On returning home, most people who visit Turkey on holiday leave the country with memories of those delicious cheese rolls they ate nearly every evening with their meze dishes. Those delicious ‘Turkish cheese rolls’ that they always talk about are called sigara böreği and are probably the most well known of all the Turkish börek recipes – and they’re probably so well known because sigara are the most likely börek to feature in a meze fridge in restaurants; and they often crop up on the Turkish breakfast table, too.
Along with the almost obligatory Antep Ezmesi, ‘Turkish cheese rolls’ are right up there for number of ‘Turkish foodie mentions’ by our friends.
On mastering the Turkish green beans in olive oil recipe back in England, sigara böreği is also the first Turkish food I ever attempted to make when we finally moved to Fethiye – so, for us, sigara böreği is special for that reason; I associate them with our ‘we-must-settle-into-our-new-life-in-Turkey’ period. These days, I make sigara böreği if we have friends round for a barbecue because they make perfect nibbles while we wait for the barbecue to heat up – and all of our friends absolutely love them!
I also play about with fillings quite a lot so some of my sigara are not quite so traditional… but that’s okay, too, because, these days, lots of the restaurants in Fethiye are starting to play about with fillings, too. And, why not? As long as we all know and love the traditional fillings for Turkish cheese rolls, why not experiment, too? Isn’t that how cuisines grow and evolve?
Sigara Böreği – A Recipe For Turkish Cheese Rolls
For the cheese filling:
So that leads us nicely onto our filling for our sigara böreği. For sigara böreği, the traditional filling is Lor cheese (a crumbled white cheese – if you are outside of Turkey, or you can’t get Lor, feta cheese can be used as a substitute) and finely chopped parsley, mixed together, sometimes with a beaten egg, too. Okay, so you know the traditional filling now. For our sigara böreği recipe, however, if we have friends over to visit, we like to add a few extras to our filling…
It’s a mix of reactions from Turkish friends; some of them bite into our sigara böreği and then a smile appears on their faces. “Ohhh, have you put onion in this?”
Other Turkish friends will bite into the sigara and look unsure. “Hmmm, have you put onion in this?”
Food leads to discussion, as it should! And we love a foodie discussion, and we love playing with recipes…just as long as we know the traditional recipe, too. So our sigara böreği has the Lor cheese (many people know it as börek peynir in Turkey so you might see it labelled as that in Turkish supermarkets), it has the chopped parsley, it has the beaten egg mixture… and then we love to add some very finely chopped red onion (colour and flavour), some very finely chopped red pepper (colour and flavour, again) and, of course, a bit of fresh chilli, too.
For the börek cases – the yufka:
Sigara böreği is a börek dish. It’s rolls of yufka , which, if you can’t get hold of yufka, can be substituted with phyllo pastry. If you’re in Turkey, though, or you live in an area where someone is making yufka, use the freshest daily yufka as it’s much easier to work with. It’s delicate, yet forgiving, and almost therapeutic to work with if you handle it confidently.
If the yufka isn’t fresh – or even if it’s vacuum-packed, it will break up whilst you’re trying to roll it…or it might even stick together and tear apart as you try to prise the sheets apart. We’re writing this from personal experience and it’s enough to put you off working with yufka for good. In Turkey, go to your local yufkacı and buy the sheets fresh; you’ll fall in love with the stuff!
As you will have seen in our other börek recipes (such as our paçanga böreği recipe), yufka is sold in huge circular sheets, around 60cm in diameter. For our cheese rolls, we need to make triangles for each sigara. This is really easy. As you can see in the diagram above, we’re just going to fold a yufka sheet in half. Then, with the straight edge facing away from us, we’re going to start about 4 inches in from the left and cut diagonally towards the bottom left corner. Then we go back up the that top starting pointing and cut diagonally towards the right bottom, giving us an approximate 4-inch curved base of our triangle. From that bottom bottom point, we go back up towards the right, aiming again for an approximate 4-inch triangle base at the top…and so on…
Aim to get around 4-5 diagonals so that you get roughly 5-6 triangles. Open them out and you will have 10-12 triangles from your sheet (you’ll have to cut some in half where your fold was. Whilst you roll each sigara, cover the rest of your triangles with a plastic bag or clean, damp cloth to prevent them drying out.
