No, banitsa doesn't mean Happy New Year in a foreign language. Banitsa (pronounced BAH-neet-zah) is a delicious cheese filled phyllo dough dish from Bulgaria that’s traditionally served on New Year’s Eve. I first heard of banitsa through my part-time gig teaching English to non-English speakers. One of the best parts of my part-time job is that I get to meet people from all over the world. The other great thing about teaching is the food students bring to class and are anxious for you to try. Banitsa is one of those foods.
Recently, I had students from Bulgaria who I absolutely adored. The last day of class we had a party and my Bulgarian students brought what looked like spanakopita, or Greek spinach pie, just without the spinach. Turned out, I wasn’t completely off the mark. It was a traditional Bulgarian banitsa.
There are several ways to spell it – banitza, banica, banitsa. I’m going to use banitsa. Like the variations on spelling, there are many different ways to make banitsa, but a basic recipe is comprised of phyllo dough, feta cheese, butter, milk and eggs. Bulgarians typically serve banitsa on New Year's Eve or even on Christmas. People add lucky charms, known as kusmeti, or even coins to the banitsa. A fortune accompanies each charm or coin like the ones you get in a fortune cookie. The charms are hidden inside the banitsa, which is then baked. When it’s done, the banitsa is cut into one piece for each family member, plus one for the house, with a charm in each piece. The oldest member of the family then spins the banitsa on the table. Once the spinning stops each person takes the piece in front of them. Inside each piece, they find a fortune wrapped around a charm predicting what the new year has in store for them.
There’s also another meaning to the word "banitsa". It’s used to describe something crumpled, or badly maintained. For example, a teacher might describe a pupil's sloppy notebook as, "becoming like a banitsa”. Hmmm,I’m going to have to remember that saying!
So, since tonight is New Year’s eve, I thought it would be fun to include this banitsa recipe that I found on Food.com. I’m excited to try it and hope you are, too! Oh yeah, and Happy New Year!
Yield: 1 banitsa
16 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
2 cups feta cheese
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup butter (melted)
1 cup milk
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, (glass oven proof pan works great for this recipe) brush melted butter all over bottom and sides of baking pan.
2. Mix salt, cheese and milk and eggs in a bowl, combine and stir ingredients well.
3. Put 5 sheets of phyllo dough in buttered pan and brush over with melted butter. You can also put down one sheet at a time and butter separately.
4. Pour enough of the mixture to cover phyllo sheets and top with 3 more sheets.
5. Continue to repeat the process: put down 3 sheets and make sure to brush them well with butter then layer with mixture until all of the mixture is done, then cover with at least 2 sheets. If you butter the top sheets they may get hard after the banitsa is done baking.
6. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until golden. Make sure mixture is cooked in the middle by cutting into banitsa. When the mixture is cooked it will not be runny.
7. Once banitsa is done cover it with either a towel or a lid and let it sit and cool before cutting or serving. Covering it lets the steam soften the phyllo dough sheets.