Yup, that's right! 300 recipes in 3 years, since Must Be Good exists. This nice number deserves a very special recipe, and this is one of the most special and dearest dishes I've ever tried!
And why is it so special for me? 'Cause it's one of my grandma's exceptional recipes.
This is a famous Macedonian rustic-style dish and a real challenge for each baker and housewife. It is a type of pie made with thin sheets of leavened dough folded in a very specific way, and a vegetables-based filling. The filling itself comes into two versions. The first one or the winter one is made with sour cabbage, and the second one which is popular in the remaining three seasons includes leeks and greens, the latter giving the name of this dish (zelje - Macedonian for greens ---> zelnik - pie with greens). Cheese and eggs can also be added, but this is a matter of taste and family recipe. It is traditionally baked in a special coal oven which makes the pie kind of smoked, but of course it can be baked in "regular" oven as well.
And the first thought that comes to my mind when I hear zelnik is my grandma Docka who was always making a perfect zelnik: huge tissue-thin homemade sheets of dough, aromatic filling straight from her garden, and all that baked in the special coal oven... Oh my, what a delight! Unfortunately, I still haven't reached that level of proficiency, but I don't give up! I've said to myself, it would be safe to say I am a real chef the day when I manage to make a zelnik like hers! :)
Meanwhile, I was in a situation where I wanted to prepare zelnik but I hadn't much time, so I used a hack from another recipe to create this one and it came out great! I used filo pastry instead of making my own dough which cut the prep time significantly, and made a delicious pie. So, in this post I will present you the quick, filo pastry version and the authentic one will follow soon.
I'm offering you two equally delicious options for the filling, and you can choose whatever you like better. As you can see, the first one is vegan sustainable and the other one is vegetarian as it contains cheese and eggs. As for the cheese, please note that the authentic recipe call for 'urda' which is kind of whey cheese that looks just like cottage cheese but has much sharper taste. If you can't find it, you can use cottage cheese instead, even crushed feta will be fine.
for filling 1:
for filling 2:
- Start with the filling.
- If using cabbage, chop it finely, add oil and some salt and cook it over low fire, stirring occasionally, until soft and tender. At the end, season with some pepper to taste, some more salt if needed, add paprika and red pepper flakes, stir and remove from fire. Let it cool slightly.
- If you have chosen the leeks version, start with finely chopping the leeks. Add oil and cook them over low fire until tender.
Whisk the eggs in a bowl, then add cheese and stir. Add the mixture to the leeks when they're done and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring often. Season with some salt and pepper and remove from fire. Let the filling cool slightly.
Note that, depending on the cheese you're using, you may have some liquid left at the end. Make sure you drain it as much as possible before putting the filling onto pie.
3. Set aside 2 filo pastry leaves. You'll be needing them at the end.
4. Now, start assembling the pie as described and shown below... You'll need a Ø28-30 cm round baking pan for this quantity of ingredients. There's no need for greasing the pan.
Place 2 filo leaves into the pan so that they overlap some 7-8 cm, as shown on the photo below. Brush them generously with the yeast mixture and fold them towards the center making a "hole" in the middle of the pan.
5. Now, place 2 more filo leaves the same way as described in step 4 and brush them with the yeast mixture. Tear the leaves in the middle of the pan and fold them towards the edges of the pan. Fold the outer parts of the leaves towards the center. You need to make this in order to form a hole in the middle of the pie. Brush with the yeast mixture.
Take a look at the photos below to understand it better...
6. Now, take one of the two leaves you've set aside, brush it with the yeast mixture and make a tight roll by rolling it lengthwise. Use the roll to "frame" the hole, as shown in the photo below.
Once you've finished, you will get a pie that looks like this:
9. Bake into a preheated oven at 200°C for 35-40 minutes, until browned.
10. Once the zelnik is done, take it out from the oven and plant 2 or 3 forks or wooden spoons underneath the pie to lift it from the bottom, cover the pie with a kitchen towel and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. This will make the crust soft and the forks you've inserted will prevent the bottom crust from becoming wet and doughy.
Enjoy and bon appétit!