A Bosnian Feast from Balkan Market

My intent when ducking into Balkan Market and Coffee Shop (10928 Westheimer) last week wasn't to indulge in a giant side of smoked beef. It was actually to get supplies for dinner that evening, which I managed to accomplish despite being distracted by the vast quantities of goveđa pršuta and Nutella.

Across the street at Cafe Pita +, my two favorite items on the menu are the spinach burek and the slightly spicy ajvar, the roasted red pepper spread that NPR refers to as "Serbian salsa." Luckily, Balkan Market had both of these items readily in stock.

The market stocks more varieties of ajvar than I've seen on any other grocery store shelves in Houston, including at the vaunted Phoenicia. I'll admit that I chose the jar I bought because I liked its shape and planned on reusing it later, sans label. There were fewer brands of burek available in the deep freezers at the rear of the store, but still far more than any other store stocks. (Think about it: When was the last time you saw frozen burek anywhere? Exactly.)

Burek reminds me of spanakopita on steroids. It's a fair bet that if you like the flaky Greek dish stuffed with spinach and feta, you'll love burek. That's not to say that burek always has spinach inside; the layers of phyllo dough can also contain beef, potatoes, cheese and even fruit fillings like apples or sour cherries. Cafe Pita + has the savory versions available, as does Balkan Market. But it was the spinach that I happily chose from the freezer.

The burek you'll get at Cafe Pita + and Balkan Market is the traditional "rolled" form of the pastry, which looks a bit like an unglazed cinnamon bun. In countries like Turkey, the burek takes the form of long cigars, while in Greece, bouréki -- sisters to spanakopita -- are cut from large trays into triangles or rectangles. With the frozen version, all I needed to do was stick it in a raging hot oven until brown, which took about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, I snacked on ajvar and cheese, spread on a fresh loaf of French bread from Slow Dough. It wasn't lepinja -- the soft bread served at Cafe Pita + -- and the cheese wasn't fried, but it was all delicious, especially with the scent of buttery phyllo spreading throughout the house. Paired with a bottle of unoaked chardonnay, the burek and the remaining cheese made for a wonderful and extremely low-effort weekday dinner.

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