Boureki Tastes Like it Was Meant to Be
Do you know how it is to meet someone for the very first time and find yourself having the warmest and liveliest of conversations, going on for hours under the stars- that strange and wonderful feeling you somehow have always known each other? Well, Boureki is that feeling in a dish. Even if you have never had the rich, bright, and zesty combination of butter, goat cheese, tomatoes, and mint, it feels right from the first silky mouthful.
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, with great success.
Boureki- A Cretan Specialty
Boureki is a favorite dish form the island of Crete.There are many versions- notably some wrapped in pastry to make a filling savory pie. This version is one of the easiest- creamy minty goat cheese sauce and little rivers of bright orange tomato-tinted oil pooling on the plate around it. The potato slices are silky in the mouth, the zucchini tender.
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). Almost certainly we’ll make the dish with a substitution- something creamy and with a goat-cheese tang. A soft chevre- the kind that comes in a log and has no rind – works very well. But in a pinch, I have blended cottage cheese and a goats’ milk feta until smooth with good results, and this is what most of my friends abroad have resorted to also.
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). Almost certainly we’ll make the dish with a substitution- something creamy and with a goat-cheese tang. A soft chevre- the kind that comes in a log and has no rind – works very well. But in a pinch, I have blended cottage cheese and a goats’ milk feta until smooth with good results, and this is what most of my friends abroad have resorted to also.
As a vegetarian dinner party centerpiece, boureki has few equals. Carnivores also love it.
We will need:
500 g/ 1 generous lb. soft goat’s cheese or a combination of cottage cheese and goats’ milk feta, 4 or 5 large potatoes, 4 or 5 medium zucchini, a very large bunch of fresh mint, 3 or 4 large tomatoes, 125 g/ 1 stick butter, 100 g/ 3/4 C flour, salt and pepper, and a pinch of baking powder, if you have it, for the top crust.
Melt the butter, grate the tomatoes on the large holes of the box grater, and mix these very loosely together with the goat cheese and salt and pepper to taste. It will be pink. Set aside a very generous cup full- we’ll need it for the top.
Wash the mint and chop fine. Peel the potatoes and slice them very thin- a mandoline or other slicer is very handy. Do the same with the zucchini. Put the flour into a shallow bowl so you can get at it with your fingers, and have the salt and pepper handy.
Butter a large baking dish, and arrange a single layer of potato slices on it.
Dot generously with the goat cheese/tomato mixture. Then shower it with a handful of mint, and dust with a little flour. Add salt, and pepper with a light hand.
Now add a single layer of zucchini slices and cover them in the same manner.
Build up layers of alternating zucchini slices and potato slices with the cheese and tomato mixture, the mint, and the flour in between each layer. No need to press them down- keep air between the layers so that the potatoes can cook through. There should be 3 or 4 layers each of zucchini and potato, and if there is any of the tomato mixture left we can use it now, along with the mixture we reserved.
Boureki’s Finishing Touch
We will be adding flour and a pinch of baking powder to this to make a thick batter, as for pancakes. This we will pour over the top and it forms a crust that everyone thinks is the best part. If it looks skimpy, as often it does, grate another tomato, add some melted butter, etc. The important thing is to make sure there is plenty of it. Spread the batter generously over the top, and put it in an 180 C/375 F oven, until it has a golden crust and the edges are bubbling around it.
How to Tell When Boureki is Done
A small sharp knife will cut easily through the potatoes. Boureki bakes for perhaps 45 minutes, sometimes as much as an hour. Test often and take care that the potatoes are tender enough. When everyone is famished from a morning at the beach, it is easy to remove it 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 is rich with butter and cheese, this is a refreshingly light-tasting dish. There is plenty of zucchini, and the brightness of the 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.