Macedonian Zelnik

Recipe cooked by George Filev http://georgefilev.com

Zelnic is a wonderful, traditional pastry or pie recipe from the Balkans. I grew up with Zelnic being made and savoured around special occasions like Christmas and Easter time as well as throughout the year. Everyone seems to make it in a similar way but it always tastes slightly different depending on whose hands have done the work. Fillings can range from cheese, eggs, spinach, sorrel, browned meat, silver beet (chard), leeks and rice; in winter, the filling may also include brined cabbage, from which the dish derives its name: Zelnik (Macedonian and Bulgarian language: "зелка" Zelka ) means cabbage. I can imagine in the old days, that sheppard’s and farmers would carry Zelnik with them while they did their work. It was a very portable meal much like pasties to the Irish. In my day I was sometimes supplied with Zelnik for lunch at school. My grandmother Chrisoula was a great cooker of Zelnic and made sweet version by using a pumpkin filling and sugar in place of salt in the pastry, which was delicious. Some people make Zelnik by using Filo Pastry but I much prefer making my own pastry, as the taste and texture is far superior.

Following is a traditional recipe that was handed down to me by my mother who was taught by her mother, who was taught by her mother, etc. I have added my own touch to one of the fillings by adding eggplant and it was a sensational addition and I highly recommend it. By following this recipe you will have enough dough and filling for 2 x 35cm diameter Zelnic’s. Feel free to halve ingredient’s to make one or experiment with your own fillings. You won’t be disappointed if you diligently follow the following directions. If this is the first time you are making Zelnik, you need to set aside half a day to make it. You will get quicker each time but bear in mind that this recipe requires you make your own pastry and that takes time. The results are well worth the effort and in this day and age of fast food, cooking with love and creating dishes from raw ingredients makes for a totally satisfying and enriching experience. What are you waiting for? EQUIPMENT REQUIRED

1 x Flour Sieve 1 x Bowl (Large) & 1 x small bowl 1 x plastic scraper or spatula 1 x pastry brush 2 x frying pans 1 x small pot 1 x cup 1 x fork 2 x tea towels 1 x wooden spoon 1 x chopping board 1 x knife 1 x wooden dowel 1.5cm diameter x 1 metre long. (This is what is traditionally called a “sukalo” which simply means rolling pin in the

Macedonian language. You will find the pastry much easier to work with if you use this in place of a standard rolling pin.) 2 x 35cm diameter deep baking pans (preferably non stick) These pans are traditionally called “Tepsia” in the Macedonian language.

INGREDIENTS

1.5kg Special White Flour (good quality bakers flour) 200gm Feta (Bulgarian fetta is recommended for it’s taste) 200gm Ricotta (Fresh) 200gm Beef mince (lean) 1 x Eggplant 1 x Leek 1 x Onion 2 x Eggs

1 packet (7gms) powdered yeast or equivalent if fresh 5 tablespoons Ghee or clarified butter 500mls warm water Extra virgin olive oil salt and pepper

METHOD Now that you have all the ingredients and required equipment, let’s get cracking. Begin by putting 4 cups of flour and a good pinch of salt through your sieve into the big bowl.

Place 2 tablespoons of the flour into the cup and add the yeast from one packet.

Add some warm water. It should be warmer to touch but NOT HOT as high heat would kill the yeast. Add enough water to half fill the cup and mix so that the flour and yeast mix together.

Leave this to the side till the yeast mixture doubles in size. While you are waiting for this to occur, cut the ends off your leek and slice it in half.

Wash it under water to get rid of any dirt in amongst the leaves.

By this time your yeast mixture will have grown.

Make a well in the centre of your flour and add the yeast mix.

Use one hand to mix the dough and the free hand to add the warm water in dribbled amounts. For this mix it will need about 500mls of warm water.

Keep mixing the dough until it starts to form together into a ball.

Take the dough out of the bowl and kneed it on the bench for a couple of minutes.

Your dough will be ready for proving once it has formed a smooth consistency and all the flour has been evenly mixed together. A good test for this is if you press the ball with your finger it should bounce back at you a little.

Use some olive oil to grease the bowl and place the dough in the centre to prove. Place a little oil on the dough ball and spread it over the surface.

Then cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise and double in size.

Now, it is time to concentrate on the fillings. We are making two different fillings but you can just double the ingredients of one and make two Zelnik’s with the same filling if you prefer. Slice the leeks in half again longways and chop them.

Place 2 tablespoons of Ghee in a frying pan over a low heat.

