Food by Friends: Give Recipe

Saturday, October 17, 2009 54 comments

Börek with Squash Leaves

"What you give away, you keep."

There is no better way to describe the essence of the wonderful Turkish food blog, Give Recipe. Blogger Zerrin uses her keen understanding of the social role of food to give readers profound insights into her country, culture and cuisine while sharing amazing traditions and flavors that are less familiar to some of us but deserve to be celebrated by all.

I can't recall exactly when I began reading Zerrin's posts but I do remember the immediate sense of recognition and camaraderie - as if I were re-connecting with a dear friend from long ago rather than simply meeting a new one. Friendship through sharing is a key theme in Give Recipe, where each post offers not only delicious recipes and lovely photography, but also illuminating lessons on Turkish social customs and the foods that are associated with them. In her blog bio, Zerrin notes that some people hold back from proffering their full experiences in cooking, as if they were in a competition. But as a teacher, she fully embraces the opportunity to share her knowledge, believing that not giving entirely of one's gifts is a loss for everyone:
"I feel happy when I cook something [for] my family and friends. It's a pleasure [for] me to watch people with their smiles on their faces while eating . . . I feel that you can multiply your happiness by sharing."
(from Zerrin's 'About Me' page)

Her recipes for traditional dishes, many from cherished family sources, engage the appetite with their sensory qualities, but it's their symbolic meanings that make them at once unique and universal. Zerrin's posts often incorporate essays on the social customs that underpin Turkish commensality and demonstrate how cooking and eating are acts of support, love and reciprocity. Among my personal favorites are the wonderful wedding dishes, Yüksük Çorbasi (Thimble Soup), delicate meat-filled dumplings in a savory broth topped with yogurt; and Keşkek, slow-cooked mashed wheat served with tender lamb. As delicious as they are, the dishes are made more special by descriptions of the natural cooperation between community and family members in creating these celebratory meals. Though the details may vary among different cultures, I think we can all recognize in Zerrin's accounts how our own social and familial bonds are strengthened across a festive table.

Above all, Give Recipe is about cooking and eating with a light heart. Throughout her blog, Zerrin features whimsical illustrations made by her 'second mom' (her mother-in-law), which she pairs with original stories: there is 'Mom and Child Leeks', about learning acceptance, and 'The Perfect Couple', about inter-vegetable love. These charming drawings and tales are like gems scattered throughout her site - reading through them is like going on a treasure hunt!

Zerrin gives her all with Give Recipe, holding nothing back about her pride for her country and culture, her love of family and friends, and her talents for cooking and teaching. What she gives, she keeps and then shares again, until we are all enriched by her gifts.

Borek with Squash Leaves
(adapted from a recipe by Zerrin)

For Zerrin's original recipe, Vegetable Börek, please click here.

I felt that one particular post in Give Recipe really exemplified how food nurtures not only the individual body but also the community spirit. Zerrin wrote of an impromptu neighborhood gathering to bid farewell to one family's son on his way to military duty. With music, dancing, food and drink, it was a festive mood for what could be considered a private event in other cultures. She explains that the celebration is a long-standing tradition that turns a somber moment into one of good cheer and instills in the young man a sense of self-confidence and assurances of his family's and community's support. For her part in that support, Zerrin prepared a Sebzeli Börek (Vegetable Börek) to serve at the party.

Composed of layers of sautéed vegetables and an egg-and-yogurt sauce between sheets of phyllo, sebzeli börek may bring to mind Greek spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese pie) but börek also refers to several kinds of phyllo-encased pastries in Turkish cuisine that vary in fillings and cooking method. Among Zerrin's many recipes are baked versions filled with chard, potato or stinging nettles, and another fried in the shape of cigarettes (Sigara Boregi).

