Banitza (Banitsa) - A Bulgarian Traditional Homemade Pie-like Filo Pastry Recipe With Great Possibility For Variation
What Banitza (Banitsa) exactly is
Banitza or Banitsa depending on how you would transcribe it to English is a traditional Bulgarian pastry dish, which is prepared by layering different types of filling raging from eggs and cheese to pumpkin, spinach and even chicken between filo pastry or in other words, sheets made from dough. Usually the dish is vegetarian, but it can also be prepared to be vegan by replacing or omitting some products form the recipe.
Traditionally, the filo pastry should be home-made, but in some parts of the world there are prefabricated ones available for commercial purchase, which makes the preparation much simpler and faster. Of course, nothing compares to a fully home-cooked meal, so it's recommended that you put in the time and effort to prepare your Banitza from scratch.
It is not possible to celebrate any family holiday in Bulgaria without having Banitza on the table. It is rarely eaten as a main dish, but might often be a replacement for bread or just something to add variety to the meal. It is very common for smaller varieties of Banitza to be eaten for breakfast accompanied by yogurt, airan or boza (traditional Bulgarian drinks made from yogurt or wheat). In Bulgaria there are special bakeries that specialize in making Banitza and every city, town, or neighborhood has at least one of those and this pastry dish has become one of the most common local fast foods. This type of special bakery is called "Banitcharnitza" or "Banicharnitsa".
- 5 eggs
- 250 grams of white cheese
- 200 grams of yogurt
- 80 grams of butter, 50g for the filling and 30 for other purposes
- 500 grams of flour
- oil, any sort of
- water, both tap and sparkling
How to make Banitza (vegetarian)
- Prepare your filo pastry following the instructions that you have below (or buy them).
- Melt the butter for the filling, crush the white cheese and mix them both with the yogurt and the eggs, keeping one yolk and a bit of butter for latter use. This is your filling.
- Put the filling inside the pastry sheets and roll them up.
- Put butter on your circular baking tin and start putting in the rolled-up pastry sheets starting from the edge and working your way to the center, arranging them in a spiral.
- Beat the yolk and then spread it on top of the Banitza and then put a little bit of melted butter on top.
- Bake at around 200 degrees Centigrade until it changes its color and looks ready.
- Take it out and sprinkle it well with sparkling water and put a towel over it. Let it stay like this for 10-15 minutes.
- Enjoy your home-made Banitza in good company.
Making a vegan Banitza
If you would like to try to make vegan Banitza, you should omit the eggs altogether or replace them with a vegan substitute if you have access to one and you should replace the dairy products with plant based variations like tofu instead of cheese and oil instead of butter. It really depends on the products you have available to you to work with. You can use your own imagination since there are many different ways to prepare the Banitza and all of them produce very nice results.
Making your own filo pastry
Take the flour and start adding water slowly to make dough with good consistency. It shouldn't be too soft or watery. Add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of vinegar, which would increase the elasticity, which is important.
Separate it into medium sized balls, put a bit of oil on them and leave them for 10 to 15 minutes.
Take your rolling pin and start spreading the dough with it as much as you can. You can put a bit of flour on it and on the table to prevent the dough from sticking to any of the surfaces. The thinner you manage to spread it, the better.
(optional) When you have spread the dough as much as you can put oil on it and put it aside to make another. Then put a second sheet on top of it with oil on it and spread them together.
Your first piece of filo pastry is ready. Repeat until you run out of dough.
A demonstration of how to make filo pastry for your Banitza
Possibilities for variation
Banitza (Banitsa) is quite common-place in Bulgaria and there are many variations of it especially in the filling and in the form. It gives a lot of possibilities for you to let your imagination run free.
Variation in the filling or sometimes topping
There are countless things you could use to make the filling of your Banitza more interesting, tasty and surprising. It is always good to add yogurt and yellow cheese, but you can also add other things and replace both these ingredients. Usually the feeling is based on yogurt, eggs, sometimes cheese and another ingredient, which adds more flavor and enhances the taste. There are countless possibilities but here is a list of the ones that are most common in the Banitza's homeland - Bulgaria:
- Spinach - You would need about 600 grams of spinach, which you need to steam with a bit of butter or oil until it becomes softer and a good deal of the moisture is gone. Then you mix with cheese and eggs (both optional) and your feeling is ready.
- Pumpkin - This is one of the rare breeds of Banitza that is sweet. You prepare your filling by grating your pumpkin and then steaming it with a bit of oil or butter until it softens up. Then you can mix it with a teaspoon of oil or butter, same ground walnuts and cinnamon and sprinkle the ready Banitza with powdered sugar. This type of Banitza is called Tikvenik.
- Leek - You prepare in the same way that you prepare the one with spinach. There are also variations with a mixture of the two or any other cookable greenery like fresh onion or nettle.
- Other vegetables - You can actually experiment with a lot of different vegetables to make part of your filling like zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, carrots, dill and parsley, eggplant, peppers, cabbage, beans, peas and anything you find a way to use. You can always mix them with eggs, white cheese and/or yogurt.
- Boiled potatoes and cheese (My grandmother's specialty) - Now this is a personal favorite of mine and it's a bit unconventional. Instead of using just cheese, my grandmother boils 3 or 4 potatoes and then mashes them together with the cheese. This makes the feeling very smooth, rich and tasty. Adding eggs and yogurt is also optional and can make things even better.
Additional variation comes from what you can put on top of your Banitza. In the recipe above, I suggested a beat yolk that would make the top of the pastry crunchier, tastier and better-looking, but there are other options as well. You can simply skip it, but you can also shake things up, by putting grated yellow-cheese with additional yolks being also optional.
What you need to understand here is that you are completely free to experiment and anything you might put in a pie in the country you live in, for instance, can be an ingredient for the filling of Banitza.
Variation in the form factor
The circular rolled Banitza (Banitsa) described in this recipe is the most common form variation, but this doesn't mean it's the only way one could proceed with putting filo pastry and filling together. Another option might be to put the individual rolls you created on their own next to each other without touching each other, or curving each into a spiral of it's own, so later they would be consumed as separate smaller pieces of Banitza.
Another option is to give up the rolling all together and to make a layered Banitza. In this case you put a piece of filo pastry without rolling it on the bottom of your baking tin and then putting a layer of filling, following it by another piece of filo pastry until you run out. Here you can also vary the amount of filling that you put between the filo pastry. Some fillings like spinach and cheese allow for a very large amount of filling between the filo pastry, which for some might make the Banitza juicier and tastier.
Another option would be to make small squares of filo pastry, layer 2 to 4 of them on top of each other with filling in between and then fold them diagonally, which will create interesting Banitza triangles. You could also cut the filo pastry in thin long strips and put a small amount of filling on them, roll them up into short cylinders and put them on the baking tin sideways. This smaller Banitza variations are more common when the Banitza is meant to be consumed as breakfast.
In general, there are all kinds of variations that might produce thicker, thinner, bigger and smaller pieces of Banitza depending on your preferences. Just remember one important rule: every time you lay down a new piece of filo pastry, no matter if it is on the top, bottom or in the middle - make sure there is oil or butter on all of its sides. It is a good idea to put oil or butter on your filo pastry even before you put the filling in. This helps your filo pastry get crispier and crunchier which is the way it's supposed to be.
It is important to note that Banitza made with butter and Banitza made with oil taste and look a bit different and I recommend that you experiment with both in the beginning to see what suits your own taste.
Enjoy the adventure of experimenting with Banitza and make your family's food a bit more interesting and varied. But keep in mind that Banitza (like all pastry) is quite rich in calories, so make sure you consume it in reasonable quantities, but with pleasure and in good company.