Turkish Borek Meat Filling

Happy New Year! 2011 has been an eventful and fun year, but I am even more excited for 2012.  I ended the year with a great recipe that I want to share with you, and it was inspired by my recent trip to Turkey. Brian and I ate our weight in eggplant and yogurt during our trip (thankfully two of my favorite foods), but we were also were lucky enough to try many traditional Turkish meze, including borek. Cigar borek are thin cigar-shaped pastries made with phyllo dough and stuffed with either meat or cheese. We tried both types in Turkey, but I was particularly enamored with the meat borek, which were filled with wonderful spices and herbs. In fact, they were so flavorful that I often could only identify a few of the spices that the meat had been cooked with. Upon my return to New York, I immediately began searching the Internet and cookbooks, hoping to find the secret to Turkish borek. As luck would have it, I found a wonderful cookbook at work (I am lucky enough to work for a food magazine that has an entire library of cookbooks!) with exactly what I was looking for. A few weeks later I was invited to a housewarming party and decided to test out the recipe that I had found. I made meat borek, but substituted the phyllo dough for puff pastry in the absence of the former. I slightly (okay, massively) overestimated how much filling I needed, and ended up with an entire quart of leftover meat. Absolutely horrified at the idea of wasting it, but not keen on eating small hors d’oeuvres for dinner, I decided to “repurpose” it (a scary term, as repurposing can often have quite negative outcomes in the kitchen!). For our Sunday dinner, I made moussaka, another Mediterranean dish that is traditionally made by layering eggplant (what else!), lamb, béchamel sauce, and potatoes in a casserole dish. Okay, I simplified that a wee bit, but that is the gist of it anyway.

My moussaka was surprisingly made with an olive oil-based béchamel sauce that I found in Jeannette Seaver’s cookbook, My New Mediterranean Cookbook. I was delighted to discover that it tasted great, and will certainly use it in the future. I also cheated a bit by cooking diced eggplant in canned tomatoes instead of thinly slicing the eggplant and broiling it, which would have taken far too long. After I had made each component of the moussaka, I carefully layered thinly sliced potatoes, the eggplant mixture, leftover borek filling, and béchamel in a casserole dish and baked it for 35 minutes. My only complaint is that the leftovers didn’t last long!

I am leaving you with the recipe that I adapted to make my borek and moussaka.  It is so good that I will likely bore my friends by serving it at every cocktail party and potluck dinner from here on out. There are so many ways in which this spiced meat mixture could be used, including in lasagna, meatballs, turnovers, etc. etc. If you find a creative way of using it, please let me know, as it is already one of my favorite recipes for 2012!

Happy Cooking,

Turkish Borek Meat Filling


  • 1 large onion
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ yellow or red bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • a tiny pinch of ground clove
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 lb. minced beef or lamb (I actually used beef, but lamb is more popular in Turkey)
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • ¼ cup dried currants
  • ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Combine the onion, jalapeño, garlic and bell pepper in a good processor and pulse until the mixture is almost a paste but still slightly chunky.
  2. Heat olive oil in a wide sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and pepper mixture and sauté until the mixture begins to brown slightly.
  3. Add the cumin, oregano, cinnamon, clove, paprika, and tomato paste and continue to cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until very fragrant.
  4. Add the beef, currants and pine nuts and cook for an additional 20-25 minutes over low heat.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and add all of the chopped parsley.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Allow to cool and refrigerate, or use in lasagna, moussaka, phyllo cigars, etc.

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