‘Around the World in Eighty Recipes’ is a series of authentic regional recipes cooked and explained by local friends from all over our beautiful and precious planet. After our Colombian Feast we are now in the second chapter of this gastronomic-world-trip, if you want your country to be featured don´t hesitate to contact us!
Easter Europe recalls me an imagery made of extremely cold weather, goulash, castles, dark forests and vampires. I’ve been only in Croatia for a couple of days and that’s it. I guess that winters are pretty cold there and that a real proper goulash must be heavenly delicious. But, thanks to a stormy evening in Amsterdam I bumped into two Bulgarian girls, who ended up being the godmothers of my dog.
They introduced me to this Eastern world that is far richer and intriguing than what some people could expect. First of all, thanks to them I discovered that Bulgaria is the homeland of yoghurt, which is indeed produced by the lactobacillus delbrueckii bulgaricus.
Bulgaria has so many things in common with the Mediterranean culture and gastronomy that it makes it such an interesting and mysterious country to somebody like me, who always ignored and misunderstood it.
One of Bulgaria´s favourite recipes is called banitsa. A layered pie made with filo pastry, cheese, yoghurt and eggs that seems to be the result of a foodie marriage between Turkey and the Balkans.
Here you´ll find everything you need to know to make this proper pastry miracle!
- filo pastry 400 gr
- Bulgarian fresh cow cheese 600 gr
- yoghurt 500gr
- 6 eggs
- baking soda
- sparkling water or beer
Note: the cheese required for this recipe is very similar to feta, but as my friends explained me they are not the same thing. Usually, you can find this specific cheese in Turkish shops. And, please never ask a Bulgarian if you can use Greek yoghurt, I got the angriest gaze of my life for saying such a barbarian comment!
Turn the oven on at 180°C as the first thing so it will get hot while preparing your banitsa.
Pour the yoghurt into a bowl and add a pinch of baking soda to it, work it and let it sit until it starts making some air bubbles. In the meantime mix the eggs lightly and then mash the cheese by hands in another bowl.
Now you can gently mix the eggs with the cheese. Then add the yoghurt and mix everything together using a fork, as it allows the air to come through the mixture.
Butter the bottom of the baking tray and now start to rip the filo pastry into pieces and curly them layering up the whole tray to make the first layer.
Cut small pieces of butter (banitsa is a very fatty treat, as my friend says and you better trust her!) and distribute them all over the pastry, now proceed to scatter around a bit of egg and cheese mixture.
Keep layering up: pastry, mixture, pastry, mixture as long as the ingredients last!
Once you have done with your layering, make some random cuts all around the banitsa: in this way, everything will mix better.
Last step before baking: pour quickly some sparkling water or beer all over (as you were adding some wine to your stew) be careful to t covert he opening of the bottle with a finger to make sure to not pour too much water.
Now bake for about 1 hour at 180°C
Note: the friend who introduced me to this recipe said that most Bulgarians (including her parents) would say that the ingredients are a bit too much. So if you have some mixture left you can make what they call princesses: slices of bread with the egg-cheese-yoghurt mixture on top. To make the princesses completely Bulgarian, you can add some salty spice mix (or colourful salt as they call it).
*another important thing you need to know is that in this version of banitsa we ripped the filo pastry to make the layers, but there are many many many different ways to do it. For instance, you could make sort of rolls or small spirals and place all of them one next to the other. Be creative!
The best thing about banitsa is that the recipe I illustrated you is just the very basic and traditional one, but you can basically fill it up with (almost) everything you want! One very popular option, for instance, is to add some spinach to it. And if you are more of a sweet kind of person, you can even make it as a dessert!
Another Bulgarian friend provided me with the instructions for a sweet variation of banitsa, made with pumpkin and walnuts.
The procedure is exactly the same as the previous salty version, the only things that change are the ingredients:
- filo pastry 500 gr
- pumpkin 800 gr
- sugar 200 gr
- walnuts 150 gr
Don´t precook the pumpkin, but grate it instead, and layer the banitsa alternating the pastry with a mixture of grated pumpkin, sugar, walnuts and cinnamon.