A few months ago at the Minneapolis Farmers' Market, I impulsively purchased a bunch of squash leaves without knowing how to use them. Thanks to the all-knowing Google search engine, I found that they closely resemble tenerumi, the leaves of the zucchini-like cucuzza (an Italian summer squash), but their fuzzy, hairy stalks also made me think of prickly nettles - like the ones Zerrin used for her Börek with Stinging Nettle Herb. Fortunately, my greens did not require protective gloves to prepare, but as intrigued I was with that recipe, I was even more taken by her vegetable börek in the aforementioned post. In place of leek, potato and carrots in Zerrin's original recipe, I used the squash leaves, which were, after sautéing, similar in texture to spinach and whose stems imparted a subtly sweet flavor much like tender asparagus.

Serves 4-6


4 cups squash leaves, chopped and stems cut into 1" pieces
1 large onion, diced
5 Tbsps olive oil, divided
2-3 Tbsps red wine vinegar
Salt to taste
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg
1/2 cup yogurt
1 pkg prepared phyllo dough

To make:

Preheat oven to 400° F. In the meantime, thaw out phyllo dough according to package directions.

1. Rinse chopped squash leaves but do not dry completely. In a large sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsps olive oil and cook onions until soft;
2. Add squash leaves and sauté just until leaves begin to wilt, then add red wine vinegar and salt to taste. Cook until leaves wilt and stem pieces are tender. Remove from heat and set aside;
3. Mix egg, 3 Tbsps olive oil and yogurt, and mix well.
4. In a square baking pan or glass dish, place one layer* (3-5 sheets) of phyllo on the bottom and cover with 1/3 of egg-yogurt mixture.
5. Place a second layer of phyllo over first, then cover with 1/2 of sautéed squash leaves followed by 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese;
6. Place a third layer of phyllo over that and spread 1/3 of the egg-yogurt mixture;
7. Place a fourth layer of phyllo over previous, covering with remaining sautéed squash leaves and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese;
8. Place a final layer of phyllo over the last and spread the remaining 1/3 of egg-yogurt mixture;
9. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the layers in squares or triangles before placing in the oven, to ensure even cooking throughout the dish;
10. Bake in oven for approximately 30 minutes**, until phyllo is golden. When done, remove from heat and let cool for just a few minutes before cutting and serving.

* I was not sure if the phyllo dough I used is anything like what Zerrin uses in Turkey in terms of texture or thickness. The number of individual phyllo sheets for each layer was approximate and can be adjusted depending on preference.
** The cooking time in the original recipe called for 50 minutes of baking; my börek started to turn a nice golden color well before this point and was done by 30 minutes. Again, this may be due to the layers of phyllo I used, which may have been thinner than what Zerrin uses and therefore cooked faster. Watch your dish as it bakes!

Afiyet olsun! (Enjoy your meal!)


  • Chef E said...

    This is really cooled that you shared this! I am hoping one day the markets will carry more variety than they do now... I am going to check out her blog...I love food like this!

  • Palidor said...

    So true that celebrations serve many purposes and are good for the human spirit. It's not just about the food and/or gifts, but about celebrating the people in our lives.

    Of course, good food is always nice too. :-) I don't think I've eaten real Turkish food before. The borek looks very, very tasty.

  • zerrin said...

    Thank you so much to introduce GiveRecipe here. I'm so much honored! I couldn't imagine how far my blog could go when I started it 10 months ago. Also, I didn't have much idea about the food blog world and didn't know that I would have great friends like you. So while sharing recipes and my culture, I'm learning a lot with the help of my blog.

    As you very well described here, social relatinship with family members, friends and neighbors is significant in our culture. I love to be together with them while either cooking or eating. I have been together with another group of people since I began sharing in a blog. I mean I always have my blogger friends in my mind while cooking or eating. They definitely help me about deciding what recipe or piece of culture to share. That's why I take all of these blogger friends with me(in my mind) whenever I'm invited to a family or friend gathering.

    Your börek with squah leaves looks so stunning! I love its golden color. As you say, the cooking time may change depending on the phyllo sheet we use. and I've got so curious about the filling mixture of squash leaves, looks so mouthwatering in the first picture where a piece of onion is leaking from inside the börek. By the way, is that bite on the fork in the third picture for me?

