Forget everything I said about wanting virtuous, healthy food. Five days into the new year and I’m gorging on cheese and pastry again. Since a holiday in Turkey about fifteen years ago, I’ve been hugely keen on borek, the feta and filo parcels that turn up on a mezze platter and add a bit of vegetarian ballast (so to speak). Silvena Rowe’s recipe for a caramelised leek version was featured in the Observer Food Monthly last year and I’ve made these tasty morsels to her recipe several times since.

You could try making miniature borek to serve as canapés, or a couple of the slightly larger ones make a great main course with a salad (which also has the benefit of adding a bit of refreshing contrast to the butteriness of the borek). Either way, only a crazy person would fail to love these, and they make me feel like I’m on holiday somewhere sunny even when it’s cold and grey and I have to go back to work tomorrow. (Less said about that the better.)

Silvena claims that this recipe makes 24 borek, but I’ve just made it with three large leeks and have come out with 18, some large, some small; I’ve been experimenting with cutting the pastry strips into three or four pieces. If it’s quantity you’re after, cut the pastry into four strips in step 4 and use a little less filling for each parcel.

Feta and caramelised leek borek (adapted from Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe)

3 leeks, finely sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

½ tsp caster sugar

10g butter

2 tbsp olive oil

200ml hot vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

200g feta, crumbled

50g fresh oregano, finely chopped – thyme will do if you can’t get hold of oregano

filo pastry – Silvena specifies eight sheets, but I think you’re best off just getting a packet and seeing how you get on. It all depends on the size of your leeks and the size of the pastry sheets anyway; the ones I got from the Turkish Food Centre were much bigger than average. Anyway, you’ll only be working with one sheet at a time so it’s not like you’ll have covered them all in butter only to discover that you don’t need half of them.

Melted butter for brushing the pastry – you’ll probably need to allow 100g to be on the safe side. You don’t want dry, cracked filo. Nothing worse.

About 2 tbsp poppy seeds for sprinkling (mixed with hemp and black sesame seeds if you can get them)

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7.
  2. Melt the butter with the olive oil over a medium heat in a large frying pan, then add the leeks, sugar, and garlic. Cook until the leeks have softened, stirring constantly; this should take 4–5 minutes.
  3. Add the hot stock and the bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the stock has mostly evaporated and the leeks are mushy. Transfer to a bowl for speedy cooling, and remove the bay leaf. Once cool, add the feta and oregano and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  4. Taking one sheet of filo at a time (cover the rest of the sheets with a damp tea towel while you work), spread it out on a work surface and brush it with plenty of melted butter. Now is not the time to skimp on the butter, so don’t even think about it. Cut the sheet lengthways into thirds (or quarters, as you like – see above); each strip will make one delicious parcel.
  5. Place a tablespoon of the leek mixture, or a little less if you’re making smaller borek, in the bottom corner of a strip, at one end or the other. (I definitely find it easier to work from left to right with these.) Fold this corner up and over to form a triangle, then fold the corner over and over again, working along the length of the strip, and you’ll be left with a triangular parcel at the end. I can’t think of a better way of explaining it, but it’ll make sense when you have the pastry in front of you. Remember that even if the first couple of folds of each parcel are awkward while you get into your stride, it’ll look lovely by the time it’s all wrapped up. As long as it’s secure – making sure the end of the pastry is well buttered will help to seal it up at the end – and the filling’s in no danger of leaking out, it’ll be fine.
  6. Repeat until you’ve used up all your filling, and arrange the borek on a baking sheet (you might need two). Brush them with plenty more melted butter, and sprinkle with the seeds.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes, in batches if necessary, but check after 15 to make sure that they’re not looking too brown; they’re done when they’re golden. Move them to a cooling rack if you’re not eating them straightaway – this will stop them getting too soggy on the bottom.