One of the best parts of adoption recovery is going places I never could have imagined.
During a recent Viking River Cruise, I spent a couple days in the beautiful riverside town of Vidin, Bulgaria. Nestled in spectacular scenery, Vidin boasts medieval castle and a spectacular rock formation, Belogradchik. Those sights were wondrous indeed, but the most fun was meeting Ramona, her husband Pavel and her aunt Rosemary, who taught us—a small group of travelers who’d opted for the “extra” side excursion— a cooking class.
From Vidin, we took a van to a tiny outlying village of 100 residents. Ramona greeted us warmly in her front courtyard. We were, she told us, the first Viking visitors of spring. Each of us received welcome kisses on both cheeks and our hostess’s warm smile. Ramona’s husband Pavel offered us small glasses of a homemade vodka-like liquor called “reika,” and we entered the home’s dining room. Folding chairs awaited our band of baking students.
Ramona passed out sheets of paper with following directions:
Pavel and Ramona’s Homemade Banitza Recipe
1 packet of fine layers of phyllo dough
6 eggs- whip with fork
400 gr. of white cheese
half a tea cup of yoghurt
half a teacup* of cooking oil (Sunflower recommended)
half a teacup of fizzy drink (lemonade or Mountain Dew)
half a teaspoon of saleratus (baking soda)
half a packet of butter (1 stick, unsalted)
Crumble the white cheese in a big bowl, add the eggs. Put the saleratus into the yoghurt, stir it and pour it into the bowl. Add the cooking oil and the fizzy drink. Stir everything well.
Heat the oven to 180C (350 F)
Spread some cooking oil over the pan. Put some layers of dough over the bottom of the baking tin. Sprinkle with some of the mixture. Put some other layers of dough and some mixture again and again until you fill the pan.
Don’t put any mixture over the last layers of dough. Sprinkle with the melted butter and fizzy drink. Bake in the oven for about 20-30 minutes. Leave it to cool before you cut it. Good appetite and enjoy!
*Note: Ramona used what we call coffee mugs, not giant but medium sized.
The baking class was on! Those who wished to help came forward in shifts to gather around Ramona’s kitchen counter. I’d never worked with phyllo dough before so chose instead to crumble white cheese with a fork. Others beat eggs or stirred baking soda into yoghurt. Soon the banitza was assembled and popped into the oven. Later, it came out and needed to cool. Ramona served a previously baked identical pastry and we marveled at its delectability. It was helpful to learn that one could add all kinds of extras within the layering, from herbs to cinnamon sugar. In other words, one can explore banitza variations.
Since that experience, I’ve adopted banitza as one of “my” special recipes. Fear of phyllo dough is a thing of the past. I learned that one does not plop it down in a single sheet but crinkles each sheet before layering. The resulting creations, though not as pretty or fluffy as Ramona’s, have tasted great. Like life itself, my banitza baking is a work in progress.