In my post, Three women who helped shape my world view, I talked about one woman, Gram, who taught me a lot about life as well as a lot about Armenia and great Armenian food.
One of my all-time favorite recipes was for Sou-boerag or Armenian Cheese Pie. I’ve seen various versions of this dish – some use a combination of Muenster and Feta cheeses, some use phyllo dough, and some are made in round tins.
The recipe that follows is one that was written down as Gram made it one day. She never used recipes – she did everything from memory. I wanted to preserve her actual recipe, but I also realize that this is a rather complicated dish to prepare, and I would probably opt for using phyllo dough that I purchased from the frozen food section of my grocery store in the future.
It’s certainly true that I was unable to roll my dough into the paper-thin layers like she was able to do so my end product was not nearly as good or perfect as the Sou-boerag that she used to prepare. But, it was close, and it was so good to bite into a piece and reminisce about Gram and her Boston kitchen where I sat and listened and learned about Armenia over 30 years ago.
Sou-boerag dough ingredients.
Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the eggs and water and mix on low until combined.
Knead on medium for 5 to 10 minutes. The dough will be very stiff and elastic.
Divide into 8 equal pieces, place into a lightly greased bowl, cover, and allow to rest for 2 to 3 hours.
Sou-boerag filling ingredients plus butter to be melted for brushing onto the rolled dough.
Grate the Muenster cheese.
Add the finely chopped parsley.
Toss to combine. Set aside.
When you are ready to roll the dough, prepare your workspace with 2 large pots of water – one should be filled with boiling salted water, and the other with cold water. Have a few lint-free towels laying on a flat surface nearby to absorb the water from the cooked layers of dough. The process of putting the Sou-boerag together goes quickly so you must have everything in place.
Preheat your oven to 375° F.
Brush the bottom of a sheet pan with melted butter.
Roll dough, two pieces at a time, into paper-thin layers about the size of ½ a sheet pan.
Place a piece of dough into the boiling water and allow to cook for about 15 seconds. The dough should rise to the top.
Remove and place immediately into the cold water for a few seconds. Then remove and place onto dry, lint-free towels to dry.
The dough layers will be puckery. That is okay and how it should be.
The first two layers of dough should lay on the sheet pan side by side. Brush each layer with melted butter.
The third sheet of dough should go into the center. Brush with melted butter. Divide the fourth layer in ½, and place on each side of the third layer. Brush each piece with melted butter.
Add the cheese mixture and spread evenly over the dough layers. Notice that the overhanging dough is tucked up over the cheese layer.
Roll out the remaining four pieces of dough and layer and brush with melted butter in the same manner as the bottom layers.
The overhanging dough is tucked under the edges, and the Souboerag is ready to bake.
Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the Sou-boerag is golden brown on top and bottom.
Allow the Sou-boerag to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting.
You may think that this is just a very glorified and complicated grilled cheese sandwich, but you would be so wrong about that! The Sou-boerag is cheesy and buttery and crispy and tender all at the same time!
Sou-boerag (Armenian Cheese Pie)
Makes 24 pieces
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
4 eggs, beaten
3 to 4 TB water
2 pounds Muenster cheese, grated
½ bunch parsley, chopped fine
To put together:
1 stick of butter, melted (more if necessary to adequately coat all layers of dough)
To make the dough:
Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the eggs and water. Turn the mixer on low until combined. Knead on medium speed for 5 to 10 minutes. Dough will be hard and elastic. Divide into 8 equal sized portions and place in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rest for 2 to 3 hours.
To make the filling:
Toss the grated cheese with the parsley.
To put together:
Preheat oven to 375° F.
Brush the bottom of a 12×17 sheet pan with melted butter. Set aside. You will need two containers of water – in one pot, bring salted water to a rolling boil. Another pot or large bowl should be filled with cold water. Have a few clean, lint-free towels laying on a flat surface near the water. These will be used to dry the dough before placing them onto the sheet pan.
Roll out the balls of dough, two at a time, paper-thin. The size of the rolled dough should be large enough to roughly cover ½ of the sheet pan. Dip a sheet of rolled dough into the boiling water, and allow to cook for about 15 seconds. The piece of dough should rise to the top of the boiling water. Remove and immediately dip into the cold water to cool and then onto a towel to absorb the excess water. The dough will be puckered – that is how okay and how it should look.
Lay first sheet onto ½ of the pan and brush with melted butter. Cover the other ½ of the pan with the second sheet and brush with butter. Lay the third sheet on the center of the pan and brush with butter. Cut the fourth sheet in ½ and layer on each side of the third sheet, and brush with butter.
Layer the cheese mixture evenly over the layers of dough.
Repeat the process with the fifth through eighth pieces of dough, brushing each layer with melted butter. Tuck any overhanging edges into the sides of the pan.
Bake in a preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour until golden brown.
Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting and serving.