When Macedonian cuisine is mentioned, one of the first things that come to mind is zelnik. Together with tavce gravce, ajvar, and shkembe chorba, zelnik is one of the most famous national dishes. But zelnik isn’t only a popular dish. It’s also an important part of local culture. Unfortunately, unlike in the past, most people don’t prepare zelnik at home anymore. Sure, the traditional zelnik recipe can be time-consuming and not easy to make but its flavor is worth it. In this post, we’ll share the traditional Macedonian zelnik recipe but first, let’s cover some basics.
What is Zelnik?
Zelnik is a traditional Macedonian dish made of thin crust filled with cabbage (or sauerkraut) or spinach. The closest equivalent to zelnik in the English speaking countries is the spinach filo pie or Bulgarian banitsa. In recent years, you can find more different variations that include fillings with cheese, eggs, minced meat, leeks, sorrel, or even rice. However, this zelnik recipe covers the traditional way of preparing this delicious pastry (with cabbage or spinach). Zelnik is usually served hot and paired with a glass of yogurt, ayran or kefir. Most often, it’s served for breakfast or as a light dinner.
Name, Origin, and History
The name “zelnik” derives from the word “zelje”, meaning cabbage, obviously referring to the main ingredient of this delicious pastry. Traditionally, zelnik is a cabbage or spinach filo pie similar to burek, another delicious pastry that’s very popular in Turkey, Central Asia, and most Slavic countries but there’s no exact evidence of which one appeared first.
The main difference between zelnik and burek is in the crust and the layers; zelnik always has thinner layers and thinner crust and is usually prepared for holidays or important occasions. Zelnik is also primarily filled with cabbage or spinach, unlike burek that’s usually filled with minced meat or white cheese.
As we mentioned, zelnik originates from Macedonia but throughout the years, it became popular in other Balkan countries and Turkey too. That’s why you can find different varieties (with different kinds of fillings) of zelnik in different parts of the region
A Few Tips Before Cooking
I know it might sound insignificant, but do not forget to brush the zelnik with some butter, oil, or fat before baking. It’s a difference-maker! Originally, zelnik is baked in a spiraled shape but if this is too difficult for you, you can make it in a regular circle or rectangular shape too. Of course, don’t forget to use parchment paper or a similar substitute.
Furthermore, because the process of preparing zelnik can be time-consuming. That’s why it’s probably a good idea to divide the process into three steps; preparing the filo (crust), preparing the filling, and preparing the pie. If you think this is too much, you can always shorten the procedure by buying ready-to-bake filo but don’t expect the zelnik to be the same (more about this below).
Finally, perhaps the best thing about zelnik is that you can fill it with anything. Yes, our zelnik recipe features cabbage or spinach but you can always try some not-so-typical but delicious fillings, such as minced lamb, onion, and garlic or bacon and leeks. As long as you find it tasty, you can never go wrong! Just let the pie cool off for around 15 minutes after baking, let the rich flavors mix, and enjoy this delicious Macedonian pastry!
If you’re a fan of delicious Balkan breads and pastries, also check out our
Too Lazy to Make the Filo?
As we mentioned, you can purchase ready-to-bake filo and use it for making your zelnik but note this; I’ve tried both, and using this ready-to-bake filo just isn’t the same. It’s still good but nothing beats a homemade zelnik recipe.
I know making your own crust can be time-consuming but if you just try making zelnik once, you’ll discover that it’s a nice leisure activity that goes really nice with lazy tasks, such as watching TV or singing along your favorite music. In fact, I’ll dare to say that it can even be therapeutic for your time. Just try it once and you’ll see what I mean. Even if you find it too tiring, you’ll see that the flavor is worth the effort!
- 700 Grams White Flour
- 1 Tablespoon Salt
- 3 Tablespoons Oil
- 250 Grams of Butter or Margarine
- 2 Eggs (beaten)
- 1 Cup of Water
- 1 Teaspoon Vinegar
- 250 Grams of White Cheese
- ½ kg of Cabbage or Spinach
- 2 Leeks (optional)
- 2 Eggs (beaten)
- 1 Tablespoon Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
Preparing the Crust
1.1 Combine all the ingredients except for the butter/margarine.
1.2 Knead the dough until reaching a springy consistency. Add water or flour if necessary.
1.3 Whack the dough against the table a few times (for consistency)
1.4 Let the dough rest for around 45 minutes.
1.5 Cut the dough into two pieces and spread them nicely with some melted butter.
Preparing the Filling
2.1 Wash the cabbage/spinach and squeeze out the moisture (as much as possible).
2.2 Cut the white cheese into tiny crumbles.
2.3 Beat the eggs.
2.4 Combine everything together (including other optional ingredients).
Baking the Pie
3.1 Set the oven to 380 F (250 degrees Celcius).
3.2 Use a thin rolling pin to roll out the first piece of dough.
3.3 After rolling out the dough, lay it in the pan and make sure it's spread out evenly.
3.4 Brush some melted butter on the top.
3.5 Roll out the second piece of dough. Pull it with your fingers and make sure you stretch .it as much as possible. Don't worry if there are tiny holes.
3.6 Add the filling to the frying pan
3.7 Pick up the top dough with the rolling pin and make plenty of ripples with the filling.
3.8 Adjust the layers and make sure everything is covered.
3.9 Brush some melted butter on the top and turn down the edges with a slight twisting motion.
3.10 Add the zelnik to the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove when the top starts getting a light brown color.
* Don't add the filling before completing the second layer. I know this sounds tempting, but if the first layer sits too long, the bottom dough can get quite soggy and ruin the whole recipe.
* When baking, check the oven after 15-20 minutes. If the top already starts getting brown, add some parchment paper on the top to make sure the zelnik doesn’t burn.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 412Total Fat: 35gSaturated Fat: 19gTrans Fat: 1.5gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 121mgSodium: 689mgCarbohydrates: 97gNet Carbohydrates: 97gFiber: 4gSugar: 1.9gProtein: 19.5g
A Few Things You’ll Need for This Recipe
How did you like our zelnik recipe? Did you ever eat zelnik? Would you try making it? Let us know in the comments and if you liked this recipe, don’t forget to leave us a rating!
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