On Boereg, aka “Cheese Things.”

It may take me a while to get to things sometimes, but I think I’m a gal of my word. I promised you the recipe to boereg, the one that has made my mother famous, so here it is:

Makes twelve squares

1 ½ pounds mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 stick butter, melted
1 16 ounce package of phyllo dough (it should have two packets of rolled up phyllo inside.)
1 bunch finely chopped parsley
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (My mother uses Korean red pepper flakes, but I use Aleppo red pepper flakes. Use whatever you can get your hands on, and feel free to experiment.)
1 large egg, lightly beaten and mixed with a splash of water

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. Mix shredded cheese, parsley and red pepper flakes in a bowl.
  3. Brush a 13 x 17 ½ sheet pan with melted butter. Unroll one packet of phyllo dough, but keep covered with a damp towel as it will dry out very quickly. Layer the pan with three sheets of phyllo, taking care not to tear the phyllo. Brush the phyllo with more butter. Continue, alternating three sheets at a time with brushed butter, until you finish the entire first packet.* Brush the last sheets of phyllo with butter, then evenly distribute the cheese mixture over the sheets of phyllo, leaving about a ½- to a ¼-inch gap along the edge of the sheet pan. Open the second packet of phyllo, again keeping covered with a damp towel. Repeat the process of layering three sheets of phyllo with brushed butter until you finish the entire second packet. At this point, you can opt to tightly wrap the entire tray in tinfoil and store it in the freezer to be baked later (but no later than three months after assembly).
  4. Brush the top layer of phyllo with the egg wash. With a sharp knife, cut the unbaked boeregs into twelve squares — cutting beforehand may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important as the phyllo becomes so flakey it’s impossible to slice the boeregs neatly. Bake for thirty minutes, or until the dough turns a deep golden color. Eat immediately! Boereg must be eaten warm; once refrigerated, the phyllo deflates. Don’t worry, you can reheat individual squares in the oven (or a toaster oven, though I do not recommend using a microwave, as it’ll make the phyllo soggy).
* You can, of course, opt to use more or less butter in between more or less sheets. My aunt Hasmig, she of the macaroni-and-cheese squares, butters each sheet of phyllo. Her boereg is incredibly rich.


My Version of a Traditional Thanksgiving.

We spent Thanksgiving at my parents’ this year, which is the first time in two years that Keith and I have even been around for the holiday.  (Last year we were in England; the year before we were in Spain.)  On Thursday, Keith telephoned his brother from New York to wish him a happy Thanksgiving.  Later, he told us that Brian was interested in our menu.

“He was very concerned that your parents wouldn’t make a turkey,” Keith said.  “I told him that we had a turkey, but he was appalled that we didn’t have stuffing or mashed potatoes or gravy.”

My mother laughed at this.  “This is how I’ve always done Thanksgiving,” she said.  “This is what I know to do, so this is our tradition.”

It’s true; I’d never tried stuffing until I had Thanksgiving at Keith’s mother’s, and I’ve still never had sweet potatoes with marshmallows — though I am totally fascinated by this combination.

Here’s what we have instead: phyllo dough stuffed with mozzarella, red pepper flakes and parsley (boereg); garbanzo, dark cannellini bean and black-eyed-pea salad with roasted red, yellow and orange peppers; mango-and-cucumber salad; fattoush; pilaf with cinnamon, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts and ground beef; some sort of beef dish (this year was rib-eye with peppers and tomatoes); and turkey with caramelized onions slipped under its skin.

My absolute favorite part of the meal is the boereg, which turns a beautiful burnished gold in the oven.  I’m not alone in my boereg love — anyone who has ever had my mother’s recipe has fallen for its crisp pepper-laced cheesiness.  During high school, her boereg made my mom famous amongst my friends; whenever they stopped by, they asked if she’d baked any “cheese things.”  It’s surprisingly easy to make, though a bit time-consuming.  I’ve got the recipe at home, but it’s written on a sheet of scrap paper that I think I tucked in Michel Guérard’s La Cuisine Minceur this past June.  Normally I’m more organized than this.  I promise I’ll make it a priority to find the instructions and post them here, because boereg is best shared.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Four.

10.03 am: The largest mug of warm milk and honey in the world, or at least the house.  The honey is from my dad’s friend, who harvested it from his apiary in upstate New York.  I drink it while sitting on the kitchen floor, with the dog’s head in my lap.

2.15 – 2.53 pm: A hodgepodge of a lunch.  My dad, Keith and I toast salami and cheddar sandwiches on baguettes; then we eat leftover cold ratatouille, Cabot clothbound cheddar and Tomme Crayeuse.

