jump to navigation

Serbian Meat Burek October 29, 2010

Posted by Paula Erbay in Appetizers, Main Dishes.

The inspiration for the Junior Potluckers’ “Serbian Cooking Show” was this burek. I wrote this article for the May/June 2010 issue of Serb World USA magazine. It is copy written and appears here with their permission.

Dona tells me the recipe is an amalgamation of many. Of course, she and Diane had learned burek from their mother, Darinka. But, as Dona said, “Over the years, we changed it here and there. Somewhere along the way, I quit using potato, found ingredients I liked on internet recipes, and so on.” Mother Darinka, after years of watching Diane make burek and adding her constant reminder ~ “You’ve got to roll it tighly”, only gave her stamp of approval a couple of years ago. “You finally learned,” she said, “how to roll the burek” Well, Diane tells me that put a big smile on her face.

She continues to make burek with her mother and her sisters, and now her daughters, too. While this recipe is perfection, they enjoy experimenting with different fillings: a variety of cheeses, spinach, and more.

Whenever her friends have a party, Diane doesn’t even have to ask what they want her to bring ~ burek, of course.

Dona credits Chef Maja of the Belgrade Hyatt for her addition of paprika. She had complimented Chef Maja on her wonderful sarma (stuffed cabbage) and asked how she made it. It wasn’t until she returned home that Dona realized Chef Maja had meant “paprika” not “red peppers.” (Darinka hadn’t been there to translate). As a result, Dona experimented with paprika in every meat dish after that, including burek.

The sisters, Dona and Diane, think the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese may have been their mother’s additions. She often sprinkles a bit into her meat mixture. But, with daughters, mothers, and sisters all sharing in the kitchen-as in life-who is to know for sure where the idea came from? The end result is a burek that truly reflects what I think we Junior Potluckers are: a bit of our mothers and grandmothers, a bit of our own journeys, and a modem twist thrown into the mix.

Click here for the full article “The Serbian Cooking Show”


1 T olive oil
1 med. yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 Ib. ground beef
¾  cup, chopped fresh parsley
1-2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 box phyllo (filo) pastry sheets (12″ x 17″)*
¾  cup butter, melted
1 cup bread crumbs, plain
1-2 tsp. paprika
2-3 garlic cloves crushed or finely chopped
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

* Phyllo can be found in the frozen section of most supermarkets.
Ethnic markets have a higher turnover, so it’s fresher.


Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Saute the onion until soft, and then add the ground beef, garlic, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the meat is crumbly but not dry (if too greasy, drain the meat mixture). Then add the parsley. Stir for a minute, let cool, add the eggs and stir together.

Lay a sheet of phyllo dough on a clean kitchen towel. Brush with some butter. Then sprinkle with a little bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Continue layering with dough then crumbs and parmesan until you have 4-6 layers of phyllo or more, depending on your preference.

Place meat mixture across long edge of prepared phyllo about 2 inches in from the edge. Fold the long edge over the meat mixture then fold in the sides. Roll your burek into a fairly tight roll, butter the folded sides and then the long edge at the end to seal the dough. Diane uses the towel to help roll the burek. Her tip: hold the towel taunt, spreading your hands as wide as possible to maneuver and tightly roll the dough.

Place the roll on a parchment lined baking sheet or non-stick baking sheet. Brush with additional butter on the top of the roll, and sprinkle with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.

Repeat this process, making burek rolls, until the meat mixture is used completely.

Preheat your oven to 375° and bake burek rolls for 15 to 20 minutes or until just golden. Slice and serve. Yields 2-4 burek rolls, depending how thick you make your rolls.

Note:  Burek freezes beautifully by flash freezing. Place unbaked rolls on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and into the freezer. When frozen, tightly wrap each roll separately with parchment paper or plastic wrap. Then tightly wrap foil over the parchment.

Place the wrapped rolls back in the freezer. When ready to use the frozen burek, remove as many rolls as needed from the freezer. Unwrap and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Allow to thaw at room temperature-about 10 minutes-while the oven preheats to 375°. Bake 15 to 20 minutes as above, until golden brown.

