Now we arrive in Bulgaria!
So as per tradition with these eastern European countries, I don’t know much about them, other than the safe assumption that they’re beautiful, and yet again, I’m right:
But hey, I do know ONE thing about Bulgaria. I know they had a very good quidditch team in 1994! They made it to the World Cup Final, where they ultimately ended up losing to Ireland, but Viktor Krum caught the snitch, quite spectacularly, if I recall correctly. I also believe there was some drama with the Veela that Bulgaria brought as their mascots during the game…Good year, good year…
So I also went to Google and typed in “Bulgarian” to see what the top auto-complete results were, and “Bulgarian Split Squat” came up. I was curious what that was, so I searched it, and its just work out exercise for your quads and glutes that made me tired just watching it. I’ll take this moment to share something about myself- I’m actually allergic to exercise. I mean, I’m a hobbyist baker, and a cake decorator by profession, so really, it was only a matter of time until I developed this allergy. Watching a video about exercise was rough, and I had to cut it off early. I know….it’s a rough life.
So instead of thinking about hard things like exercising, lets talk about happier things! Like food! More specifically, a Bulgarian Banitsa!
A banitsa is a pretty common dish that comes in a variety of fillings. The most standard variant (what I made) is filled with a mixture predominantly made up of eggs and white cheese and is eaten as a breakfast item, accompanied with some yogurt. Other variations include sweetened pumpkin (YUM), cabbage, spinach, rice, meat, etc. Banitsa is a common breakfast item and is often eaten with yogurt.
It was very easy to make, and had a short list of ingredients: Philo dough, yogurt, white cheese, eggs, and sunflower oil. You pretty much just mix all the ingredients, except the dough, then spread it over a few sheets of philo, roll it up and coil it into the pan. Add an egg wash, bake, and wha-lah! Al fin!
Really. It really is that simple.
This is definitely a savory dish, and I think it would be delicious with some crumbled bacon or sausage mixed in with the filling! But it was quite salty by itself, and I think the cheese was responsible for that. The recipe called for “white cheese.” I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, so I did a bit of research. Did it mean like…queso fresco? Ricotta? Marscapone? Feta? Well, none of those actually. The kind of cheese commonly used in this kind of thing, is also known as “Sirene cheese,” and it’s just a white, crumbly cheese. It actually is a lot like queso fresco, but I found it was almost like a mix between Feta and queso fresco. I bought some feta, just in case I couldn’t find the proper cheese, but that turned out to be unnecessary. The little Middle Eastern market down the street saved the day, once again! They had a container of “Bulgarian White Cheese,” and I don’t think I could have gotten any closer than that! It came in a block (looked a lot like tofu), and was pretty crumbly when I began pulling it apart. It wasn’t as mild as queso fresco, and had a taste closer to feta cheese, but was still different. This white cheese seemed a bit more salty and had a little bit more of a sour taste to it, but not in a bad way.
The recipe only called for 250g of cheese, (about half of this block) but I ended up using a bit more, because my filling seemed a bit runny without it. I feel like I could have done with one less egg, and a little less oil in the filling mixture. Maybe a little more yogurt? (I used greek yogurt.)
I just kind of guessed on how many philo sheets to use for each roll. I had one package of philo sheets on hand, which I think had maybe 30ish sheets in it?? I could be wrong. But however many sheets were in there, I just kinda eyeballed it, and made sure there were at least like four layers in each roll? I’m sure some had more than that, but I wasn’t counting. I think I made five or 6 rolls in total to fill the pan. I used a 10″ cake pan, and spiraled them in from the outside, as I made them.
Shall we look at some pictures of the process?? I think we shall!
Bulgarian current events time! As of beginning of July 2017!
-Bulgaria has been experiencing some record breaking heat waves these past few days! Temperatures have measured 44C/111F in Russe and Pleven, where it hasn’t been that hot in 115 years! In Shumen, temperatures were nearly 38C/100F, which haven’t been recorded since 1938. At least five people in Sofia died due to heat-related causes, and hundreds more around the country were hospitalized. Wow, stay safe Bulgarians! Drink your water! I dont know much about the usual climate in Bulgaria…does it not get super hot during the summer? Does it get humid at all? questions… [source]
-Bulgaria, along with some other eastern European countries are raising an issue of food quality to the EU. After some tests, they have found that the same products sold across Europe are of lower quality, and/or use different ingredients, and sometimes even taste different than what they do in western Europe. Apparently, some of these products are also sold at a higher price in these eastern European countries as well. This all raises some questions of double standards in these international food companies, and maybe some underlying feelings of discrimination, or being treated as less important? Seems potentially shady, but looking from the other side, the EU rules for international food companies say that they may change ingredients but keep the labeling the same, as long as they are clearly labeled and food safety regulations are kept the same. Also some international food companies say they that differences in ingredients in certain products are to account for different food and taste preferences of different regions. Hmmm…excuses or legit reasons? [source]
-I find this is kind of cool- In attempts to expose native Bulgarians to other cultures they may not ever experience, the nation’s very first Asian festival just took place recently. 11 Asian countries along with Bulgarian Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Tourism, organized this festival with food, music, dance, and games, native to each of the Asian countries, to showcase the cultures of each of these countries to people in Bulgaria. The slogan was “Asia Close-up”, and was a one-day event only, lasting about 10 hours. Too bad it couldn’t have been a bit longer! (I myself am quite fond of Asia, as some of you may already know, particularly S. Korea, as I spent a few years there. What a rich culture they have!) [Source]
My recipe this week comes in the form of a fancy shmancy PDF, with some history and pictures for your cooking pleasure, courtesy of http://www.bulgariatravel.org. You can find that lovely PDF HERE.
I have made some slight edits to the recipe, but feel free to disregard them and follow the original, I won’t be offended. 🙂
500 g filo dough sheets
3 eggs + 1 yolk for egg wash
250 g white cheese
1 Cup greek yogurt
1/3 cup of sunflower oil or melted butter
- Preheat oven to 390F/200C
- Crumble the cheese and mix it with the yogurt.
- Add the eggs.
- Add fat of your choice (oil or butter).
- Shake the filling well.
- Flatten out the sheets and smear with some oil.
- Spread a part of the filling evenly on the entire sheet.
- Roll the sheet.
- Arrange the ready rolls in a tray in the shape of a spiral.
- Coat the banitsa with yolk and bake it in an oven 25-30 minutes, or until it looks golden brown.
After baking, the banitsa shall be cut into pieces.
It can be eaten hot, as well as cold. It is usually served