4.11 pm: What was supposed to be an apple, but turns out to be only half, since Keith keeps on eating slices of it even though he says he’s not hungry.

8.05 – 9.07 pm: Dinner of mixed greens with a balsamic-herb vinaigrette, cucumbers, steamed white rice and grilled flank steak; my mother had marinated the meat in a mixture of soy sauce, Tabasco sauce, garlic, pepper and Sherry, and I eat three pieces.  Afterwards, have a mango Whole Fruit popsicle, which I smuggle out of the freezer without the dog noticing, though my dad blows our cover by feeding him pieces under the table.  Beg a bite of apple tart from Keith, then two Roman Egg Stella D’oro cookies with my mom before we pick the leaves off of three bunches of parsley for fattoush and boereg and watch Dancing with the Stars.  We both think Mýa will win, but I’m rooting for Kelly.

Late Lunch at Le Petit Alep.

After we had entertained ourselves at Marché Jean-Talon, we stopped by Le Petit Alep for a late lunch and a drink.  The café is located parallel to the market and is attached to a proper restaurant; since we were just looking for a quick bite or two to satisfy us until dinner, il était parfait.

Since the day had been both warm and sunny, and because Boston was not, we decided to sit outside on the plank-board patio rather than at one of the tables abutting the stone walls inside the dimly-lit café.  There, we studied the listing of Syrian, Armenian and Middle Eastern offerings.  Of the four of us, only Keith has any French; in spite of that, I found myself easily making my way around the menu.  After all, while the menu wasn’t printed in English, the alphabet was the same, and most of the dishes were spelled phonetically (something I always find amusing).

Joann, Keith and Melissa all decided to have an Arak (an anise-flavored drink similar to pastis), but since I’ve never been fond of the flavor, I went in a non-alcoholic direction altogether with a fantastically-colored drink.  Made of blended orange and mango juices whirled with mint, it was utterly refreshing ($4.75 CAD).  At times I find mint to be paralyzingly strong; like the mushroom, a leaf or two of mint can overwhelm other flavors and all but smother them into nothingness.  My beverage was an example of mint used well, since each component brought out the best in both itself and the other ingredients.

The four of us were specifically in search of something light, since we had made late-night  dinner reservations, so that was the driving force behind us sharing the végétarienne platter ($17.00 CAD).  Two people could easily make a meal out of the mahummara (sweet pepper and walnut spread), hummos, tabouleh, muttabal (baba ghanoush), dolma (stuffed grape leaves), boereg and mejadara — four would be hard-pressed.  We also passed around tiny plates of moussaka, lebneh drizzled with olive oil, more hummos ($3.50 CAD each) and even more bread.  I’m not ashamed to say that sent back to the kitchen immaculate white dishes practically licked clean.  You would have too.

As someone raised on this fare and living away from home, this was probably the most comforting meal I’ve had in ages.  Isn’t it odd, how food nourishes us not only physically as nutrition and as sustenance, but also emotionally?  With each bite, I couldn’t help but think of my Syrian-born Armenian father and his young adulthood in Beirut, and of my Filipina mother, who learned to cook a foreign culture’s food for her family.  I remembered how my paternal grandfather used to take me to buy apricots from a street vendor in LA when I was a small child, and how I saw his grave for the first time this spring.  I thought of my maternal grandfather, a great lover of food rivaling only my brother for hummos consumption, who died this past May on a trip to the States.

The food at Le Petit Alep may seem unique or exotic to those weaned on other cuisines, but to me it was as familiar as the carousel-print navy flannel sheets I slept on through (I’ll admit it) high school and the glossy black and white piano keys I banged tunelessly for seven years.  Like them, they are things I know I’ll find in my parents’ house, and they will always bring me home.  Even when I’m in Canada.

Le Petit Alep
191 Rue Jean-Talon Est
Montréal, QC H2R

Le Petit Alep on Urbanspoon

A List of Food-Related Things That Make Me Happy.

I love lists and I can’t believe it has taken me this long to make one. Here we go.

  1. Tearing into a mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup to find it nestled in not one, but two brown paper wrappers.
  2. Ripping the pith off of a grapefruit.
  3. Hot fudge sundaes in parfait glasses.
  4. The absolutely intoxicating aroma of butter melting in a hot pan.
  5. The embarrassing sort of farting noise pudding makes when slurped.
  6. The coffee from the Restaurant Orphée in Regensburg, Germany.
  7. The smell of Regensburg, Germany — I swear to you, the entire city smells of sugar, I think from all of the cones being made in the gelaterias.
  8. The scattering of granular breadcrumbs left behind on a plate after eating pandesal.
  9. Anything and everything that has to do with boereg.
  10. The shiny, waxy, almost-black skin of a ripe eggplant.