The Laconia’s luxurious böreks
Long before the gorgeous luxury liner, the Laconia, was turned into a troop ship and sunk in 1942 by a German U-boat, she sailed the seas, filled with glittering ladies and elegant white-tied gents.
On 23 February 1929 she was on a voyage around the West Indies, and at the end of the dinner this savoury, böreks, was served.
What is a savoury?
A savoury was a fairly standard course which came after the sweet puddings of a formal Victorian or Edwardian dinner to enable the gentlemen to clear their palates before moving on to port, or to whisky and billiards. They usually had very strong tastes – hot and spicy (devilled and curried dishes), and salty (anchovies, roes, blue cheeses etc).
Classic savouries were… and are (the savoury course is currently making a come back):
- Angels and devils on horseback
- Devilled chicken livers, or canapés Diane (toast topped with chicken livers and bacon)
- Welsh rarebit (a small one!). The Wolseley serves this (or Buck rarebit, Welsh rarebit with an egg) as a savoury.
- Sardines on toast
- Stuffed mussels
- Scotch woodcock – nothing to do with woodcock, this is a dish of toast, spread with Gentleman’s Relish, and topped with scrambled eggs
- Herring roes on toast
Of course, all of these dishes are just as good in all kinds of other courses and meals – as canapés, starters, lunches, breakfasts, and brunches. For more about savouries, see the further reading list at the bottom of this post.
What is a börek?
On the Laconia böreks were served as a savoury, but in fact they are middle-eastern filled pastries, either produced as thin, low pies, cut into squares; or as small, individual pastries. And they can be street food, or served as part of a big spread of mezedes, or, translated to the West, as canapés, starters, or even, as on the Laconia, as an old-fashioned savoury. The name apparently derives from a Turkish word, and some sources say the origin of these pastries may have been Turkey as this country was an important source of wheat (used to make the pastry). Certainly böreks are enthusiastically consumed throughout what was the Ottoman (Turkish) empire – north Africa, parts of Greece, and the Balkans. The Greek versions are known as tiropita (with just cheese) and spanakopita (with cheese and feta).
When produced as individual pastries, meat böreks are often enveloped into a triangular shape and böreks containing cheese and/or vegetables (often spinach, nettle, leek and courgette) are formed into cigar shapes. It’s not a rigid rule though – see Pesto Triangles, or Spanakopita Christmas Presents (which are square).
The pastry used is usually phyllo.
Why might the Laconia have been serving böreks?
Laconia is in fact an area of south-eastern Greece… so perhaps it was an attempt to reproduce a dish somehow authentic to the ship. Or maybe there was a Turkish chef on board!
These böreks can be made ahead of time and reheated.
They can also be frozen.
If you serve the böreks as a starter the cheese and spinach ones go well with a tomato salsa; and the meat ones go well with a small Greek salad.
Recipe for böreks
- 540g/1 lb 3 oz phyllo pastry
- 300g/11 oz butter
Ingredients for cheese and spinach böreks
- 170g/6 oz frozen spinach
- couple of walnuts of butter
- 200g/7 oz feta
- 2 tbsps chopped parsley (or a mix of parsley, mint and oregano)
- a pinch of Urfa pepper flakes, or some freshly ground black pepper
Ingredients for the meat böreks
- 1 banana shallot
- 250g/9 oz lamb mince
- 3 tbsps pine nuts
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- smoked salt and some freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil for frying
- 3 tbsps red vermouth
- Defrost the phyllo pastry and the spinach (squeeze the spinach out afterwards).
- Preheat the oven to 210°C.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
- Make the meat filling by peeling and chopping the shallot very finely and then frying it gently until soft and translucent. Add the lamb and cook through. Add the pine nuts, cinnamon and seasoning. Taste and adjust. Add the vermouth, and continue to cook gently until the liquid is absorbed and the mixture is still soft.
- Make the cheese and spinach filling by mixing the defrosted and squeezed out spinach with the cheese and chopped herbs. Add some Urfa pepper flakes, or some generous grinds of pepper.
- To make the triangular meat böreks, take half the phyllo sheets out. Cut each sheet vertically into four long rectangles. Brush with melted butter. Put a teaspoon of the filling at the end, and fold as illustrated below.
- Brush with more melted butter and put on a baking tray lined with silicone paper. Bake for five to six minutes – watch them carefully, and put on a timer, if you leave them too long they will burn.
- To make the cigar-shaped cheese and spinach böreks, use the remaining phyllo pastry sheets, and cut them in the same way as you did the others, brushing with melted butter. Lay a teaspoon of the filling at one end of each long rectangle. Begin to roll the pastry over the filling, but turn the long edges in so that they will stop the filling from oozing out. Continue to roll, and brush with more butter to coat and seal the cigar-shape. Bake for the same length of time as the meat versions.
Further reading on savouries