I have had this Recipe for Balkan Cheese Pie from the Darina at the Gratinee blog pinned for a while, and for some reason in the past couple months I have been on a real Eastern European food kick. Most of it was Russian food, but also Mediterranean, so no surprise that the Balkans and this pie has risen to the top of my to do list to try.
This Balkan Cheese Pie sort of combines the best of both of these cuisines, the lighter Mediterranean touch where the pie is eaten with simple yogurt or salad or fruit, but also a lot of cheese and oven pie method of making a meal from the Serbia area that is so close to the Soviet and Russia and shares history and perception of Slavic brotherhood.
Also called Burek, this pie is at its core a pastry made from phyllo dough and filled with cheese (in this case cottage cheese and feta, though ricotta might also be used) and optionally also throw in some vegetables (commonly greens or mushrooms) or ground meat.
Thank you for the inspiration Darina. For an alternate version, instead of a pie, you could make a pita version – a pie and pita version are covered by Superfora here and Darina makes a spiral version that is a cross of pita and pie.
Balkan Cheese Pie – Burek
- 8 phyllo sheets (you can find these in the freezer section. Defrost them in the refrigerator overnight, and take them out to get to room temperature while you are mixing your cheese/egg in step 1 of directions below).
- 1/2 pound cottage cheese
- 1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup club soda (this helps make the pie fluffy)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt (optional, depending on how salty you think it already is from your feta)
- Browned meat or mushrooms (optional)
- 1 teaspoon dill (optional)
- As you are making your cheese mixture, let the phyllo dough which you probably bought frozen and have defrosted overnight in the refrigerator come to room temperature – still in the box though. Ok, now to the mixture. In a large mixing bowl combine the cheese, eggs, club soda, oil, and salt (optional, depending on how salty your feta already is). For this recipe I used cottage cheese and feta cheese that were both reduced fat, and you can also use ricotta. I hear it’s still not quite like actual Eastern European cheese, but this is the closest to it. Once the mixture is ready, now open the phyllo package and release the sheets – you wanted to wait until now to do this so it doesn’t dry out because then it will break easily (though for this recipe, it doesn’t matter as much is there are small tears and holes since you are folding the phyllo sheets in anyway).
- Grease a 9 inch pie pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place two sheets of phyllo, one crossed over the other, over the pan and gently tuck in. With a ladle, spoon over some of the cheese mixture.
- (Optional) For variation, sprinkle layers with fresh spinach leaves, sauteed mushrooms, or browned ground lamb or pork on top of the cheese and egg mixture.
- Otherwise, fold the corners of the phyllo over the filling. Pour over some more of the cheese mixture. Repeat a few more times, using 2 layers of phyllo sheets and the cheese and egg mixture alternating. Pour any leftover filling over top layer.
- Bake at 375F for about 30 minutes, or until top is golden and pie has puffed up.
- Cool until lukewarm and then cut into pieces like quiche and serve.
If you’d like, top with poppy seeds or like I did, with dill.
You can serve your slice of Burek with a green salad, fruit salad, tomato salad or cucumber salad. In cooler days you might choose soup. Another option if you made it plain cheese like I did is serve it alongside your choice of cooked vegetables that are steamed, sauteed or roasted.
I went super Eastern European and added Adjika sauce on the side.
Adjika is sort of like a Russian pesto, but instead of basil, oil, and pine nuts it’s dried red peppers, garlic, salt, and some dried seasoning that are then ground up together. Yes, it’s supposed to be a bit spicy. There are some recipes out there with tomatoes, but I like it without because I don’t want it to be like salsa or ketchup – I want it to be a mix of sauce and chili paste, sort of what is alluded to by this article at Roads and Kingdoms on “Adjika: Sauce of Glory, Pride of Abkhazia“.
Most recipes for Adjika sauce I found use a lot of ingredients like tomatoes, carrots, and make a lot of cans. The version I do is a small amount – about 3/4-1 cup. You want the ingredients to be as dry as possible so that the most liquid comes from the additional of the oil, so you can choose for instance to use regular parsley instead of the dried kind in the spices and seasonings section, just make sure it is chopped and dry.
- 4 hot red chilli peppers
- 1 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 tablespoon parsley flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- a large pinch of salt
- A few teaspoons of Walnut or Olive oil, as needed for consistency
- Spread peppers on a table with wax paper underneath and let air dry until the chilis become slightly wrinkled if you can – you can make it without this step, but you’ll want to taste and add a pinch more to balance the liquid from the chilis
- Wash the chillies, cutting off the stems, and then cutting the chilies in half to scrape out the seeds – if you like spiciness, save the seeds so you can add them to the heat level you want in step 4.
- In a food processor, add your cut seedless chilies, garlic, coriander and parsley into a food processor, add a splash of oil and pulse until a paste.
- And salt and pulse for another couple of seconds. Check the spiciness and add some of the reserved seeds if the sauce seems too mild to your taste. Add more oil as needed to get the desired consistency.
Have you ever heard of any of these two dishes? Do you know of any good places in Portland to get Eastern European food?
When you first read Balkan Cheese Pie, did you think of the Balkans… or Balki from Perfect Strangers?