Monday, 22 February 2016

Banica - Filo Pie with Feta

I along with every Bulgarian grew up with a staple go to meal when I was hungry, Banica with mutenica. That translates to a filo pastry pie filled with a feta cheese and egg mixture and a glass of cold yogurt that has been watered down and has a pinch of salt in it. It was peasant food back home in the same way that pizza was peasant food in Italy. These days it can be a street food snack or if grandma/mom makes it it can be the best comfort food you will ever have. The cold yogurt drink adds a savoury richness to the meal, but to be honest a glass of cold beer with it goes just as well. There are many variations, you can add leek, chard, nettles or spinach for example. The last essentially turning it into a version of the Greek spanakopita, which to me only goes to highlight the ancient history of the Balkans and the many links and similarities between the people and culture.

Banica can be eaten hot or cold. Once cooled down it is easy to carry in a box, can be reheated and makes for a great lunch. my favorite version is the one with leek hence why the recipe below calls for it, but please be as inventive as you like!  

Step 9 - Dollops of the Spinach version.
Ingredients:

5 medium eggs
5 tbsp of yogurt
400gm feta cheese
1/3 tsp bicarb
350gm melted butter
1 medium leek
1 packet filo pastry


Method

  1. As always we start with preheating the oven to 200C’ (180C Fan).
  2. Oil a large deep pie dish, I use a stoneware pie dish. Anything that you may make a giant sheppards pie in will do.
  3. Melt your butter and leave to cool down a little
  4. Chop up the leek as fine or as chunky as you like it, I like mine quite chunky.
  5. Cook the leek down until softened in a little bit of oil or butter and let cool a bit before use, if you add it to the mix while hot it will cook the eggs.
  6. In a large bowl put the eggs, yogurt crumble the feta cheese into medium chunks, add the cooked leeks and melted butter - hold back a spoonfull of butter to brush the pie with before putting in the oven. Now mix it all together. Leave to one side.
  7. On a clean surface open up your filo pastry and with dry hands spread it out. Be gentle its very fragile. 
  8. To the mix above add your 1/3 tsp of bicarb. this will give the pie a nice bit of volume You are doing the need to work fast now as the bicarb starts to act immediately.
  9. Dot dollops of the mixture on the top sheet of filo pastry quite randomly. I put about the equivalent of 4 tablespoons. Pick up this and the next sheet of filo and roll it into a cigar. I find that if I use a single sheet of the filo pastry it is too thin, it breaks and you do not get the right ration of pastry to filling. You need your baking dish nearby for the next step.
  10. Take your cigar over to the baking dish and roll it into a snail in the centre. Repeat the above process wrapping the filo cigars around each other to make what looks like a giant snail shell until you have used up either all the mix, all the filo or your dish is full and you cannot fit any more in.  
  11. If you have mix left you can dollop it on top of the pie, brush the pie with the remaining melted butter and put in the oven for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

I buy my filo pastry from Tesco and find that with their particular brand I tend to have 1 or 2 sheets left with the above mix ratio. So as not to waste those I tend to brush with butter sprinkle sugar and cinnemon and bake in the oven until crispy and lightly golden.  Its little crisps of sweet cinnemon  goodness!

Now the above might sound a bit complex and a hassle but actually from beginning to oven it takes about 15 minutes to make, and that is mainly because you are waiting for the leeks and butter to cool down so you don’t end up with scrambled egg. Also if you don’t feel like rolling it up you can just layer it, two sheets of filo, thin spread of mix two sheets of fillo thin spread of mix until one runs out. Make sure you finish with filo though, it’s nicer that way.

One of the attractive things to the recipe for me is that the measurements above are more guidelines than exact measures. Put as much or as little filling as you want, play around with it, add the stuff that you want, like nutmeg with the spinach, or sundried tomatos with the leek. It may not be authentic but if you love the taste of it that is all that matters. Food is to be enjoyed and shared!

Bon Appetite!