Recently I was treated to a cooking class at Sofra in Watertown, where we learned a variey of savory pies from various Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures. The first one I tried when I got home was Borek - it's made with layers of Yuftka pastry (a very thin crepe, available at many of the Armenian groceries in Watertown). While the basic recipe is much more simple than this, this version that I made last night was delightful, and the braising liquid makes a great soup. You do want to braise the chicken legs beforehand, and it's very worth the effort; however, if you're really short on time, you could also do this with a supermarket rotisserie chicken.
Note: this recipe is not for those watching their weight. It's a lot of eggs and butter, but oh so very good.
1 package yuftka pastry
1 stick butter, melted
3 cups milk (1% is fine)
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup flour
1/2 pound domestic feta cheese
1/4 cup shredded haloumi cheese (you can also use romano; just cut the salt)
4 braised chicken legs (see below), shredded
2 heads fennel, sliced thin
1 leek, sliced thin
a pinch each oregano, mint, cinnamon, and Aleppo chile
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a large sauté pan, combine fennel, olive oil, leeks and herbs and sauté for about 10-15 minutes until soft. Add shredded chicken and set aside.
Meanwhile, brush the bottom of a 13 by 9 Pyrex baking sheet with some of the melted butter. Whisk milk and eggs into the melted butter with a bit of salt and pepper.
Unwrap the Yuftka and start ripping it into sheets to make a layer at the bottom of the dish. Start with four layers of the pastry, brushing each layer generously with the milk and egg mixture. Spread chicken mixture in an even layer over the dish, and add crumbled feta and haloumi in an even layer. Create four more layers (should be the rest of the package), brushing each layer generously with the milk/egg mixture. When last layer is finished, score the whole dish vigorously with a knife, whisk egg yolks and flour into the remaining milk/egg mixture and pour it over the dish, pressing the casserole down so the custard completely covers the layers of pastry.
Place in the oven at 425°F, then turn heat down to 350° and bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown. Check it after about half an hour to see how it's going, and bring it back up to 425°F for a few minutes towards the end of cooking time to give it a bit of extra color.
Serve with simple dressed greens and a dollop of Greek Yogurt. Best enjoyed with friends.
Braised Chicken Legs
4 chicken legs, salted and peppered
6 cups of filtered water
2 carrots, washed and cut into big chunks
2 heads of fennel (tops only), cut into big chunks - reserve the bulb for later
1 leek, cut into big chunks
pinch each dried mint, oregano, grains of paradise, Aleppo chile
salt and pepper to taste
1tbsp olive oil
1/2-1 cup dry white wine
Heat olive oil over a high heat in a medium stockpot. Place chicken legs, skin side down, on the hot oil and sear until the skin is a golden brown color; you may have to do this in two batches. Remove once the tops have been seared and drain excess fat into a Ball jar with a couple of paper towels stuffed in it (it helps you catch the oil so you can throw it away more easily). Add wine and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, getting the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add vegetables and turn heat to medium; give them a stir just to moisten, then layer chicken legs on top. Throw in herbs, the juice and the rind of the 1/2 lemon, and cover with water. Reduce heat to the lowest possible setting, cover, and let simmer for 1-1/2 hours or so, taking care not to let the pot rise above a simmer.
Once the hour and a half is up, remove the chicken into a bowl with tongs and line a sieve over a large bowl with paper towels (I use two layers). Drain the braising liquid into the bowl and reserve for another use. The veggies can go into the compost. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the legs and shred chicken off the bone into the bowl. Skin and bones can be thrown away.