  • Sarah said...

    I will head over to her blog and give it a look. I have used squash blossoms before in cooking but never the leaves, the dish looks delicious.

  • OysterCulture said...

    Give REcipe is truly a special blog and you've done a wonderful job of articulating what makes it special. This recipe caught my eye. Alright to be truthful they all caught my eye - I have an abiding love for Turkish cuisine that I get reminded of every time I check out her site.

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    I love Zerrin's blog! I always learn new things from her and she uses a lot of ingredients I usually don't typically use. I discovered borek in Croatia over the summer. This borek with the squash leaves looks amazing.

  • Anonymous said...

    I would love to find squash leaves somewhere to try, very interesting! The borek looks excellent! I love Zerrin & her blog too!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thank you all for your great comments! Today is midterm day so I'm just trying to cram in as much additional studying as I can. I'll be back later to reply individually to your comments (and hopefully visit back!)

  • Sippity Sup said...

    This is a gorgeous recipe and as always a wonderful bit of insight! But I am especially excited to get an insight into your process of thinking like a cook. Those squash leaves were genious and exactly the kind of thinking that makes great cooks. Love it! GREG

  • lisaiscooking said...

    You've described Zerrin's site perfectly! I've learned so much from her. And,your borek looks fantastic! Great use of squash leaves. I've never cooked with them, but I'll know what to expect if I get the chance.

  • Table Talk said...

    Thank you for the referral to Zerrin's blog--amazing what is out there in food blog land. I enjoy reading your blog very much, and always come away with a little more insight than when I arrived.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Relief! Nothing due until Friday so I'm going to do . . . nothing for a couple of days! 8-)

    Chef E - Some cities have more variety than others but I consider myself fortunate to get what I can find! The farmers' market makes up for a lot of unavailable ingredients. I hope you enjoyed Zerrin's blog!

    Gera - Thank you! I knew nothing about Turkey so Zerrin's blog is a constant journey of enlightenment.

    Jenn - Thanks! I find that most of her recipes are really quite straightforward - I need to try making more of them. Have you seen the lahcuna? I'm making that next . . . !

    Anh - Once borek gets in your thoughts (and tummy), it's hard to let go. Hope you enjoyed Zerrin's site!

    Palidor - Food gives us such a wonderful reason to come together! There is a Turkish restaurant near me that has received good reviews, so I hope to try some dishes so that I can get an idea of how they should taste. In the meantime, borek will satisfy me!

    Sam - Thank you! Hope you enjoyed Zerrin's blog and the borek was definitely delicious. She has several versions on her blog - I'd love to try the stinging nettles if I could actually find some.

    Zerrin! You have done such a marvelous job with your blog - it's amazing that it's not even a year old yet! I thank you for providing us not only with delicious recipes but such thoughtful insight into your customs. I constantly marvel at how deeply food is embedded in our culture; also, I love that some of our customs seem so similar despite the distance between our countries (not only US but the Philippines, for me).

    You know that's the bite that I reserved for you!

    ValleyWriter - Hope you enjoyed Zerrin's blog! If you liked this borek, she has so many other wonderful recipes.

    Dawn - Peach and harmony are known to stimulate the appetite, hence the yummy dish!

    Erica - She does a wonderful job presenting her culture through her food . . . just like you! Your recipes from Colombian cuisine have really opened my eyes to your country's culture. I want to learn more!

    Sarah - You'll love Zerrin's site! And it's so funny: I've never used squash blossoms before - we should swap recipes! 8-)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Heather - I was just replying to Sarah that I've never tried squash blossoms before! But now that you two have mentioned it, I wonder if the leaves could be battered and fried liked the blossoms? Something we should consider experimenting with . . . !

    OysterCulture - Thank you! Zerrin is one of a kind - her spirit truly comes through in her writing and cooking. You've had more experience with Turkish cuisine than me but I'd love to try more of it. I have such a long list of Zerrin's recipes to make . . . !

