By Sasha Dallman, Cooking Round the World Chef Educator
A few weeks ago two of my classes went to Turkey in our imaginations. While we were reading the folktale “The Wicked Girl”, I was explaining to the children about different Turkish food. I then shared with the children that part of my family is Armenian. I grew up eating Armenian food which, since Armenia is next to Turkey can be very similar. My most favorite dish is cheese Beoreg.
Armenian beoreg is a phyllo dough turnover filled with cheese and parsley and baked to a golden brown. It is similar to the Greek spanakopita, but a bit more cheesy and lighter in texture. It can be served hot or at room temperature. For most Armenians, cheese beoreg are a savory appetizer. But for some, they’re sprinkled with sugar and served for dessert.
I have fond childhood memories of my mother making Beoreg for family parties. She would cut it into small finger length pieces. I would sneak by the tray and take them one at a time and walk around the party nibbling on my finger of Beoreg.
My mother grew up in Ohio which had a large Armenian population, twenty years ago. Our family had an old “Treasured Armenian Recipes” cookbook which was published by the Detroit Women’s Chapter of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, INC. It was my mother’s cookbook bible.
My mother would scan over the pages of recipe submissions, and examine each page carefully. She told me about the relationships of the women featured, several of whom my great-grand mothers’ friends. The recipes in the book had been collected and saved over generations; a priceless vault of a kitchen heritage.
As with any culture food tends to be passed down through families. I am thankful that someone took the time to compile these recipes for the next generation of cooks and bakers. My great grandmother and her friends would always be remembered for their amazing work in the kitchen. I would get to know my great-grandmother from the recipes she shared.
My great-grandmother died before I was born, so I never had the opportunity to watch her make phyllo dough by hand. She was never able to share her secret Honey Beoreg recipe with me.
My great-grandmother was a strong woman. She survived the Armenian Holocaust in 1915 and escaped to Marseille, France with my grandfather who was 8 or 9 years old at the time. They made their way to America when my grandfather was 16. In one year he completed school K-12 and was fluent in English, as well as French and Armenian.
It is a sad thought for me that I have not had the opportunity to meet either of them. My extended family related through my grandfather lives in New York. I remember when I was younger my mother and I visited and I would soak up everything. I loved being around such a big family.
My most favor memory was when we visited for Easter one year when I was about 5 or 6. Easter is a very important holiday in the Armenian Orthodox Religion. There are many parties and celebrations and lots of food. It was here that I had cheese Beoreg for the first time. I was hooked. Flaky layers of buttery phyllo dough, oozy gooey cheese stretching when you carefully maneuver a piece onto your plate. When we got home I was relentless. I would not rest until my mother made this for me. She succumbed and an insta-favorite was born.
Because this is such a heavy dish we would only have it right around Easter. Now that Easter is upon us I am filled with delicious memories of yummy cheesy Beoreg. Here is the recipe:
Let me preface this recipe with “this is not a low cholesterol dish; it is not meant to be, please don’t replace the clarified butter with oil or margarine”.
For a 9”x13” casserole tray:
Ingredients: 1 package phyllo dough, thawed, 1lb butter, clarified, 1.5 lb white cheese, 1 bunch parsley, chopped, 4 eggs, 3 tablespoons warm water
- Preheat your oven to 375F.
- In the casserole dish pour a small amount of the clarified butter and spread over the bottom evenly.
- Make the filling by mixing the cheese with chopped parsley, eggs and water. I always make the filling before I start layering otherwise it’s a mess.
- Begin layering the phyllo dough, 3 layers of dough, brush with butter, filling, 3 layers of phyllo dough brushed with butter, filling, etc.
- Once you’ve finished the filling, fold the edges of the phyllo dough that sticks up or out in and brush generously with clarified butter.
- Bake in the middle of the oven at 375F for about 30 mins, then move up to the top to brown well for another 5-10 mins.