Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bulgarian Cooking Project: Banitsa

A friend of mine suggested that I make Bulgarian cooking a "side project" while I'm here. I think it's a great idea and I've decided to document my experiments. First up is banitsa, a Bulgarian cheese pastry made from eggs, yogurt, cheese and paper-thin dough (like phyllo). The filling doesn't always have to be cheese- there are versions with apple, onion and my favorite, pumpkin. I learned how to make it from my friend Dessy, who showed me the way her grandmother taught her.

Here are the ingredients:
- 1 package banitsa dough
- 5 eggs
- 1 pint of yogurt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- Crumbled cirene (soft, white, feta-like cheese)
- Sunflower oil

Preheat oven. I still haven't figured out what the correct temperature is exactly, but about 175 Celsius seemed to work fine. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Combine baking soda and yogurt separately, let sit for one minute until yogurt starts to expand. Mix with eggs. Add crumbled cheese and oil. I use about 300-400 grams of cheese and less than a half cup of oil, but you could add more of either one. Grease a large, round, shallow baking dish with oil and place two layers of dough on the bottom. For the remaining layers you should squeeze them gently into a loose ball and then place in the pan so that the folds can hold the mixture. Spoon the egg mixture over the folds, not coating the dough entirely but spreading it across the whole pan. Continue until you run out of dough and make sure to leave enough of the egg mixture to coat the top of the pie with it or the dough will burn. Brush oil on any remaining dough poking out and place pan in the oven. The pie will be ready in 25 to 40 minutes, depending on the oven. Wait for it to cool before cutting into slices and enjoy! One variation is to sprinkle a little water on the top and then add sugar- this makes the banitsa both savory and sweet.
Not the most beautiful banitsa in the world but pretty tasty!

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