Bourekas: Why We Love These Tasty Israeli Pastries and You Will, Too

You know empanadas, you've probably heard of pasties. Now learn about bourekas, the Israeli version of a hand pie, that have our mouths watering.

Borek (Also Burek) a Turkish pastry filled with cheese or potato or mushroom with black olivesPhoto: Shutterstock / PhotoStock-Israel

If you’ve ever had the good fortune of visiting Israel, you may have seen street vendors selling golden brown pastries covered in sesame seeds. Hopefully you tried one of these little savory pies—otherwise, you’re definitely missing out! These quintessential Israeli hand pies are called bourekas (prounounced bo-reh-kas), and they’re a surprisingly simple yet versatile snack that we can’t get enough of.

Israel’s favorite pastry

Bourekas are a type of savory pie with a long history that’s as rich as their filling! The pastries are thought to have originated in Turkey, where they’re referred to as börek, and for centuries, they have been a favorite of Sephardic Jews, who serve bourekas on holidays and special occasions.

What are bourekas, exactly? They’re self-contained pies made from phyllo or puff pastry dough, containing a variety of savory fillings. Some of the most common bourekas fillings include ground beef, cheese and vegetables like spinach, eggplant or potatoes. However, it’s not uncommon for these pies to feature other ingredients, such as mushrooms, sweet potato, chickpeas, olives and more. Like we mentioned, bourekas are extremely versatile—it’s part of their charm!

How can you spot these delectable pies in a Middle Eastern market? You’ll generally be able to recognize bourekas thanks to the sesame seeds sprinkled on top of the crispy brown shell.

What’s the brouhaha over bourekas?

While bourekas are a staple at many Jewish holidays, you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to nab one of these delicious pastries. In Israel, many people enjoy bourekas as a breakfast or lunch option—they tend to be quite filling thanks to their hearty contents, so you won’t find your stomach grumbling a few hours later. Plus, their self-contained nature makes them a great portable option if you need to grab food to go.

If you can’t find bourekas at your local market, you can always make them yourself. These pastries are actually quite easy to prepare if you use premade puff pastry or phyllo dough. When you eliminate the tricky dough-making business, making bourekas becomes much simpler. All you have to do is prepare a tasty filling (you could use this wonderful empanada filling or spanikopita-inspired filling as a base) and fill your pastry dough. Then brush with an egg wash, sprinkle with sesame seeds—for extra crunch!—and bake!

Is all this talk about pastries making you crave a buttery, flaky snack? Then treat yourself and your family to a batch of savory ricotta puffs or maybe some delectable raspberry chocolate puffs. They’re the perfect weekend project and sure to curb your craving.

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Camryn Rabideau
Camryn Rabideau is freelance writer specializing in fashion, beauty, home, smart technology and general lifestyle content. She holds a degree in fashion merchandising from the University of Rhode Island and jumps at any opportunity to combine her love for fashion and writing. Despite pressure from her peers, she remains on team #NoOxfordComma.