Rolling your sigara börek:
In Turkish ‘sigara’ means cigarette. A cheese roll resembles a short fat cigar in shape, hence its name, ‘cigarette pastry.’ There have been suggestions of late that it ought to be called kalem böreği (pen/pencil pastry) but whether this will catch on or not, who knows… In seaside resorts, you’re more likely to see ‘cheese rolls,’ on your menu, anyway.
And creating your cheese rolls is easy…
- On a large, flat surface, you place your first triangle of yufka, pointed end away from you. We add a heaped teaspoonful of börek cheese filling to the wide end and spread it into a thin line, leaving a small gap either side.
- Then we brush the yufka with egg and start to roll.
- As with paçanga böreği, we fold the flat end over the top of the cheese, fold in the edges and brush the pointed end with egg mixture.
- Now it’s just a case of continuing to roll upwards until you get to the top.
That’s the first sigara böreği (cheese roll) done…
We need to keep going now, creating each sigara böreği until we’ve used up our yufka and cheese filling. 3 sheets of yufka with 300 grams of börek cheese will make roughly 30 individual sigara. It depends how many triangles you make from each sheet and how much filling you want in each of your cheese rolls.
How To Make Sigara Böreği
- 3 sheets fresh yufka (or the equivalent in phyllo pastry)
- 1 egg beaten together with a splash of milk
- Sunflower oil for deep frying
- 300g börek cheese (crumbled feta cheese can be a substitute)
- 1 medium sized red onion, very finely chopped
- 1 red capsicum pepper, deseeded and very finely chopped
- 1 egg, beaten
- ½ bunch flat leaf parsley, very finely chopped
- On a hard, flat surface, take one sheet of yufka and fold it in half.
- Have the straight flat side facing away from you.
- With a sharp knife, start around 4 inches in from the top left and cut diagonally downwards to the bottom left to make a triangle.
- Now go back to the top point and cut down diagonally to the right so that you have a curved triangular base, again, of around 4 inches.
- Keep going until you reach the end of your yufka sheet and you have a series of triangles of roughly similar sizes (they don't need to be exact).
- Separate your yufka triangles and cover with a plastic bag or damp cloth so they don't dry out.
- Take all of your ingredients and mix them together, thoroughly, in a bowl.
- Take your first yufka triangle and place it on a hard flat surface, pointed end facing away from you.
- Place one heaped teaspoonful of your cheese mixture about 1 inch above the wide end of your triangle.
- Arrange the cheese mixture into a thin line, leaving a small gap at each side.
- Brush the top part of the triangle with your egg mixture.
- Fold the wide end over your cheese mixture.
- Now fold in the edges at each side so your filling is encased.
- Roll the yufka until you get to the top point of your triangle.
- Keep doing this until you have used up all of your yufka or filling.
- Take a pan for deep frying and heat your sunflower oil.
- Fry your sigara böreği in batches for 3-4 minutes until golden brown.
- Remove and leave to drain on kitchen paper.
- Serve hot as a meze or with Turkish breakfast
Calorie count is meant as a rough guide and is based on one cheese roll.
Cheese rolls can be eaten cold, too, but they are best served hot.
Your uncooked cheese rolls will keep in the fridge for a couple of days if you don't eat them all at once.
You can also freeze sigara böreği and cook straight from frozen.
Sigara böreği can be oven-baked but the traditional way to cook them is to deep fry them.
Mmm, Time To Eat Our Sigara Böreği
If you want to be healthy, you can individually brush each sigara with a bit of oil or egg and bake them in the oven as I’ve done with the previous börek recipes. However, sigara are usually deep-fried and we only have them a couple of times a year so we tend to deep fry them as a treat.
Deep fry your sigara in batches – they only take 3-4 minutes – and when the pastry has turned golden, remove them from the pan and place on kitchen roll to drain for a minute or so.
Serve your hot, crispy, spicy sigara böreği to your friends – they’ll love it! Cheese rolls are a definite winner whether they are a starter on their own, part of your meze table or even part of your Turkish breakfast.
- These days, you can buy ready-cut yufka triangles in the supermarkets. We have never used these so we don’t know if they dry out quickly on opening, making them difficult to work with – and we prefer to support our local yufkacı.
- Uncooked sigara böreği will keep in your fridge, covered, for a couple of days. You can also freeze them and cook them from frozen. We have never done this as our cheese rolls tend to be devoured by friends on the day we make them!
There are over 90 Turkish recipes in this foodie Istanbul book on Amazon…
And our own list of Turkish recipes is growing too…