Salty Cheese and Olive Israeli Borekas in Flaky Dough (Sambusak)

By Jessica Halfin

This is a different style of boreka called “sambusak.” Sambusak can be found in many Israeli bakeries, and is known for its short crust and half-moon shape. The savory turnover-style pastry is distinctly Middle Eastern in origin, but can be found all over the world with different fillings. This recipe is typical Israeli in that it uses salty Bulgarit cheese and olive filling. If you are not in Israel, substitute feta cheese for a similar result.

Makes approx. 2 dozen sambusaks.

For the dough: 

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (300g)
2 tbs (30g) white sugar
1 tsp (5g) salt
1 cup (200g) butter, cut into cubes
1 1/2 tsp. (7ml) white vinegar
Up to 1/2 cup (125ml) water
Approximately ¼ cup (63ml) whole milk for brushing the pastries before baking
Sesame seeds for sprinkling on top

Cut butter into the flour mixture using your fingers or a pastry cutter. Stop, once the mixture is sandy with large chunks of butter still remaining throughout.

Fold in half the amount of water with the use of a spatula, and then add the remaining amount little by little until the mixture comes together to form a cohesive dough. You may not need all the water.

Gather the dough into a ball, and gently press into a flat disc. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let chill in the fridge for 2 hours before using, to relax the gluten and firm up the butter.
For the filling:

3 ½ cups (550g) 5% fat soft Bulgarit or feta cheese
1 ½ cups (250g) 5% fat cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Pinch ground black pepper
Granulated garlic to taste
1/2 cup (65g) pitted green olives, chopped
Blend cheeses, eggs, and spices in a food processor or blender until smooth. Stir in the chopped olives, and set aside until ready to fill the sambusak.

To assemble the sambusak:

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees (175 Celsius).

Roll out the dough into a large circle of about 1/8th inch (3mm) thickness. Using a glass or large pastry cutter, cut out as many circles as possible.

Repeat the process, stopping to chill the dough for 20-30 minutes if it becomes too warm.

Gently enlarge the outer edge of each cut circle slightly using your fingertips, and fill with a heaping tablespoon of the cheese mixture placed in the center of the circle. Stretch the bottom half of the dough up and over to cover the filling, and pinch to seal on the outer edge creating a half-moon shape. Use a tiny amount of water along the edge to get the dough to stick, if necessary.

Place on a baking-paper lined tray*, brush with milk, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake for 30 minutes, or until lightly golden and cooked through. 

Best enjoyed warm or at room-temperature.

*For extra flaky results, and if you have the fridge space, let the filled sambusak chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before glazing and baking.


Tips for exploring Haifa’s Downtown street food scene:

Grab your sneakers and set out on foot. Many of Haifa’s best food establishments are small, and found in tiny pathways within the neighborhoods’ winding streets and alleys. Walking is the best way to stumble upon things that you weren’t even aware were there.

Let your senses guide you. Go where the wind takes you. You might not know that a pita factory is just up ahead until the smell of freshly baking bread wafts up your nostrils.

Find pleasure in the seasonality of things. To Israelis, fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables are also street food! You need only to step into a fruits and vegetable store to really appreciate the wonders of the season’s bounty. Have you ever tasted freshly picked za’atar leaves over labane?

Recommended eateries in the Downtown Haifa area:

Borekas Bachar HaAgala-בורקס בכר העגלה 35 Derech Atzmaut
Must eat: Cheese Borekas (Borekas gvina) with roasted egg (beitzah), pickles (chamutzim), and Za’atar spice

Maafiat HaBankim-מאפיית הבנקים 6 HaBankim Street
Must Eat: Sesame bread sticks (kaek); cheese Danish (maafeh gvina); Chocolate Rugelach
Falafel HaWadi Mishel-פלאפל הואדי מישל Derech Yafo 39
Must Eat: Falafel sandwich (falafel ba’pita) with assorted homemade pickles (chamutzim), salad (salatim), and tahini (thina)

Hummus Eliyahu- 2 Shivat Tzion Street
Must Eat: Hummus topped with cooked chick peas (Choo-moos gargirim); fluffy pita, and lemonade (limonada). End your meal with a strong Arabic coffee (kafe shachoor) and cookies on the house.

Libira Brew Pub- -ליבירהHaNamal 26

Must Drink: Beer sampler of Libira’s own craft beers (te’imat bira) and Focaccia bread.

Jessica Halfin is an American immigrant to Israel of 10 years, an Israeli-trained baker and gourmet cook, and self-proclaimed “foodie”. She is the owner of The Jamstress baking workshops, and Haifa Street Food Tours, through which she gives foodie tours to tourists in Haifa City, and hosts baking workshops and foodie experiences for the local population.

For more information on The Jamstress and Haifa Street Food Tours, visit:; On Trip Advisor:; or on Facebook, at: ;

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