Prijatno! (Serbian for “Bon Appétit”, “Con Provecho”, “Afiyet Olsun”, “Buon Appetito”)


Lamb with “Greasy Rice” May 30, 2009

Posted by Paula Erbay in Main Dishes.
add a comment

For the history of how this recipe came to be see Double Dipping: One Joy of Being an American Serb. Or, order the November/December 2008 issue of SerbWorld USA.

Lamb with Greasy Rice

Lamb with Greasy Rice

6 lbs                        leg of lamb (bone in)
4                             garlic cloves
2                             onions, sweet (medium size)
3    cups                  rice, white long grain
6-7 cups                  water, hot
salt (regular, not kosher or sea salt)

Preheat oven to 350˚

Remove paper skins from garlic cloves and cut into slivers.  Make slits all over the lamb and insert the garlic slivers.  Sprinkle salt over the lamb.  Place in a roasting pan (without a rack), and put in hot oven.

Cut the onions into 8 to 10 segments each.  Add to the roasting pan after the lamb starts to brown and drippings begin to accumulate – about 40 minutes after the lamb was put into the oven.  Stir the onions to coat with drippings, lightly salt the onions.  Let cook and brown, stirring every 10 – 15 minutes.

After about 1hour 45minutes of total roasting time, add the rice to the drippings and onion.  Stir to coat the rice with the drippings.  Let the rice “sizzle” and soak up some juices and flavor (about 5-10 minutes).  Add 6 cups hot water and stir.  Every 10-15 minutes stir the rice, adding more water if dry (½ cup at a time), until the rice is cooked (30-35 minutes total cooking time), adjust salt to taste.

Quantities and adjustments:
I really like the rice and tend to make extra, typically 2 cups of rice would be sufficient for 5-6 pounds of lamb.  Allow 2 ¼ cups of water for each cup of rice.

Calculate the lamb to take 20-25 minutes per pound at 350˚.  Then allow 30-35 minutes for the rice to finish and subtract that from the total cooking time for the lamb to determine when to start the rice.

When in doubt, it is better to have the lamb finish prior to the rice.  Remove the lamb from the pan, tent the lamb with foil and let it sit while the rice continues to cook.


Prijesnac ~ Serbian Cheese Soufflé October 8, 2008

Posted by Paula Erbay in Main Dishes.
1 comment so far


A funny thing happened on the way to an article I was researching.  The recipe that we (my mother and I) have been attributing to Helen for the past 25 or 30 years, is NOT Helen’s.  In fact, she said “Oh no, I never use mozzarella in my prijesnac.  Mozzarella would ruin it”.  Well, this recipe has a ½ pound of mozzarella!  So, we know it did not come from Helen – Mom now says maybe it was Evie’s, and maybe she got it at one of Helen’s Potluckers’ luncheons.    Well, I followed that lead, and it was not Evie’s. 



Whoever changed the recipe to include mozzarella, I thank you, it is delicious.  It can be served as a Vegetarian entrée; at brunch with fresh fruit; or, cut into small squares, as part of a buffet. 


As for the name of the dish, Prijesnac: I have seen it spelled prijesnac, presnac, priyesnats, prjsnac.  It would originally have been written in Cyrillic, so with translations into the Latin alphabet, and regional differences in dialect, we have many spellings.


1          pound            Monterrey Jack Cheese – diced

½         pound            Mozzarella Cheese – diced

6          Tablespoons Butter, unsalted

5          large               Eggs

1 ½      Cups              Flour, All-purpose

2          Cups              Milk, whole

            Dash              Salt

            Dash              Cayenne (optional)


Preheat oven to 375˚F


Melt the butter in a 9 x 13 inch Pyrex casserole pan (I place it in the oven while it is preheating).


Beat the eggs with a dash of salt and cayenne (if using).  Add flour, milk, all but 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, and the cheeses.  Mix all together.  Pour mixture into the middle of the Pyrex pan.  The remaining melted butter will create little “pools” around the edges.


Bake at 375˚F for about 45 minutes.  It should rise and be golden on top.


Let set a few minutes prior to cutting into squares and serving.

