Three years ago I fell in love with Serbia and, to be precise, with one of its most cheerful and energetic ‘blond’ smiles, Zoja.
She introduced me to her roots, walked me through the streets of a restless Belgrade, ‘overwhelmed’ me with her generosity, warmed my hearth with glasses of rakija (the national brandy) and fed me with spoons of ajvar (a roasted red bell peppers relish).
She introduced me to her parents too: a profound woman who dedicated her life to arts and the love for her daughter, and Fedja, a well-known Serbian actor and a man with a contagious and caring smile.
Fedja introduced me to gibanica and it was love at first bite.
Gibanica is a Serbian pie made with layers of kore (a very particular dough similar to phyllo sheets), that has the consistency and texture of paper sheets, and a mix of eggs, seasoned fresh cheese and kajmak, whole-fat creamy cheese with a light acid taste.
Unfortunately, all the main ingredients are very local and therefore difficult to find outside Serbia but creativity knows no boundaries if you accept the fact that the outcome will be inevitably different!
Just to give you some reference, the ‘seasoned’ cheese has similar consistency as feta but it is softer and less salty. The dough is similar to the one used for baklava and burek and the result is something in between, not too crispy and with a rectangular shape. Kajmak has a texture in-between yogurt and ricotta, very milky and buttery (good luck with it!).
The process is very simple and straightforward:
1. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, cheese, kajmak, sunflower oil and fizzy water (quantities below). The result will basically be a bath for the phyllo dough.
2. Before proceeding, spread some butter on a tray and cover the bottom with a layer of dough, making sure to leave abundant edges that we will fold at the end to fully close the pie.
3. Now it is the time fun begins! One by one, wring the layers of dough in your hands and dip them completely into the mix. In this way, the dough will absorb the liquid and capture the cheese in its folds.
4. Right after the eggy/cheesy bath, start placing the wrinkled dough layers into the tray (you do not want to make a mess in the kitchen going around with dripping food) to fully cover its capacity
5. Once done, fold the edges, cover completely the pie and spread on it a liquid that is 50% water and 50% sunflower oil
6. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes at 250°C.
The result is a delicious layered pie, very moist inside and slightly salty that can be eaten with fork and knife or, more wildly with bare hands (if you do not mind the oily feeling on your fingers.
I love it with a large spoon of ajvar on the side but feel free to keep it pure.
Once I suggested Fedja to add anchovies to the mix. I will never forget the way he looked at me without saying a word… I shall not propose it again!
Ingredients (for a medium sized tray):
600 grams of kore (layers of dough)
400 grams seasoned fresh cheese
2 large spoons of kajmak
1 glass of sparkling water
Olive oil, sunflower oil, butter