eggs with about two cups of fresh, soft cheese—a full-fat cow’s milk cheese is best. Add a dash of salt, and mix in some greens. In Bosnia, the greens were straight out of the garden and of varieties I’ve never heard of, but something like spinach would work just as well.
If you’re still waiting for the dough, in another bowl mix some sour cream, the juice of one lemon, garlic (to taste), and a little milk. This is the traditional dipping sauce for pita, and your experience wouldn’t be complete without it.
Rolling out the dough super thin
Now, spread some of the remaining flour across your work surface and roll out the dough. It should be so thin that you can see through it. In the end, you want a large, thin circle.
Butter the pita pan (a circular pie pan works well), and spread the pita mix in a circular pattern around the edges of your dough, so that it resembles a Christmas wreath.
Christmas wreath pattern
Next cut a line straight down the center (without going all the way across), and roll your pita into a long thin burrito-style roll.
Then spiral that into the pan, like this:
Drizzle a little butter on top, and bake until the top is brown and crispy (about 30 minutes at 400 degrees).
Perfectly baked burek
Cut like pizza slices, drizzle with sour cream dipping sauce, and enjoy.
Or go to a cafe (this one's in Sarajevo) and find it like this!
About the author: Gigi Griffis is a world-traveling entrepreneur, writer, and photographer with a special love for inspiring stories, new places, and living in the moment. In May 2012, she sold her stuff and took to the road with a growing business and a pint-size pooch. Follow her adventures at gigigriffis.com.