Banitsa

Banitza (banitsa, banica, baniza) is one of the most traditional Bulgarian meals. It is prepared by stacking up layers of filo pastry dough and mixture of eggs and Bulgarian cheese and then baked in an oven until it gets a golden crust.

As a traditional Bulgarian pastry banitsa is consumed at any meal. Banitsa is most commonly served for breakfast together with milk, plain yogurt, ayran, or boza. In Bulgaria you can purchase a ready-made banitsa from the grocery store, a street vendor, a newspaper kiosk and pretty much everywhere. Served hot or cold, it always is a very tasty meal.

It is pronounced [BAH-knee-tsa]. Bulgarian: баница.

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Traditional Banitsa

Traditionally, Bulgarians prepare and serve banitza on two holidays - Christmas and New Year's Eve. On these days, people add kismets (fortunes, lucky charms) into the banitsa. The lucky charms are usually small pieces of dogwood branch, which vary in numbers of buds on them. They symbolize health and longevity. The branches are hidden inside the banitsa, and the banitsa is then baked. When ready, the banitsa is cut in a way that each piece contains a dogwood branch. A wish is associated with each branch and the different number of buds on the branch helps to recognize the corresponding wish. The wishes include happiness, health, success, travel, etc. The banitsa is then spun on the table and everyone takes the piece which is in front of them when the spinning stops. Then they look inside the piece for the branch and find what their fortune will be during the new year.

Alternatively or in addition to the kismets, some add a coin or simply little pieces of paper with written fortunes on them (just like the ones in the fortune cookies). In this case, they are wrapped in tin foil to preserve them during baking.

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Banitsa Dough

Banitsa is made with either homemade dough or commercially made pastry sheets (filo dough, phyllo dough). Regardless of which one you prefer, you can make a great banitsa either way.

If you choose to prepare your own dough, you will need to make semi-hard dough from flour, eggs, and water. Then you will have to roll out sheets that are about a millimeter thin. See below for 5 easy steps on how to make your own banitsa.

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Banitsa Filling

The traditional banitsa filling is made of crushed Bulgarian cheese (feta), yogurt, and eggs. Another optional ingredient is baking soda. It makes the yogurt rise and makes the banitsa fluffier and richer in taste.
A sort of banitsa called tutmanik (тутманик) is made with leavened sheets. The usual filling for this one is cheese only.

Vegetable banitsas are made with veggie fillings which include spinach, leeks, nettle, onions, or cabbage (sauerkraut). Each one of these banitsas has a different name, specific to the type of vegetable used in the preparation - the cabbage banitsa is called zelnik (зелник), the leek variant is called luchnik (лучник), etc. See below for recipes.

Meat banitsas have meat fillings with minced meat, onions, and mushrooms. In some regions of Bulgaria, a filling with rice is used in the preparation.

The banitsa is such an universal pastry dish that could also be made sweet. Sweet fillings use apples (similar to apple pie or strudel), pumpkin, plain sugar, walnuts, cinnamon etc. Again, the different types of fillings bring different names to the banitsa - the apple variant is called strudel (щрудел), the pumpkin variant is tikvenik (тиквеник), etc.

Another type of sweet banitsa is the milk banitsa. It is made by baking the leaves soaked in milk with sugar and vanilla.

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Make The Banitsa

In a large greased baking dish, individual sheets are layered one by one with small amounts of filling and vegetable oil between them. After half of the sheets are placed in the pan, a large portion of the filling is spooned onto the leaves and is then covered with the remaining sheets and filling in the same manner. The pastry is then baked at 200-250 degrees Celsius. In some recipes, just before the banitsa is finished, a glass of lemonade or mineral water is poured into the tray, and the baking continues for several more minutes.

An alternative method of preparation is taking each sheet of dough, laying it out flat and sprinkling some of the filling on it. Then, the sheet is rolled up into a tight roll with the filling on the inside of the roll. The long roll is then taken and rolled up in a circle. This first sheet of dough is then placed in the baking pan. The process is repeated with the remaining sheets of dough and each consecutive roll is placed around the first one in the pan. The resulting shape resembles a spiral (see photo). The banitsa is then sprinkled with vegetable oil and baked.

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Banitsa Recipes

Ingredients
1 pack of filo dough
3 eggs
1 lb Bulgarian cheese (or feta cheese)
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup of milk or yoghurt

Preparation
Mix the crumbled cheese, milk and eggs together. Don't over mix - cheese should be lumpy. Melt the butter in a cup. Butter the bottom of a casserole pan. Lay 5-6 sheets of filo dough, one after another (not together) as you spread some butter in between - use a brush for this. Spread some of the cheese mixture on top, lay another 3-4 sheets, spreading butter in between. Repeat until all mixture is used. Lay the last 3-4 sheets on the top with no butter in between. Spread the rest of the butter on top. Cut in portion sized squares and bake in the oven until golden (about 30 minutes on 400 F).
 

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Banitsa Variations

Spinach Banitsa

Same as the regular banitsa recipe, but substitute 3 eggs with 1/2 kilogram spinach, washed, cut and lightly fried (no more than five minutes).

Green Onion Banitsa

Same as the regular banitsa recipe, but substitute 3 eggs with 5-10 stalks of green onion (about 1 cup diced onion), lightly fried (no more than ten minutes).

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Curious Facts About Banitsa

Banitsa was called a "sheep's cheese strudel" in the English-speaking media during the celebrations of the EU's 50th birthday, where this pastry was one of the 27 national desserts served. This bizarre description was given to it probably because it bears some slight resemblance to strudel.

A homemade banitsa can look rather like a large souffl�There, though, the resemblance stops, since banitsas are built up using layers of buttered filo dough.

 

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