Perfectly baked Presnac

Perfectly baked Prijesnac


Click here to read the article about “The Potluckers”

Ìmam Bayıldı – California Style August 14, 2008

Posted by Paula Erbay in Main Dishes, Sides.
add a comment
The Turkish dictionary defines bayılmak (root verb) as: to faint, to be enraptured (by). 

I’ve read many versions of how this Turkish dish got it’s name. The Imam fainted because… the dish was so rich (oil content); he learned the amount of olive oil his wife used to make the dish (rich in cost); or, it just tasted soooooo good. 

What makes the Imam faint in California? Grilling, of course. 

When the Google search string is Imam Bayildi Recipe, it will return over 22,000 hits. So, I decided to create a variation on a very classic Turkish recipe. Don’t worry, it still has all the ingredients required: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Eggplants, Onions, Garlic, Tomatoes and Parsley. I just took the eggplant outdoors to add a bit of smokiness.


4 Eggplants, long, thin
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Chili pepper, long hot
4 Tomatoes, just under 1 ½ pounds
1 Onion, Sweet (Vidalia, Oso Sweet, or similar)
5 Garlic cloves
2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 T Pine Nuts
1 C Parsley leaves, flat
2 tsp Dill, fresh or dried
1 tsp Aleppo Pepper – plus more at table
Salt & Black Pepper to taste
Lemon Juice, plus wedges at table

Trim the cap end of the eggplants, but do not cut off. Peel the skin in a “zebra” stripe. Heavily salt and leave in a colander while preparing the other ingredients, about 20 minutes. 

Peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes. Thinly slice the onion and garlic cloves. Chop the parsley leaves. 

Rinse the eggplants and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a baking pan (Pyrex 9×13 is good). Coat with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, be generous – reserve all that drips in the baking pan. Grill the eggplants and chili pepper until eggplants are soft and browned, the pepper should blister. About 15 – 20 minutes total, turn often. Return the grilled eggplants and chili pepper to the baking pan (with leftover oil). 

Heat 2 tablespoons Olive Oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onions and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until onion is soft and translucent. Add the cooked onions and garlic to the chopped tomatoes. Brown the pine nuts in the same pan, until just starting to color. Add them to the tomato-onion mixture. Add the remaining ingredients: parsley, dill, Aleppo pepper, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste. 

Slit the grilled eggplants lengthwise down the middle – be careful not to cut all the way through Larger eggplants can be cut in half, then slit each half lengthwise. Gently pry open the slit in each eggplant and fill with the tomato-onion mixture, heaping on top. 

Mix some lemon juice, water, and olive oil, pour into the baking pan (about 6 tablespoons of liquid). Cover and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. 

Traditional Imam Bayildi is served room temperature (as all “Olive Oil” dishes are), I like this one hot as a vegetarian main course. Serve with lemon wedges and additional Aleppo Pepper for diners to adjust to taste. 

Aleppo pepper is available at Middle Eastern grocery stores and Penzeys.com 

This recipe is for Bette… read Eggplants for Bette



Patlican Sarmasi – Chicken Thighs Wrapped in Eggplant August 12, 2008

Posted by Paula Erbay in Main Dishes.
add a comment

Serves 10 to 12
4½ to 5 lbs Chicken Thighs, boneless, skinless (approx weight, 20 pieces)
4 Lemons: zest from 2 of them, juice from all
1 tsp Allspice, Whole – crush with mortar and pestle
6 Garlic Cloves, pressed or mashed in mortar and pestle
1 tsp Salt

10 – 12 Eggplants, long thin
Salt to soak eggplant slices
Vegetable Oil – for frying eggplant

¼ Cup Almonds, whole, toasted – coarsely chop after toasting

2 9×13 baking pans (Pyrex)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (when ready to wrap the chicken in eggplant)

Marinate the Chicken:
Marinate the chicken in the Lemon juice, lemon zest, allspice, garlic and salt for a minimum of 2 hours in the refrigerator – turn occasionally.

Peel the eggplant in “zebra” stripes. Thinly slice lengthwise (5 to 6 good slices per eggplant). Soak eggplant slices in heavily salted cold water for about 1 hour to remove bitter juices. Drain and pat slices dry with paper towels.