    Pigpigscorner - She does such a wonderful job of showcasing the cuisine and culture, Turkey is at the top of our list of dream destinations now!

    Gastroanthropologist - I remember that burek you posted about! Reading Zerrin's posts about food and culture really highlights the shared histories of the region as well as the similarities to others that are not even geographically close by. The squash leaves were a delicious discovery - I'm definitely going to play around with them more next year!

    Miranda - Thank you! Zerrin has several different kinds of borek so there's room to explore and vary. As for you giveaway, I think I entered just in time! 8-)

    5 Star Foodie - I didn't even know what they were when I picked up the bunch; I was drawn by the little curly vines! But they are quite delicious and are rather popular in African cuisines. Zerrin is really a gem!

    Duo Dishes - The recipes she features are both familiar and completely different, if that's even possible. I'm definitely going to try more of them!

    Greg - Thank you so much! Your comment means so much since I'm constantly awed by how effortlessly you create your original recipes. I'm definitely feeling more confident and the learning process is such fun! 8-)

    Helen - You are most welcome! Zerrin deserves as much recognition as possible - she does a tremendous job of connecting those intangible cultural elements of food that are always present but are sometimes overlooked. I look forward to Istanbul Eats guest posts - Turkey is now at the top of our destination list but I'm not surprised if you'll beat us to it! 8-)

    Lisa - Thank you! It was no effort to talk about Zerrin's site - it's a marvel. As for the squash leaves, I'm hooked! The stems are a bit more fibrous than the leaves but the flavor is so subtle and sweet!

    Table Talk - I hope you'll visit and enjoy her site! If 'real' life didn't always intruded, I'd be quite content journey through cyberspace to discover all the incredible food blogs out there. The only downside is that it's really not possible to eat or cook all the great dishes we find!

  • Lo said...

    What a fabulous post -- you made delicious borek (and a variation that I've never seen)... and you introduced me to a new friend! Love that.

    Haven't had much time for reading this month, but I picked a good time to come back!!

  • Jackie at said...

    Good luck with your midterms! I always enjoy starting reading your post with your thoughtful proverb. What a gorgeous meal! I enjoy both of your blogs very much; it's so cool that you replicate the dish. I've never cooked with this vegetable before, can't wait to (first find it) and try it. I'm sure I would afiyet olsun :oD

  • Midge said...

    I'm nuts about Greek and Turkish food but have never really had the chance to make it at home apart from the occasional pastitsio or moussaka.

    I have squash plants growing in the backyard, so this borek is definitely going to be a major weekend project. :D

  • Joie de vivre said...

    Oh Tangled,
    How I have missed you! I have been out of the blogging scene as of late. Life is just busy, busy with two boys in school now and carpooling and housework. I haven't yet found the balance of when I can blog! Reading your beautiful words and seeing your pictures brings joy to a weary busy mom's heart.

  • Nazarina A said...

    Zerrin, was a gal I did not know, she graciously came over and introduced herself, I love her food.On the other hand, the little brown parts on your phyllo just says love and come and eat me!YUMMY

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thank you for all the new comments! This weekend was spent preparing for a presentation (which was this morning) and two papers due on Wednesday. But I'm sneaking a little bit of a break . . .

    Mariana - Thank you! I think that the store-bought phyllo here is quite different from what Zerrin used but we were happy with how the dish turned out. 8-)

    Momgateway - Please let me know if you do! And do check out Zerrin's other versions using chard and potato.

    Lo - Thank you! Zerrin is wonderful - I know you'll enjoy reading her blog and trying her recipes. I know what you mean about the blog reading - I'm only now starting to catch up again!

    Veggie Belly - When I read it, I knew it described Give Recipe perfectly! How I would love to visit Turkey and have an opportunity to taste all these wonderful dishes that I've only read about so far!

