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5 Delicious Ways To Prepare The Traditional Bulgarian Banitsa

Banitsa is a traditional Bulgarian baked dish that’s prepared with kneaded dough or phyllo pastry. It can be served hot or cold, as a main meal, a side course and even a dessert. Dozens of sweet, sour and salty variations exist, dating back to centuries ago. There are three main ways to shape the dough or pastry – flat-layered sheets, crumpled sheets or folded sheets, rolled into the shape of a spiral.

And contrary to popular belief, there isn’t one ultimate “right way” to prepare banitsa. Here are 5 delicious variations of this Bulgarian food, all of which can be eaten either hot or cold.

Zelnik

Despite its name, which is derived from the word zele (cabbage), the most common type of zelnik paradoxically doesn’t have any cabbage filling. Instead, the stuffing can be prepared from a variety of fresh seasonal greenery, such as leeks, spinach, dock, atriplex or saltbush, nettle, sorrel and other similar plants. Some variations of the zelnik do have cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, eggs and cheese. And a rather uncommon filling for it, yet used in some regions of Bulgaria, is the one spiced up by beetroot leaves and lettuce. A lesser known and not so often used name for the zelnik is zelena banitsa (meaning “green banitsa”).

Tikvenik

Named after the squash plant tikva (pumpkin), tikvenik means a sweet, crispy dessert which is traditionally eaten around the Christmas holidays in Bulgaria as part of the Lenten fares, but you can find it fresh or deep frozen in numerous pastry shops or supermarkets throughout the entire year. The stuffing is whipped up from grated pumpkin, white or brown sugar and finely crushed walnuts. Additional flavoring may be incorporated with cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, lemon zest and powdered sugar for decoration on top.

Mlechna banitsa

Another sweet variation of the Bulgarian banitsa is the mlechna (milky) banitsa. The easiest and most common way to prepare it is to layer pastry/ dough sheets greased with butter in a baking sheet and to cook them without any filling. Once they’ve become golden brown all that’s left to do is pour a sweetened mixture of milk, beaten eggs and a hearty amount of sugar and return the baking sheet back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. Some variations of mlechna banitsa call for vanilla and cheese, others call for pouring the sweetened mixture over the layered sheets from the very beginning, and then some recipes advise soaking each sheet in the sweetened mixture before the layering process even begins. Either way, this is one of the easiest types of banitsa you can prepare.

Cheese banitsa

This one is wildly varied and often being regarded as the most popular type of banitsa in every region of Bulgaria. Traditionally stuffed with cow cheese, it can be simplistic (butter-greased layers with plain cheese filling) or more elaborate with a stuffing mixture of cheese, milk or yogurt, beaten eggs, herbs, spices, leeks and other ingredients. Unlike most other types of banitsa, the cheese version can be made with crumpled pastry sheets. In some recipes the milk or yogurt can be replaced with clear soda (carbonated water).

Meat banitsa

Typically baked as a folded banitsa with its sheets rolled in the shape of a spiral, the classic way to prepare this meat-filled dish is with stuffing from onion, spices and minced meat – usually pork and/ or beef. Another variation calls for stuffing with rice and minced meat, although it’s not as popular. Even less popular are the recipes, which incorporate pulled chicken meat, pulled pork or some sort of fish (carp or another large fish) mixed with rice and vegetables.

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