Saturday, July 14, 2012

Slovenian DInner Week 18: Meat Pita and the Politics of Burek

Meat Pita
Red Cabbage Slaw

It was a happy surprise to come across a dish called Meat Pita, or meat pie, in the American Slovene Club's cookbook Our Favorite Recipes.

This was no American-style beef pot pie.  The foundation was a plain dough, stretched until it was tissue thin,  then layered and buttered.   In other words, homemade phyllo, encasing a savory filling.

This sure sounded like burek, or something close to it. It reminded me of a Serbian dish, cheese gibanica or pita, I'd made the previous December.

In recent times, burek has become a popular street food in Slovenia.  But the dish is usually associated with Balkan communities to the south and east, lands that were once part of the Ottoman Empire.  So I was a little surprised to find it in a Slovenian American cookbook from the 1950s.

In the previous week, I'd had a hankering for burek, maybe because I'd been working on my article for Kosovo 2.0.  But I wasn't sure it qualified as sufficiently Slovenian for my cooking project.

Recently, scholars in Slovenia seem to have been grappling with a similar question.

Some Slovenian academics have argued that "authentic" Slovenian cookbooks shouldn't include burek recipes.  Others point to traditional Slovenian foods, like strudel and gibanica, that also use a paper-thin stretched dough.  So why should burek be considered an "outsider" food, as though there is something inherently un-Slovenian about it?

In some Slovenian circles, the burek has become part of an ugly ethnic stereotype of  "undesirable" immigrant populations from Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania.   One scholar has has even coined a new term for this narrow attitude: Burekalism, modeled on Edward Said's notion of Orientalism.  It refers to an insular Slovenian view of the alien Balkan Other, who comes from the more "primitive" lands to the south and east.

Is this a serious argument, or is it tongue-in-cheek?  I'm not entirely sure.

But I'm not trying to be a food purist.  Politics aside, it seems clear that a burek-like dish was already known to Slovenian American home cooks in the early 1950s.  So that's enough for me!

1 lb. ground meat  (I used half pork and half beef, rather than the original pork/veal mix)
1 large onion, chopped
4 T. fresh parsley, chopped (I increased the amount)
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten with
3 T. Greek yogurt (my choice) or sour cream

1 package commercially made phyllo dough (my shortcut)
2 T. melted butter
2 T. olive oil

For filling: Brown onion in oil.  Add ground meat and parsley.  Brown, stir and chop to avoid clumping. Cook until browned.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat. Add egg and yogurt, beaten together. Cook briefly on heat until egg is cooked.  Cool.

For dough:  Buy a package of commercially prepared phyllo dough and follow package directions to defrost, if frozen.

Or, if you are feeling adventurous (I wasn't!) make your own dough:  Mix 2 c. flour, 1/2 t. salt, 2 T. oil, and  4 T. warm water.  Make dough, knead, let  rest 15 minutes.  Roll out on floured cloth, then brush with butter and "stretch slowly until tissue thin."

To assemble:  Oil a round pan or rectangular pan.  One by one, layer 4 sheets of phyllo, brushing each one with some of the butter/oil mixture.  Arrange layers as in photo below, so sheets are evenly arranged with edges draped over edge of dish.  Add filling.  Add 4 more layers, brushing each with butter/oil mixture and arranging as before.  Tuck in edges.  Brush top layer with butter/oil.

Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, or until firm and top is browned.

The verdict:  Delicious, no matter where it came from!

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