• Brik's neutral, earthy flavour makes it ideal for use in a wide variety of dishes. (Getty Images )Source: Getty Images
Commonly mistaken for filo or puff pastry, brik is a Tunisian specialty that is enjoyed with different sweet and savoury fillings across the Middle East.
By
Melissa Woodley

13 Jul 2021 - 4:54 PM  UPDATED 13 Jul 2021 - 4:54 PM

--- A Middle East Feast premieres 8.00pm Thursday 24 June on SBS Food, or stream it free via SBS On Demand. For recipes, articles and more head to the program page here. ---

 

Despite being ubiquitous across Tunisia and other Middle Eastern and North African countries, brik (pronounced "breek") is unbeknown to most Australians. It's time to become acquainted with this delicate yet delicious ingredient.

Brik is a very thin pastry, about 1mm thick, which is predominantly made from water and flour. It has a lacy texture that becomes light and flaky when cooked, similar to filo and spring roll pastry.

The origins of brik are hard to trace but it dates back at least 500 years. The word 'brik' is thought to have stemmed from the Turkish word börek, which is a savoury stuffed, baked pastry made using filo or yufka. You can find the local equivalent of brik pastry in regions across the Middle East where it may also be termed bric, börek, burek, warqa or malsouka.

The many names for which brik is known are far exceeded by the number of ways it's eaten across these regions. Each cuisine gives the pastry its own spin, exchanging the type of flour, the technique for applying the batter or the flavour combinations. The pastry's neutral, earthy flavour makes it ideal for use in a wide variety of dishes.

Shane Delia, host of A Middle East Feast and director of Middle Eastern hospitality group, Delia, says, "A lot of pastries are just another medium for holding things together, but [brik] is actually a big part of the flavour profile and the textural profile of a dish.

"It's unbelievably brittle and crispy but has also got this unique earthiness that seems to amplify the flavour. If you're cooking with meats, it just absorbs the flavour, but still stays nice and crisp and then has a way of imparting its own flavour into the dish."

Brik pastry is commonly used to make bastille, a traditional Moroccan pie filled with seafood or chicken. It also forms the wrapper for rolls, as well as pastry pockets in the shape of triangles, square parcels or thin cigars. These are filled with a variety of sweet and savoury fillings including ground meat, beans, cheese, and vegetables, then sealed and deep or shallow fried.

SHANE DELIA MAKES BRIK
Lamb brik cigars

Crisp deep-fried rolls of brik pastry filled with lamb mince and parsley, served with fresh lemon and yoghurt.

Delia's favourite way to use brik pastry is to make a non-traditional filling of cabbage, flaked pigeon, pine nuts and foie gras.

"I sauté everything with a little bit of cinnamon and spices, onions, garlic and bit of rice," he describes. "It creates this really beautiful umami flavour. Then once you wrap it in the pastry and bake it, it just intensifies. For me it's one of the most beautiful ways to eat it."

"If you're cooking with meats, it just absorbs the flavour, but still stays nice and crisp and then has a way of imparting its own flavour into the dish."

Moshe Ittah grew up in Israel where his Tunisian mother would make this traditional pastry for family lunch every Friday.

"We used to cook it with eggs inside," says the head chef and owner of New Jaffa restaurant. "What you do is you [crack] eggs in the middle, and you hold the two edges, and when you put it inside the hot oil, the pastry kind of sticks together. This makes the egg soft inside and the outside very crunchy."

Ittah hopes to recreate this recipe at his Middle Eastern and North African inspired restaurant New Jaffa, where he plans to pair the warm, runny egg centre with an eggplant salsa.

Both Delia and Ittah know firsthand that making brik pastry is not as easy as the professionals make it look. Traditionally, the pastry is formed by dabbing the dough onto a hot pan. A more home-friendly method involves using a brush to paint the batter onto a hot surface. As the batter cooks, the pastry will bind and form a thin layer that you can peel off once ready.

Cooking such a thin pastry is challenging as it is prone to burning, dries out quickly and often sticks to the pan.

"Make sure you make the batter in advance, and give it enough time to relax," Delia says. "Also make sure that your pan or whatever you're cooking it on is at the right temperature so it's hot enough. If it's not hot enough, it just sticks."

Instead of cooking it above a high heat, some chefs suggest doing so on a flat surface over a pot of boiling water that is no hotter than 100°C. This provides sufficient time to spread a thin layer without it drying out or burning.

The initial cooking of brik pastry differentiates it from filo dough, to which it is commonly compared. Whilst just as thin, filo pastry is completely raw before cooking and less sturdy. Brik pastry has been cooked to some extent, so it doesn't break as easily and the layers are less likely to stick together.

Making brik from scratch is a time-consuming process requiring not only proper equipment but a lot of patience. For those who want to enjoy this delicacy without the hassle, it can be purchased from premium grocers and stores, but frozen spring roll wrappers are a common substitute.

"My advice would be having enough in the freezer so you never have to buy any," Delia jokes. "It does cost a couple of bucks more than some of the other [pastries]…but the end result is so much better. It's 100 per cent worth it."

Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries.

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