Fry eggplant slices in vegetable oil until lightly golden – DO NOT OVERCOOK. Eggplant needs to be supple to wrap around the chicken thighs.

Use rimmed baking sheets, pour enough oil in pan to coat pan. Coat eggplant slices in oil in pan – there should still be oil on surface of pan (about 1/16th inch). Broil for 2 minutes, turn slices and broil another 2 minutes. Watch closely so as to not overcook!

Drain eggplant slices on rack over another rimmed baking sheet.

Select the best eggplant slices for wrapping the chicken – 2 to 3 slices per thigh. Reserve the other slices to line the baking pans. Place 2 pieces in a cross pattern. Roll one thigh into a tight piece and place on the eggplant cross. Wrap the eggplant around the chicken and place seam side down on eggplant lined pan.

Pour remaining marinade over chicken (about 1 cup total – ½ cup per baking pan). Sprinkle chopped almonds over each piece. Cover with foil and bake 30 – 40 minutes (juices should be boiling).         

Serve with Rice Pilaf
Ajvar is a great condiment with it (hot or mild, available in Middle Eastern and Eastern European markets)

This recipe is for Bette…. read Eggplants for Bette







Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Timballo November 11, 2006

Posted by Paula Erbay in Main Dishes.
add a comment

Inspired by the movie Big Night this timballo was called Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Timballo for a 2001 Oscar Dinner Party. It featured a pastry dragon and is based on the recipe for “The Leopard’s Dish” by Celestino Drago.

1 Ragu Recipe, Paula’s
1 Béchamel Recipe, Paula’s
1 Pastry Dough Recipe, Paula’s
1 lb Pasta, dry – Penne or Ziti
½ lb Proscuitto Coarsely chopped
3 Eggs, Hard Boiled quartered
½ lb Chicken Livers optional
10 oz Peas, frozen thawed
½ lb Mozzarella Cheese
½ Cup Parmesan Cheese grated
2 Chicken Breast halves Boneless, skinless
1 Egg Beaten – for glaze
Thyme, ground To season chicken & livers
Brandy or cognac To season chicken & livers

1. Make Ragu and refrigerate until ready to assemble – meat should be removed from sauce and stored separately. Reheat ragu sauce prior to assembly.

2. Make pastry dough the day before. Refrigerate overnight, take out about 20 minutes prior to rolling.

3. Coarsely chop the sliced proscuitto. Then cook over medium heat until softened, but not browned. Can be made ahead of time and brought to room temperature prior to assembly.

4. Sauté chicken livers or chicken breasts in butter, season with salt & pepper and thyme. Use the same pan as the proscuitto so any bits will add flavor to the chicken/livers. Add a little brandy if desired. This can be made ahead of time. Bring to room temperature before assembly. If using Chicken livers, slice them. If using Chicken breasts, shred them.

Day of Assembly:
1. Roll out 1/2 of dough on a floured surface into large circle to line a 10 – 12 inch bowl with 1 inch overhang. Line bowl with floured side against the inside of the bowl. Cover with plastic and set aside2. Roll out the other half to cover the top of the bowl with 1 inch overhang to seal the completed pie. It should be the same thickness as the dough lining the bowl. Cut decorative shapes with the remaining dough. Cover w/plastic and set aside. For “Tiger/Dragon” a dragon shape was used with small stars and crescents scattered about. 3. Make the Béchamel sauce (see recipe). Keep warm and set aside until pasta is cooked.

4. Cook pasta al dente. Drain (I use a pasta pot so the water stays in the pot – important for next step). Toss with some butter then add the ragu with the Parm. cheese mixed in.

5. Add the peas to the hot pasta water. Let them cook while mixing the pasta with the ragu. Then drain and set aside.

ASSEMBLY & Baking:
Layer the fillings into the dough lined bowl as follows:

1/3 Pasta tossed with Ragu
Half of each of the following: Béchamel sauce, Chicken livers or breasts, Proscuitto, Peas, Eggs, Meat (from Ragu), Mozzarella.
Repeat ending with the remaining pasta.
Note, you may not use all the ingredients if using the 10 inch bowl. Press the ingredients down as you go (with back of spoon) to compress and meld flavors.

