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Who’s Cooking: Rachel Segal, Huntington

Rachel Segal with her borecas, at her home

Rachel Segal with her borecas, at her home in Huntington. Credit: Ed Betz

Rachel Segal, a grandmother of four, lives in Huntington.


What is your background and how has it influenced your cooking?

My family fled from Spain to Palestine and then fled to Central America. I was born in Panama and raised in Israel and Panama. But I consider myself more Israeli than Panamanian. I’m a Sephardic Jew. Our dishes are full of flavor, with a lot of spices. I learned to cook watching my mother. My mother used to use her hands to measure the flour, her fingers to measure the baking powder. She had the instinct to make things successfully. And if a dish went wrong, she was able to turn it around and make it into a new dish.


Are you teaching your grandchildren some of these traditions?

Sometimes I invite my grandchildren to join me. They love to bake and cook. There is a Sephardic custom: If you go visiting to your Nonna’s house, you bring cookies. My granddaughter always brings cookies. It makes me feel that the tradition continues. I make borecas especially for my grandson, who loves them when he comes home from college.


What are some of your other specialties?

I make stuffed grape leaves and stuffed cabbage, with a sweet-and-sour sauce. We use a lot of lemon in our cooking. I make garlic broth, a very healthy broth and good with borecas.

Lightly brown 6 cloves of garlic in olive oil. When the garlic is cooked, thicken the oil with 2 or more tablespoons of flour. Add 3 cups of water, mix well and stir until it comes to a slow boil. Remove from the flame. Add your favorite grated cheese and stir until the cheese is melted.

Where does this dish come from?

Sephardic Jews make borecas. Here they call them empanadas.


Any tips for success?

If you don’t succeed at first, don’t give up. Just keep on trying until you get the knack.


Are there ways to vary the recipe?

You can fill the borecas with ground beef instead of cheese. What I do is cook ground beef with grated onion and garlic salt. It’s not necessary to add oil to the pan. The fat in the meat will be enough. If you are using meat as a filling, use margarine instead of butter in the dough, so it’s kosher.


For the filling:

8 ounces cream cheese

8 ounces feta cheese

1 cup mashed potatoes

For the dough:

3 cups unbleached flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

9 tablespoons butter or margarine

Ice water as needed

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Make the filling: In a bowl, mix together the cream cheese, feta cheese and mashed potatoes until smooth.

3. Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter or margarine and incorporate with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add cold water until a smooth dough forms. On a countertop or board, knead the dough for 10 minutes.

4. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll out the dough to a 1⁄4 -inch thickness. Use a glass to cut 4-inch rounds, rerolling scraps and using all the dough. Place a teaspoon of the cheese mixture in the middle of each round. Fold and pinch well to seal.

5. Place on a large ungreased baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool and eat warm or at room temperature. Cooled borecas may be frozen in a zipper-lock bag. Reheat in an oven or toaster oven before serving. Makes about 2 1⁄2 dozen.

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