• 6 eggs
  • 1 cup natural yogurt
  • 1 cup feta cheese, or more to taste
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup carbonated (or flat) water
  • 1 pkg phyllo dough sheets
  • butter
  • 1/2 tsp caraway seeds, optional

Bulgarians have banitsa often and at any occasion. Traditionally made by housewives with homemade sheets of dough, spread out manually banitsa is rolled up into a spiral with an egg and feta cheese filling. It was one of the recipes that were transmitted through the generations in every household, as well as the pulling with the fingers technique to prepare the dough. Every family had its distinctive tasting banitsa, competing in taste and texture.

Nowadays, the use of commercially prepared paper-thin sheets of phyllo dough has replaced the ancient pulling technique and banitsa recipes have evolved. First of all, new banitsa is layered, much easier than rolling tight rolls together into a big spiral. Second, ingredients have evolved too: to the egg and feta mixture one can add spinach, or leeks, or other vegetables to taste, and mixture itself can be distributed in different manners on the dough. It is professional chefs now that are competing for the most original tasting banitsa, innovating more and more every time.

Here is a basic recipe very close to the original, with readily available ingredients.

Directions

  1. In a medium size bowl beat the eggs. Add the natural yogurt and whisk until it is well blended together with the eggs.
  2. Take a block of Bulgarian feta cheese equivalent to the size of 1 cup, or bigger if you prefer. Crumble the cheese with a fork and mix it into the egg mixture. As a reminder, don’t add salt to the recipe as the feta cheese is naturally quite salty.
  3. Then add in the oil, a bit of baking soda and the carbonated water. If you don’t have a bottle of carbonated water, simply use tap water instead. The results would be equally good, only that carbonated water makes your banitsa come out of the oven even more fluffy and inflated.
  4. Stir well and let the mixture stand while preparing your baking dish. In a matter of minutes, it will seem to puff up.
  5. Unroll the phyllo dough sheets on the counter next to you.
  6. Take a rectangular baking dish and apply butter to its sides and bottom, so that the banitsa won’t stick.
  7. Now you can start layering the banitsa. Fold one sheet of phyllo dough in two and place it on the bottom of the baking dish. Repeat with a second sheet.
  8. With a spoon, pour a small quantity of egg mixture on the phyllo and spread it well with the back of the spoon to cover the whole sheet. The quantity of egg mixture is crucial: you don’t want the phyllo to stay dry, but you don’t want either to add too much liquid so that it can’t get cooked well and remains mushy.
  9. The next layers are all done with only 1 sheet of phyllo dough at a time. So keep layering in the baking dish 1 sheet of phyllo dough folded in two, some egg mixture spread out all over it, 1 more sheet of phyllo dough folded in two, some more egg mixture. Make sure to moisten the corners of the phyllo as well with the back of your spoon, so they don’t remain dry and flaky when cooked.
  10. Keep layering 1 phyllo dough sheet and egg mixture until you have only one last phyllo sheet left on the counter. By then, you must have about a tablespoon or two of egg mixture left as well without any feta chunks in it. Place this last sheet of dough on top in the baking dish. With a brush or the back of a spoon spread the little left of the eggs, making sure to moisten all over that top layer, including all corners.
  11. Cut a few thin slices of butter and place them randomly over the top and sprinkle with some caraway seeds for an added aroma.
  12. Preheat the oven at at 200°C (400°F) and place the banitsa on the middle rack. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the banitsa will rise as if to explode. The top crust should be brown but not burnt and the bottom, which you can see if using a glass dish, should be turning brown as well.
  13. Take the banitsa out of the oven and let it cool. Unfortunately this will make it deflate down to the normal size of the baking dish, but it will remain crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Slice into squares or triangles and serve warm.

Banitsa can be served in various ways. It can be enjoyed warm or cold. Try using it as small bites for an appetizer. Like a typical Bulgarian who would buy it from a kiosk on the street, try it as a snack on the go or as a light lunch, or as a healthy breakfast. Accompanied by a refreshing salad or a warm bowl of soup it can turn into a delicious main dish for the supper meal, a great replacement for a quiche. Or simply try it accompanied by nothing else but a side of plain yogurt, a glass of refreshing ayran or a glass of, another Bulgarian favorite, boza.