Place dough over top. Crimp edges very tightly. Place a large piece of parchment paper on top. Invert onto a rimless baking sheet (it will be very difficult to transfer to a serving platter if the baking sheet has a rim).

Attach decorative cutouts over pie (brush back of cutouts with water to adhere). Brush entire pie with beaten egg (for “Tiger” it was brushed in tiger stripes). Pierce the top a few times with fork.

Bake at 350 for about 1 hour. Let stand 10 minutes prior to serving. Cut into wedges at table so each serving has some crust. Note: For easier handling, transfer to a cardboard circle then onto the serving platter.

For background on this dish & a photo click here Timballo for a Big Night 


Béchamel Sauce for Timballo November 10, 2006

Posted by Paula Erbay in Main Dishes.
add a comment

3 T Butter, unsalted
3 T Flour, all-purpose – Approximate
3 Cups Milk, whole – Heated
Salt & Black pepper – To taste
Nutmeg, ground – To taste
Cayenne pepper – To taste
Melt butter in saucepan.Add flour and let sizzle. Whisk together (Roux). Gradually whisk in hot milk, try to avoid lumps. Keep whisking until there are no lumps. Add seasonings to taste.Adjust the amount of flour as needed when adding it to the butter, usually equal amounts of butter to flour.

This recipe is required for Paula’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Timballo. Four recipes are required to complete this dish: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Timballo, Ragu for Timballo, Béchamel Sauce, and Pastry Dough for Timballo.

Pastry Dough for Timballo November 10, 2006

Posted by Paula Erbay in Main Dishes.
add a comment

4 Cups Flour, all-purpose

2 ½ T Sugar
1 ½ Sticks Butter, unsalted – Cold
1 Egg – Extra large
6 T Milk, whole

Cut butter in several small pieces (tablespoons).
Place flour, sugar, and butter in food processor. Use the pulse button a few times until butter is mixed into dry ingredients. Slightly beat the egg. Add the egg and 4 Tablespoons of milk to food processor. Blend, if after a few seconds it seems too dry add more milk, tablespoon at a time. It should form a ball in food processor, if not test it with your hands – if it holds together, remove from processor DO NOT OVER BEAT. Form into two disks (dough should be smooth, but not wet). Cover with plastic and refrigerate (overnight is best).

This pastry dough can be used with other savory fillings.

This recipe is required for Paula’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Timballo. Four recipes are required to complete this dish: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Timballo, Ragu for Timballo, Béchamel Sauce, and Pastry Dough for Timballo.

Ragu for Timballo November 10, 2006

Posted by Paula Erbay in Main Dishes.
add a comment

½ lbs Beef Lean, boneless

¾ lbs Veal Lean, boneless

1 Onion – Finely chopped
2 Carrots, peeled Or 12 baby whole
2 Celery stalks – Finely chopped
¾ oz Porcini Mushrooms, dry – Soaked in hot water
2 lbs Tomatoes, Canned San Marzano – drain, reserve juice
2 Bay Leaves – Or more to taste
½ Cup Red Wine, Dry
Olive Oil
Salt & Black Pepper To taste
Cayenne Pepper Good dash – to taste
Cinnamon, ground Good dash

Directions:Note: I used 1 pound of veal stew meat. After I trimmed it there was about 3/4 pound. Use a large pot.1. Cut beef and veal into about 1/2 inch cubes. Set aside2. Finely chop onion, carrots, and celery. Cook in olive oil over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Add should be soft but not browned, stir often.

3. Add meat and stir all together, add bay leaves. Cook another 15-20 minutes.

4. Chop the mushrooms (after they have soaked in hot water about 20 minutes). Add the chopped mushrooms and wine to the pan. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed, another 10 – 15 minutes.

This recipe is required for Paula’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Timballo. Four recipes are required to complete this dish: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Timballo, Ragu for Timballo, Béchamel Sauce, and Pastry Dough for Timballo.