Bazlama is my favorite bread in Turkey. It’s round and can range in size from English muffin (or what we Americans call an English muffin) up to about 10 inches across. Sometimes bazlama can be made even larger, like for a party or event.
Bazlama resembles English muffins in texture, too. The outer surface is a little chewy, and the inside is light, almost spongy, with a delicate flavor. It’s made with yeast, with olive oil and yogurt to lend moisture; the yogurt also helps it rise more and gives bazlama that wonderful crumb, so perfect for holding butter or melted cheese.
When we want a simple lunch at the weekly market, we buy bazlama filled with cheese. The ladies at our favorite bazlama shop take a lighly-baked bazlama, slice it open horizontally (again, just like an English muffin), fill it with grated cheese, add some butter, and put it on a huge convex iron cooking surface. It’s the same cooking surface they use for gözleme, a very large, thin pancake made from unleavened dough, filled with something delicious, and then folded over and cut in pieces to serve.
We like gözleme filled with spinach and cheese, but I like the texture and flavor of bazlama much better. A couple of times, I asked the man who takes orders at the gözleme shop for bazlama with cheese and spinach. He refused, saying the spinach wouldn’t work. I capitulated of course, but I still really wanted the combination of garlicky spinach, melty cheese and chewy bazlama. I would have to make it myself at home.
The spinach worked fine; I was able to get it dry enough. What didn’t work out so well was the baking part. I heated the oven to a medium temperature, and the filling and cheese did exactly what I wanted – the cheese melted beautifully into the bread and into the cooked spinach.
The outer surface of the bazlama became too hard, though, even a little toasty. It was almost impossible for me to cut the large bazlama into wedges; I had a hard time keeping the top piece of bread from sliding off the filling. It didn’t help that the whole thing was hot, hot, hot. We also don’t have the right sort of long, really sharp knife, so I just did my best with my short well-sharpened knife, and then, once I’d finished cutting, nudged the wedges of bazlama back together into some semblance of their proper shape.
The other problem was flavor. I used the freshest spinach (and it is really fresh from our weekly market), chopped and sauteed with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. It was okay – not an amazing burst of flavor like I really wanted and could actually mentally taste.
Then one day last week we were in Kaş, changing buses. We walked down the hill to have lunch at Kaptan Pide, a busy cafe near the bus station. Pide is another traditional filled bread. It’s boat-shaped, made of dough that’s unleavened, not as thin as gözleme but not as thick as pizza. I am not a huge fan of the bread part of pide, but as it turned out, Kaptan Pide makes a really delicious spinach-and-cheese pide.
What sets it apart is the way they add garlic: They fry it until it’s lightly toasted, then sprinkle it on top of the spinach. I don’t know if they add it before or after they bake the pide, but the taste is wonderful. It’s garlicky in the best possible way, so much better than when I saute garlic in the pan and then add the spinach (or any vegetable, actually).
So for today’s version of homemade spinach-and-cheese bazlama, I fried the garlic in a little olive oil, separate from the spinach. I tried a few other things as well. Before filling the bazlama, I rubbed a very thin layer of olive oil on the outside of each half, hoping that the crust wouldn’t toughen up too much when baking. (You could also try wrapping the bazlama in parchment paper or aluminum foil before baking – or maybe cover the bazlama with a glass or metal pan lid. I don’t have foil or parchment paper, and I’m afraid if I use the one glass pan lid we have that’s big enough, the plastic grip on top will melt or crack in the oven.) I also ground a little sea salt onto the spinach filling before I topped it with cheese and the remaining bazlama half. The salt also made a great taste difference.
I’ve written out the method (I can’t really call it a recipe) for this delicious bazlama, both for my own future use and to share with any of you readers who want to try it. Without exact amounts, then, here’s how to make Aliza’s Spinach-and-Cheese Bazlama.
- 1 medium bazlama (about 10 inches across), split the horizontal way
- Lots of fresh spinach, dried after washing – maybe 12 to 16 ounces
- About 1 heaped tsp nigella seeds
- 4 huge garlic cloves, peeled
- About 2 cups of grated taze kaşar (note on this cheese below)
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
If you can’t buy bazlama, use another bread with texture you like – you could try making small filled bazlamas by using English muffins. Or you could try splitting and filling another kind of bread roll. Or you could make your own bazlama. Here’s a recipe that looks really good: https://www.giverecipe.com/bazlama/
Lay out the spinach leaves the long way on your cutting board, a handful or so at a time. Slice down the length of the heap in 2-inch strips, and then slice across in ½-inch increments. (You don’t want to chop the spinach too fine.)
Slice the peeled garlic cloves into square chunks or cubes, about ¼ inch in one dimension. Don’t try to slice it too thin.
Grate the cheese on the large holes of the grater. Taze kaşar is a lovely mild firm cheese that melts really well; if you don’t have access to this, try edam or jack cheese or Havarti – something mild-tasting and firm enough to grate. Mozzerella is too stretchy for this recipe.
After you’ve sliced the bazlama or other bread horizontally for filling, lightly oil the outside surface. If the bread is a bit underbaked to start with, all the better.
Lay the thicker half of the bread on a baking tray, crumb side up, and evenly spread half the grated cheese over it.
Heat a little olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Salt the oil, grind in some black pepper, and drop in the nigella seeds. When the seeds start to sizzle and you can smell them, stir in all the spinach at once. Coat it all in the oil, turn the heat down a little and lid the skillet. If you don’t have a lid, just keep stirring the spinach to make sure it doesn’t burn.
If you’re using a lid, remove it after a few minutes and cook off all the liquid from the spinach, stirring and taking care not to burn it.
Assess how much spinach you have. You want the cooked amount to spread evenly over your bazlama, in a not-too-thick layer – no more than a half-inch thick. If you think you’ll need more, just stir in a little more raw chopped spinach and quickly cook it into the already-cooked spinach, cooking off the liquid.
In a smaller skillet, heat a little olive oil and saute the cubed garlic until it’s a bit toasty and smells nice. Don’t burn it.
Preheat the oven to about 250 F / 125 C.
Evenly spread the spinach over the cheese you already spread on the first half of the bazlama.
Sprinkle the cooked garlic evenly over the spinach. Grind a little salt across the surface.
Evenly layer the rest of the grated cheese over the spinach.
Top with the remaining half of the bazlama and press it down a little.
Bake for about 10 minutes, or until you can see the cheese is melting at the edges. Don’t bake too long, or the outer surface will get really difficult to slice.
After you take the tray out of the oven, wait a few minutes, then slice the baked bazlama into six or eight pie-shaped wedges. If you’ve made English-muffin-sized bazlama, no need to slice.
If you can’t eat the whole bazlama (or all the little ones you made), wait until the remaining pieces are cool. Then wrap in parchment paper and/or a plastic bag and put on a cool countertop. It’s great for breakfast in the morning, just as it is. I imagine you could freeze the leftover portions and reheat in a toaster oven or regular oven, but I haven’t tried this.
If you experiment with this at home and find a good way to keep the outer surface of the bazlama from getting too hard in the oven, please let me know in the comments section below.
I hope you love this dish as much as I do.