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Zelnik – Cheese, eggs and leaf vegetables pastry

Vit zelnik – Cheese, eggs and leaf vegetables savoury pastry It’s been a long time since I promised to post another type of the traditional banitsa and here it is –Zelnik. We often say in the forewords of the traditional recipes that there are many variations of the recipe we write about.  And this is particularly true for this savoury pastry.  There are two distinct possible interpretations of the name Zelnik in Bulgarian: first one coming from zelen (green, implicating green vegetables used for the filling), and second one coming from zele (cabbage).

This recipe is based on my grandmother’s delicious zelnik. She used to prepare everything from scratch, but I’m still not so good to be rolling my own phyllo sheets (quite a task I must say), so I use readymade ones. To make this Zelnik really rustic type, I use thick round shaped phyllo sheets that look very much like my grandmother’s homemade stuff, but it is ok if you use the thinner type, too  – just stack a few, brushing some oil or butter in between.

The thing my family particularly likes about this recipe is that you can create an extremely richly flavoured pastry using almost every green leave vegetable you have handy – leeks, spinach, kale, chard, cress, lovage, celery, sorrel (but no lettuce – don’t ask me why).

And here is the recipe:

Zelnik – Cheese, eggs and leaf vegetables pastry Serves: 6-8

Preparation time: 35-40 minutes
Baking time: 25-30 minutes


Pack of thick phyllo sheets *
4 eggs
300g Sirene cheese (or feta)
400g spinach, fresh or frozen
3-4 stalks leek
70g melted butter**
a good pinch of salt

*Or a pack of regular phyllo, or 4 big sheets homemade phyllo
** You can easily substitute butter with sunflower oil for this recipe


First you need to prepare the two types of fillings. In a medium bowl crumble the cheese with a fork. (Another way to prepare banitsa is to mix the eggs with a pinch of salt and add them to the crushed white brine cheese – basically that is the filling, but this time we do differently). You need fairly crumbly mixture, so you can feel the cheese here and there in the ready Zelnik.

Then is the green filling – roughly cut the washed leeks and spinach, or any other vegetable you decide to put in. You can either sauté them with some butter until just lightly wilted, as we prefer, or if you want a bit lighter version, just blanch them for a minute and leave to cool.

Take a 27 cm pie dish (or smaller) and brush with oil (or melted butter). Spread one of the phyllo sheets over it and oil again. Cover with a damp cloth to prevent the phyllo from drying and getting crispy. (Taking pictures dried my phyllo a bit too much, that’s way they easily broke, as you can see).

Brush with butter or oil another phyllo sheet and place 1/3 of the cooled vegetable mix as shown on the pictures. Roll the phyllo half way and then spread some of the crumbled cheese. Now carefully roll, tight enough, so to form a long tube, filled with leeks, spinach and cheese. Bend the tube to form a circle and place it in the centre of the baking dish. Prepare the other two phyllo sheets the same way and fill the baking dish.

Beat the eggs and pour over the baking dish, trying to distribute equally. Cover over with remaining part of the first phyllo sheet, forming this way a cover. Brush with butter or oil between the layers.

Bake in preheated on 160C oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden. Leave the Zelnik to cool in the baking dish. Cover it with a clean kitchen towel for 10 minutes if you prefer it softer, otherwise it will be crispy on the outside and succulent inside.

Serve warm, with a glass of cold ayran.

5 comments to Zelnik – Cheese, eggs and leaf vegetables pastry

  • Karin Anderson (Karin's Bäckerei)

    Interesting recipe – I love spanakopita, and this seems similar. The reason why lettuce shouldn’t be use in the filling is, most likely, that it will be more or less tasteless, when cooked. It’s never used in soups, either.
    Greetings from the land of blueberries and lobsters,

    • Hi, Karin from the land of blueberries and lobsters!
      You’re right – this is practicaly the Bulgarian version of the famous spanakopita. But about the lettuce I can’t agree with you – here is our cream of lettuce spring soup, and we do love the taste! I’would love to hear your opinion, if you want to try it :)

  • Karin Anderson (Karin's Bäckerei)

    Hi, Borislava, you are right, I know lettuce soup, too. The difference is probably that the lettuce in the soup is cooked in very short time, but in a pastry with longer baking time it might be too mild. Nice recipe – we have often lettuce leftovers, and I am glad to use them, instead of throwing them away.

  • Vicki Alabakis

    My mother recently passed away sadly, and we were all commenting how now of us knew how to make zelnik and would never be able to eat mum’s “soul food” ever again.
    Your recipe is EXACTLY how she used to make it.(but her pastry was home made)
    You’ve brought a bit of my mum back for me!!
    Thank you so much!!!!

  • Expedia World On A Plate Challenge - Bulgaria - Bristol Bites | Bristol Bites

    […] something I’d happily make again – maybe experimenting with different fillings. The recipe that we used is here, if you’re interested in giving it a […]

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