Recipe: Banitza

5 Mar
Dish delish!

Having become very lazy of late (almost never running and simply refusing to get out on my bike until the sun shines more…) and by starting this blog I have noticed that I am becoming a little bit softer and, well, chubbier of late. Eeek.  Not helping is the fact that my office is making me fat!

My lovely co-workers are constantly tempting me!  They bring in biscuits, holiday goodies, amazing home-baked cakes and one of the worst perpetrators is my friend Denny.  She makes all kinds of incredible treats… I forgive her though because everything she makes is YUM! Including this Banitza which she bought in on Wednesday (to celebrate Bulgarian Independence Day) having cooked it firrst-thing and pedalled it into the office whilst it was still warm! She really is that amazing!

And wow. Sweet and salty crumbly feta wrapped in warm pillows of filo pastry, what a way to start the day.  She has very kindly shared the recipe, which is her grandma Mitya’s recipe, for the feta-filled filo-pastry dish that is probably top of the list of Bulgarian national dishes. The recipe comes from the north-east region of the country, where it is also known as ‘kavarma’.

Denny said her first attempt at it was excellent, the one after ended up a little soggy, the following one was decent again… Don’t worry if you get varying results – that’s always the way, even for grandma. It’s always delicious and it’s quick to prepare. Plus, for Denny, the finished result smells of home more than anything else she can think of. It’s popular as a breakfast meal, with honey and yoghurt on the side, but you can also have it by itself, as an afternoon snack, or as part of a buffet dinner, cut up in smaller pieces.

To buy:
*4 eggs   *3/4 pot of natural yoghurt (set is good, it’s closest to Bulgarian yoghurt, but no big deal if not)   *1/3 pint of milk   *a generous splash of double cream   *filo pastry sheets (they come in packets of about 500g – you’ll need less, but you don’t really have a choice; you can find them in a well-stocked Turkish shop or another corner shop)    *200-300g good feta cheese (crumbled – not too fine, not too chunky)   *a pinch of soda bicarbonate   *vegetable/sunflower oil (put a small amount in a cup)   *butter

To make:
1.Leave your filo pastry out of the fridge for a good half hour before you start to unroll it, longer if you can – otherwise the sheets will be stuck, and they will end up in shreds when you try to separate them.

2. Butter your baking dish (Denny’s is 30x22x7cm, approx). Clear your work top so there is plenty of space for the filo. Layout out the sheets flat, still on top of each other, to one side of your preparation surface, and pull out the first sheet carefully onto a clear area of your work top.

3. Sprinkle with a couple of teaspoons of oil, then scatter half a handful of feta evenly on the sheet – you can be as stingy or as liberal with your feta as you want, depending on how much you like it. Now take the sheet at one of the shorter sides and scrunch it up – using your thumbs, push towards the opposite end of the sheet, using your other fingers in a spider-like fashion to ripple the sheet until you grab hold of the opposite end. Now you’re holding a long piece of scrunched-up filo, with the ripples holding the feta – the piece should be quite long and narrow, probably about 3-4cm wide. Place this at one of the long ends of your baking dish. Keep adding rippled sheets until you run out of space in the dish.

4. Place little blobs of butter randomly on top of your beautiful filo-pastry arrangement. Turn the oven on to 175C (fan).

5. Tough part – but also fun part – over. Now mix the eggs, yoghurt, milk cream and soda bicarbonate, and poor the mixture gently and evenly over the fillo. Don’t worry if bits of the ripples are not completely submerged, but try to make sure there are no completely dry bits – everything should have been touched by the topping. When you’re done pouring, use a spoon to see if the topping has trickled down to some hard-to-reach places between the sheets, and if so, use a spoon to transfer some of the topping to those places.

6. Stick the whole thing in the oven. The banitza should be ready within about 45min, but best to check if it’s a deep golden brown first – even dark brown is fine. No point in testing the banitza with a skewer, as it will come out moist whatever you do, because of the eggs/cheese/yoghurt. If you’re unsure, leave it in for a big longer, but make sure you don’t burn the thing.

7. Take out and cover with a kitchen towel and then put a tea towel over it. Let it ‘stew’ for 10-15 minutes before cutting up and scoffing it on its own, with honey or with a big dollop of set yoghurt, or both.

Tips: Arrange the filo in the baking dish in the evening, then leave in the fridge overnight. This makes the pastry sheets drier, and they will absorb the topping better. Make the topping in the morning and stick the banitza in the oven while you’re in the shower – makes for a warm, comforting breakfast.

Re-refrigerate any filo pastry left over and use as soon as you can, or it will dry up and you’ll need another recipe to make use of it.

There are different types of filo. The thinner the sheets, the better, but there’s no guaranteeing what you’ll get until you try a few brands. Thicker sheets are fine as well, it’s just that they don’t scrunch up as easily, and the final result isn’t as light and fluffy as it could be – it will still be delicious though, so don’t stress about it.

So a HUGE thank you to Denny and Mitya for sharing a scrumptious recipe. I love trying food from around the world and this was the most fantastic and tasty start to Wednesday.  I hope you both had super Independence Days and that everyone who tries this recipe has a great time – you’re in for a treat! x

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