October 1, 2016
If you ever travel to Bulgaria, be sure to try a banitsa, one of the country’s most popular dishes. In our book Mystical Emona, this is one of Maria’s specialties. One reason for the dish’s popularity is that it can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Another is that it’s simple to make. Traditional banitsa is made with filo dough, feta cheese, eggs, and yogurt. However, since autumn has arrived, we’d like to introduce you to a special variety called Tikvenik (teek-vah-neek), pumpkin banitsa.
The recipe for this scrumptious meal follows, but first we’d like to tell you about an interesting tradition involving banitsa. To celebrate New Year’s Eve, Bulgarians make a banitsa with fortunes. The mother of the household makes lucky charms or fortunes (small sheets of paper on which wishes are written then rolled up and wrapped in foil). She places them inside the banitsa before it’s baked.
At the evening meal, each member of the family takes a piece that contains a fortune. An additional piece is reserved for God, to keep the house safe from bad luck. Each charm tells the person his fortune for the coming year: perhaps a new job, a new house, health, a wedding, and so forth. Bulgarians have many customs that focus on health and fortune, and protection from evil. Similar to this tradition is the more common one performed at Christmas. A coin (and sometimes fortunes) are baked into a bread (pitka). The person who get the coin will have good luck throughout the year. If the coin is found in the piece set aside for the house or God, then the entire family will be healthy and have good luck. The ritual is included in our book The Christmas Thief.
Banitsa is made with homemade or commercially made filo dough pastry sheets, sugar, nuts (optional), cinnamon, and butter. You can also sprinkle powdered sugar on top to make it a little sweeter. And, of course, don’t forget the pumpkin.
1 1/2 lbs pumpkin
1 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
2 ounces chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 lb butter, melted
1 (1 lb) package filo pastry
2 – 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar (for sprinkling on top)
- Cut the pumpkin into large pieces grate it. The seeds and guts should have already been removed. You want to use only the meat of the pumpkin.
- Add the sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon; mix with the pumpkin.
- If you decide to use the butter, melt it and pour over the pumpkin mixture.
- Open the package of filo dough and spread it out.
- On the top layer, sprinkle vegetable oil (not more than a teaspoon), and spread it out so it coats the filo.
- Spread 2 – 3 Tablespoons of the pumpkin mixture evenly over the filo (so it slightly covers the surface), then sprinkle some of the leftover sugar on top of that.
- Take up 3 of the filo sheets and roll them together to form a log.
- Place this on the outer edge of a greased baking dish, with the open end down.
- Repeat the process with the remaining filo and pumpkin mixture, placing the log rolls in a circular fashion on the dish until it is filled.
- Sprinkle vegetable oil over the top, coating all the filo so it doesn’t become dry.
- Bake for about 15 – 17 mins at 350 F or until crispy and golden on top.
- Remove from the pan immediately after baking and let it cool.
It’s best to place the pieces of banitsa flat while they cool, rather than stacked. If you stack them, the ones on the bottom won’t be crispy. It’s fine to pile them up on top of each other once they have cooled.
Banitsa is delicious as a dessert or for breakfast with your morning coffee or tea. We hope you enjoy it.
Here is a video showing a variation of the above recipe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfrRdCxFECE
We have more authentic Bulgarian recipes in our book Light Love Rituals- Bulgarian Myths, Legends, and Folklore, and you can learn about the customs as well. Or, if you prefer, you can get just the recipes in Mediterranean and Bulgarian Cuisine: 12 Easy Traditional Favorites.