Pie By Another Name

Pie By Another Name

The Burekas of Or Ve Shalom

By Susanna Capelouto

Every Tuesday a group of women gets together at Or Ve Shalom Synagogue in Atlanta to bake hundreds of savory hand-held pies. They are called burekas and come in five varieties: potato, rice, spinach, eggplant, and meat.

These women have been baking them using the same recipe for over 60 years. They’re sold by the dozen to help the congregation’s finances. There’s no commercial competition, because this delicacy cannot be mass produced in a bakery. Making burekas just requires too much skill and a lot of experienced cooks.

Photo by Susanna Capelouto

Bureka comes from the Turkish word Burek, which means pie. That’s because Sephardic Jews trace their heritage to the countries around the Mediterranean including Turkey and medieval Spain. It was the Spanish Inquisition of 1492 that forced Sephardic Jews to leave Spain and settle in other countries.

Philip Graitcer visits the Hebrew Union Congregation in Greenville, Mississippi, which has hosted a community meal for the past 130 years.

The weekly ritual of baking burekas at the Or Ve Shalom Synagogue is a testament to the preservation of Sephardic Jewish culture in the American South.

Listen to the story here.

Burekas Recipe

Download the printable recipe here.

Courtesy of Or Ve Shalom Synagogue in Atlanta, Georgia. Burekas should be made with at least two people. The more the merrier.

Eileen Engel and Margaret Weinberg documented the Sisterhood of Or Ve Shalom congregation during our 2016 Oral History Workshop.

Basic dough:

1 cup Mazola corn oil
2 ½ cups water
1 tsp salt
8 cups plain White Lily flour

Bring water, oil and salt to a boil. Remove from heat. Boil again. Remove from heat, and quickly stir in flour until the consistency is that of soft pie dough.

Knead until smooth, adding more flour if needed. Shape into walnut-sized balls. About 60-70. Place in bowl, cover with wax paper to prevent dryness.

Roll each ball into a flat oval shape, 3 by 4 inches. Fill each oval with 1 rounded teaspoon of filling.

Fold into turnover shape and cut outer edges with rim of a glass. For potato burekas, brush lightly with beaten egg. For burekas without meat filling, sprinkle with grated cheese.

Place on pan well-greased with vegetable oil and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until brown.

Topping:

½ cup grated cheese
1 beaten egg

Potato Filling (easiest for beginners)

3lb baking potatoes, cooked and mashed.
1 tsp salt
1 c. grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
½ lb cottage cheese, mashed
4 eggs or more if needed.

Combine potatoes, salt cheese and beaten eggs, mixing well until fluffy. Taste and adjust salt and cheese if needed.

Robin Amer tells the story of the last Jews in Natchez, Mississippi for Gravy.

Spinach Filling

2 lb fresh spinach or 3 (10 oz) pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained.
1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 beaten eggs (for use with frozen spinach only)
Salt to taste
1 Tbsp. flour or instant potato flakes.

Mix all ingredients.

Meat Filling

2 lb lean ground beef
2 onions
3 Tbsp. oil
½ can tomatoes strained through colander with juice or tomato sauce
½ cut chopped curly parsley
¼ cup rice, rinsed
1 tsp salt

Chop onions and sauté in oil until lightly browned. Add ground beef and sauté well, stirring constantly. Make a well in center and add tomatoes, salt, and rice. Cover and simmer 25 minutes or until rice is well done. (Rice can also be cooked separately and added but won’t taste as good).

Add parsley. Allow to cool.

Susanna Capelouto is a podcast producer and consultant in Atlanta. She’s also the Senior Editor at WABE, the city’s NPR station. Susanna has been working in the world of audio for two decades including stints as a reporter, producer and news director.. She’s a board member and past president of The Atlanta Press Club and a proud member of AIR Media.