    Chow and Chatter - I'm quite proud to call her a friend although we've yet to meet in person. But that's the beauty of blogging - sharing wonderful food with great friends, despite the thousands of miles between us!

    Jackie - Thank you! The midterms are actually spread out: I have one a week from today. 8-/ I've read about so many unusual ingredients in other blogs that it has inspired me to pick up something with which I'm not familiar. It's been fun and delicious! 8-)

    Carolyn - I agree with your overall assessment of Greek and Turkish food (although I can't say that I've had much of the latter). I'm now determined to keep phyllo dough in my freezer - just in case another borek mood hits me (or baklava . . . or spanakopita . . . ) 8-D

    Elra - I had absolutely no idea of the scope of Turkish cuisine. My first reaction was that it was 'just like' Greek food but I'm so off-mark. There are subtle differences that cooks from both regions would be happy to point out. I need to eat more Turkish food so that I can be sure to prepare them as close to their true flavors as possible.

    Midge - I've made pastitsio before but never moussaka (eggplant can be so tricky if not prepared right). As for your squash plants, I'm envious! We didn't grow any this year and when we did last year, I never thought to use the blossoms or the leaves!! What a waste . . . 8-)

    MaryMoh - Thank you! I made only a small container at first, which we enjoyed as an appetizer.

    Jennifer - This was my first time using squash leaves and they are really similar in taste and texture to spinach. But the stem parts were a little more fibrous; next time, I'll cook them longer than the other parts. I know that you'll love Zerrin's blog!

    Christine - *Waving frantically back atcha!* That's what's so special about Zerrin's posts - she always adds the extra element of history and culture.

    I'm so happy that you're back to blogging! If there's a bit of time between my posts on your blog, don't worry - I'm still following but it sometimes takes me a while to scroll through my blog reader. I'll get there soon . . . !

    Palidor -Congratulations on all of your well-deserved awards and thank you so much for sharing one of them with me! 8-D

    Teanna - You kill me with your Top Chef re-creations! I'm planning on that pork pate from Kevin very soon!

    Nora - Thank you! Zerrin is fantastic so I hope you'll enjoy her work!

    Joie - I've missed you, too! I can imagine how busy it's been and I can completely empathize about blogging and blog reading. I'm averaging only about 1 every 10 days, if I'm particularly organized. Take your time and blog/read when it's a good time for you. I'm so happy you enjoyed the post! 8-D

    Nazarina - Isn't she lovely? Here recipe was really on the mark, even with the changes I made to the vegetables and the fact that the phyllo dough I used is probably quite different from hers. All credit for the end result goes to Zerrin! (But thank you for the compliment - I'll happily accept!)

    Angie - Thank you! My husband and in-laws all enjoyed it, which was very gratifying. 8-)

  • The Beancounter said...

    i think your blog is one of the best reads online...i'm so glad you honour others as well...with posts like this and just taking time to drop by and leave appreciative comments...more power to you & your blog...

    btw, nice looking borek!

  • Cris said...

    Hey TN! How are you! I grew up eating squash leaves, my mom made omelettes with them, yummy. I love the recipe you shared, it looks so good.

  • Manggy said...

    What a great tribute to (and what a delicious borek/pastry from) one of your favorite blogs! You also are no slouch at inspiring us, you know :)

  • Susan @ SGCC said...

    Thanks so much for letting us know about Zerrin's blog. I'm popping over there as soon as I finish writing this.

    Your Borek looks absolutely fabulous! Very homey, earthy and delicious!

    My father used to grow cucuzze in his garden specifically for the leaves.(He smuggled the seeds back from Italy!) He made a wonderful soup with them. It was one of his favorites. It was a treat he could only enjoy for a short period each year, but he savored every bowl!

  • Daily Spud said...

    Here I am, late to the party again. I was catching up on Zerrin's blog when I saw mention of this post and, well, I came on over. No need to sell me on Zerrin of course, her blog is firmly established in my feed reader. Now, if I could manage to read even a fraction of what is actually lurking in that reader, that would be even better...


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