Add the sliced leek and sweat them till they are soft and translucent. Then set the pan to the side off the heat.

In another frying pan place it on medium heat and add some olive oil.

Add the lean minced beef and stir fry it till it is cooked.

Dice one onion.

Add the onion to the beef and fry till cooked.

Peal the eggplant.

Dice the eggplant into small cubes.

Add the eggplant to the mince and onions and cook while stirring over medium heat. Once cooked, set to the side off the heat. The eggplant does not have to be cooked all the way through as it will also be baked in the oven.

In a small bowl combine the ricotta, the fetta and two eggs by mashing them with a fork.

Add this egg / cheese mix to the leeks in the frying pan.

Season the fillings well with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 365 °f or 185 °C

In a small saucepan melt 3 tablespoons of Ghee with 3 tablespoons of oil. This will be used for brushing the pastry.

Use a pastry brush to grease the baking pans with the melted Oil / Ghee mix.

By this time your dough will have doubled in size.

Sift some flour on the bench and turn out the dough.

Kneed it softly into a log shape.

Cut it in half.

Cut those two pieces in half.

Cut those 4 pieces in half.

Cut those 8 pieces in half to give you 16 equal sized pieces.

This will make up 5 pieces for the base and 3 pieces for the top of each pie.

Roll each piece of dough between your hands to make balls and place them on the sifted flour.

Cover them with a tea towel to prevent them drying out.

Heavily dust one area (shown at the back of the table) and lightly dust the work area (show at the front of the table.) We are about to use the sukalo!

ROLLING THE DOUGH 1. Grab one ball and flatten it between your hands.

2. Place it on the work area and use the sukalo to make a criss cross pattern. This will assist in rolling out an even circle with the sukalo.

3. Roll out to roughly the size of a side plate.

4. Transfer the thin pastry circle or “Kora” to the heavily dusted area and grease the top of it with the pastry brush.

Repeat steps 1 through to 4 and place the “kora” on top of the other.

Repeat the process until you have reached the amount required but DO NOT brush the top of the last “kora”. Remember you need 5 “kora” for the base and 3 “kora” for the top of each zelnik. Cover the pastry with a tea towel when you have completed a stack to stop them from drying out.

So keep rolling…

Keep stacking…

Until all your balls have been turned into stacks. Now you should have 2 x stacks with 5 “kora” and 2 x stacks with 3 “kora”. We will start rolling out the base of one Zelnik first. Select a stack with 5 “kora”. To begin, use your fingers and press indents in the top of the stack. This will help keep the “kora” together and prevent them from slipping when they are being rolled.

Now transfer the stack to your work area and use the sukalo to make the criss cross pattern on the stack.

Roll out your pastry as evenly as possible. Don’t be afraid to be rough with it. Flip it over, or keep spinning it around till you have the right shape you want.

Use the baking pan to check if your pastry is big enough for the pan.

Flip one end of the pastry over the sukalo and roll the pastry on.

Now place it over the greased pan.

Fix up the edges so that it sits in the corners with a little overhang on the edges.

Add the filling you prepared earlier, in this case we will use the leek and ricotta mixture.

Use the fork to even out the filling and spread it around the base.

Now roll out one of the top’s with the 3 “kora” and place it on the top.

Use your pastry brush and brush the edges with the

Ghee / Oil mixture.

Now use your hands to twist and roll over the edges of the pastry around the pans edge and then score with a knife. This is a traditional way of decorating the dish and also helps to seal the edges.

Brush the entire top with the Ghee / Oil mixture. This will help your pastry become light and crispy while cooking.

Finally you need to puncture some holes in the top of the pastry to allow internal air to escape while cooking. If you don’t do this, the top will rise like a balloon and separate itself from the filling.

Your preparation is now complete and all that is left is the cooking.

Place the Zelnik in the preheated oven and depending on the height of the shelf, whether it is a fan forced oven or not, it should take about 30 to 45 mins to bake. You will know when it is ready by the way it looks. It should be evenly golden brown on the top and the base should be cooked.

Yummy!!!!

If you are not going to eat it straight away, then it is best to place it on a cooling rack to cool so that the moisture disperses away from the pastry and prevents it from getting soggy.

It is a good idea to cover the cooked Zelnik with a tea towel to keep the pastry soft while it cools down.

There you have it, scrumptious Zelnik. Enjoy.

If you have some left over, yeah right, as if!, you can put it into freezer bags and freeze it for another time. It warms up really well in either a conventional oven when wrapped in tin foil or in a microwave, without the foil. Dobro Ruchok, Bon Appetite, Good eating.

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