04 May 2014

Flaky Cheese Pastries (Brik Ijben)


I spent most of the past year and a half bemoaning the utter and total lack of cheese in North Africa. In Syria, I often missed Western cheeses like brie or blue, but you could always get the local Levantine cheeses like akawi, nablusi, and feta cheeses. But Algeria? Other than the local camembert (so. much. camembert.), is a bit of a cheese wasteland.  And then I discovered ijben cheese.

Ijben is very common in Morocco, and it is basically a fresh goats milk cheese that tastes like a cross between feta and ricotta. I had never seen it in Algiers, until I started asking, and was pointed to a cheese that called "Le Berbere" which comes in a box. You know how something can be right in front of you for years and you never even noticed it was there? That's how this Berber (ijben) cheese was. Lurking in the cheese case of every shop, where I have been ignoring it for years.

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Clearly the first thing I was going to do with my new found discovery was make cheese brik. (See here for more about brik, a.k.a. briouat, a.k.a. bourek.) Brik are basically stuffed flaky pastries, and the cheese version is the easiest, and I think most delicious. Now, a proper Maghrebi cook would make perfect little triangles of brik, but I was lazy, and made some very simple rough triangles. These are extremely simple, just mix some cheese and herbs and spices, and then you top the pastries with cumin seeds which gives them a nice flavor boost.


Flaky Cheese Pastries (Brik Ijben)
If you can get ijben cheese then by all means use it here. Warka dough, usually labeled feuilles du brik, is available in ome Middle Eastern and French shops. You can substitute phyllo dough, though you will need about 4-5 phyllo sheets to replicate one warka sheet.

4 oz ricotta cheese
4 oz feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 sprinkling red pepper flakes or chile powder
zest of 1 lemon

8 tablespoons (4 oz) butter, melted
1 package warka dough, feuilles du brik, or phyllo dough
2 tablespoon cumin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Brush a baking sheet with some of the melted butter.
2. Mix together the filling ingredients.
3. Warka dough is round, if you are using phyllo dough cut it into circles then cover it with plastic wrap and a damp cloth to prevent it from dying out.
4. Place about a tablespoon and a half of the filling on a wedge shaped area of the warka dough. Brush the dough with melted butter. Fold the dough in half over the filling, so that you have a half moon shape. Brush the dough again with butter. Fold the filled section of the dough over itself until you end up with a triangle. Brush the triangle packet with butter and place on a baking sheet.
5. Repeat until you have used up all the filling. Brush the brik tops again with melted butter and sprinkle cumin seeds on the top of each brik.
6. Bake the brik for 25-35 minutes, or until browned and crisped on the edges. Serve warm.

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