Boureki Tastes Like it Was Meant to Be
Do you know how it is when you meet someone for the very first time and find yourself having the liveliest conversation, going on for hours under the stars- that feeling you somehow have always known each other? Well, Cretan Boureki is that feeling in a dish. Even if you’ve never tasted the rich, bright, and zesty combination of butter, goat cheese, tomatoes, and mint, it feels right from the first silky mouthful.
This is an ideal vegetarian dish for people who want to explore Mediterranean cuisine more deeply. Cretan cuisine has its own distinct identity, with unique flavors and traditions.
I have made this dish many times, both here in Greece and in San Francisco and the Oregon Coast, for family and friends who know little of Greek cuisine, and the response is always ravenous delight. All of them have made it again themselves, always with great success.
Cretan Boureki- A Vegetarian Specialty
Boureki is a favorite dish from the island of Crete. There are many versions of a Cretan Boureki recipe – notably some wrapped in pastry to make a filling savory pie. This version – often called a haniotiko boureki – or a boureki from Chania – is one of the easiest. Creamy minty goat cheese sauce and little rivers of bright orange tomato-tinted oil pool on the plate around it. The potato slices are silky in the mouth, the zucchini tender.
Boureki Recipe – Special Ingredients
The Cretan dish centers around a Cretan product- a soft goat cheese called myzithra which eclipses feta in popularity on the island. It’s not always easy to get elsewhere, even in Athens (except in the spring, when the milk runs generously and the Cretans are willing to part with the excess).
Happily, our boureki recipe is very flexible. When we’re not in Crete, we’ll make the dish with a substitution- something creamy and with a goat-cheese tang. A soft and creamy chevre- the kind that comes in a log and has no rind – works very well. But in a pinch, I have blended cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, or farmers’ cheese with a tangy goats’ milk feta until smooth with good results. This is what most of my friends abroad have done also.
As a vegetarian Greek dinner party centerpiece, a Cretan Boureki has few equals. Carnivores also love it.
- 500 grams/ a generous 1 lb soft goat cheese
- 4-5 medium potatoes
- 4-5 medium zucchini
- 1 bunch fresh mint
- 3-4 large tomatoes
- 125 grams / 1 stick butter
- About 60 grams / 1/2 C flour
- salt and pepper
- a pinch of baking powder (optional)
- Wash the zucchini well and peel the potatoes.
- Using a mandolin or slicer, or a sharp knife, cut both the potatoes and the zucchini into thin and even slices. Set aside.
- Grate the tomatoes on the large holes of a box grater.
- Wash and chop the fresh mint.
- Set aside 1/4 of the cheese and about 1/3 each of the butter and the tomato.
- Preheat your over 170° C/ 350° F
- Butter a casserole dish, and cover with an even layer of potatoes.
- Sprinkle with salt, and pepper - use a very light hand with the pepper.
- Sprinkle lightly with flour.
- Cover with a layer of zucchini,
- Dot with grated tomato, dabs of goat cheese, a handful of mint, and a little butter in small pieces.
- Sprinkle lightly with flour, salt and pepper
- Repeat, making sure to let each layer rest very lightly on top of the other (don't press down).
- When the potato and zucchini are finished, blend the reserved cheese and tomato, adding salt to taste, a pinch of baking powder, and enough leftover flour - or even some extra - to make a batter thick enough to spread over the boureki.
- Melt the reserved butter and pour over the top.
- Bake about 1 hour, testing with a sharp knife that the potatoes are tender.
- Serve hot or at room temperature- it's delicious either way.
- Just like a lasagna, our Boureki is delicious but difficult to serve in perfect neat pieces right out of the oven.
- The rich dairy flavor of the butter really makes the dish.
- This is such a complete dish that we don't serve much alongside. Some olives, slices of Cretan graviera, a plate of cucumber slices dressed with vinegar and coarse salt, and of course some good bread will fill out the table nicely.
- The leftovers are delicious at room temperature or briefly warmed in the oven.
When everyone is famished from a morning at the beach, it is easy to remove your Boureki in haste. But a too-firm potato does not make for a nice dish.
As to haste- this is of course delicious piping hot, but just as delicious very warm. If you can let it sit for ten minutes, it can be served in nice squares. It really does deserve a pretty presentation.
Even though it’s rich with butter and cheese, Cretan Boureki is a refreshingly light-tasting dish, perfect for summer. There’s plenty of zucchini, and the zing of mint and the tang of the tomato brighten it tremendously. This recipe makes a large dish, but I would not think of making just the one if we are more than four at the table. Although so satisfying, it has a delicacy that makes everyone want seconds of it.