Savory Cheese Turnovers

My husband’s short story, A Variation in Temperature, has stuck with me ever since it was published in 2009. Al’s title refers to the process of sap running in the maple trees. This time of year in New England, with the winter gradually thawing to spring, the sap flows at different speeds depending on the temperature. It’s collected in metal cans and eventually boiled down to create sweet maple syrup. Whether it’s running or not, the sap is always there, it’s always strong.

A Variation in Temperature isn’t about trees. It’s about intimacy. It’s about the bond between people that is always there whether acknowledged or not. I share a strong bond with my cousins. We grew up in a large, extended family on Long Island. No longer children―some are grandparents―we’re at the point in our lives where it’s our turn to take care of our parents. This past week we nearly lost some of the older generation. With sudden and painful decisions to be made, we connected instantly and are still supporting each other through the process of watching our parents weaken while at the same time show remarkable strength getting through traumatic surgeries and the aftercare. The sap of family connection and joint childhood experiences is in our blood always—showing its sweet side when we need it the most.

My grandparents, Herman & Rachel Zacharia. Date unknown. Rachel as a girl, approximately 1915.

These Savory Cheese Turnovers―Sephardic Borekas—are based on a dish our grandmother Rachel baked for us. Traditionally made with filo dough, I chose to use a soft, buttery pastry lightened with a bit of Greek yogurt—also a childhood favorite—instead. The filling is a mixture of sweet Russet potatoes, feta cheese, eggs and fresh herbs. Traditionally eaten for breakfast with some hardboiled eggs and a dash of lemon juice, these turnovers are equally good for dinner with some herb pesto and a simple salad.

I look forward to seeing you in my kitchen, gathering flavors, soon.


Savory Turnovers with Potato and Cheese Filling

Yield: 24 Turnovers


For the pastry:

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plain  Greek yogurt, preferably whole milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • About 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

  • 4 large Russet potatoes
  • 2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Handful fresh chives, lightly chopped

For the egg wash:

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Sea salt


To make the pastry:

  1. In a medium bowl or in a standing mixer, combine the butter, yogurt, egg, salt and pepper. Beat to combine. Gradually add the flour. Mix until just combined.
  2. Form the dough into a ball, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour.

To make the filling:

  1. While the dough is chilling, peel the potatoes and place in a large pot. Cover with water and place on the stovetop. Bring the water to a boil then lower the temperature to a simmer. Simmer the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and cool.
  2. Place the potatoes and all the remaining ingredients into the bowl of a food processor.  Mix until fully blended.

To assemble and bake the turnovers:

  1. Lightly flour a clean work service.
  2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into 24 pieces.
  3. Roll out each piece into a small circle. Place a large spoonful of filling in  center of the circle. Fold the dough over the top of the filling to form a crescent shape. Pinch the edges of the dough together and place on a baking sheet. Repeat until you have 24 turnovers.
  4. Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least one hour.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  6. Mix the egg and milk in a small bowl.
  7. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  8. Place the prepared turnovers on the cookie sheets. Brush with the egg mixture. Sprinkle with sea salt. Using a sharp knife, make two slits on the top of each turnover.
  9. Place in the oven and bake until golden, about 20 minutes.
  10. Serve warm and enjoy.


  1. This recipe was based on memories of my grandmother’s kitchens and adapted from Olive Trees and Honey by Gil Mark.
  2. For a full meal, serve with hard boiled eggs sprinkled with fresh lemon juice and a simple green salad.
  3. Store any leftover turnovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheat before serving.



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Dena Testa Bray has been writing Gathering Flavors, a culinary blog, since 2011. She is a trained chef & ran a home based cooking school. Dena now designs websites, focusing on work with creative people. You can see her website work at She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and family.