In this week's ‘Exploring International Cuisines’ article, get ready to discover a country known for its vegetable dishes, barbecues, soups and pastries.
Exactly! Today we are going to dive into the Bulgarian cuisine. Simona Nenkova is a 20-year-old Creative Business student from Bulgaria, and she will share her gripping story about her favourite dish from her home country with us.
Simona calls the dish in question ‘Maslenka’ and it consists of a pastry filled with feta cheese and black caraways seeds. The pastry pockets are not only loved in Bulgaria but are also popular in many neighbouring countries under various different names and types. In Bulgaria, they can be found in a lot of bakeries and are known to be baked by grandmothers for the whole family.

Hot summers in Bulgaria, fun on the playground, and the smell of pastries…

When asking Simona about the story behind her special dish, a smile appears on her face as she starts thinking about the first times, she ate the pastry pockets as a child. Every summer, she used to travel from the busy city to the small village her great grandma lived in, to spend her summer with her family. While Simona was playing outside with her cousins, her great grandma baked the pastry pockets for the children. “She would put them in little bags and then we went to the playground or other houses and shared them with the other kids and ate them together”.

Most of the times, her great grandma baked too many pastries which then got stored in old cookie boxes for the children to be found and explored. “You never knew what was in the box that time. It was a surprise when you visited her and opened it, and secretly took a little snack and ran away”, Simona reveals.
Sometimes, the old and the young also baked the pastries together and the recipe has been passed on for generations. Simona remembers joyful hours spent together with her great grandma. As she was in a choir with other grandmas, she used to practice the songs during the baking sessions and Simona joined in. As the two of them stood in the kitchen and sang together, a great bond was established, and an everlasting memory created.

A dish that unites the family

Now that Simona is older and lives in another country, she doesn't get the opportunity to enjoy the pastry pockets as often anymore. Only when she travels back home to Bulgaria, she and her mom visit their favourite bakery in the city centre to buy them. It has become a lovely tradition to sit in the centre with a coffee or a lemonade and to enjoy the pastry together. “It's like having a little girls day because now we don't see each other anymore that often, so it's always special when I get back”.

Besides enjoying the dish with her mom, it is also a highly requested dish for family gatherings during birthdays or holiday season. Every time the whole family comes together to celebrate, the grandmas or aunts of the family bring a pastry for everybody to enjoy. Simona is always looking forward to these events, because they are combined with laughter and fun times. The dish is being eaten out of the box and shared with everyone and moments like these are what unites the family the most.

A recipe passed on to generations… and friends

Even though Simona cannot enjoy her favourite dish as often with her family anymore, she can share the comfort food with her friends in the Netherlands.

She recommends baking the pastry pockets when it's cold outside, craving a cosy snack, or when having a movie night with your loved ones. Optionally, it can also be perfectly enjoyed for breakfast, which Simona likes to combine with a yoghurt drink called ‘Ayran’.

Baking ‘Maslenka’ together with Simona and listening to the special story behind the dish has been a memorable experience. Not only is the delicious pastry quickly and easily baked, but it is also connected to heart-warming memories and traditions.

Even though Simona's great grandmother has already passed away a long time ago, she now visits her grandma in the small village for a couple of days during her summer holidays. And now they bake the pastry pockets together and sing the songs that the great grandma used to sing with them.

In case you got excited about the pastry pockets and would like to try them out yourself, this recipe will help you create the lovely dish in no-time and within €5!

All you need is:
  • 1 package of puff pastry
  • One block of Feta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • A few black caraway seeds (Optionally sesame seeds)
  1. Slice the puff pastry in squares and preheat the oven to 200C.
  2. To create the filling, crumble the Feta cheese in a bowl with a fork. Then add one of the eggs to the cheese and mix everything well together.
  3. Place a drop of the mixture in the middle of each pastry square and fold the dough like a triangle.
  4. Use a fork to seal the triangle, to prevent the cheese from escaping the pastry during the baking process.
  5. After placing the pastries on a baking sheet, they can be covered with the second egg, which has been beaten in another bowl.
  6. Sprinkle the seeds on top of the pastries and place them in the oven for approximately 20-25 minutes, until they turn golden brown.

Simona and I ate the pastry pockets right when they came out of the oven and were fresh and warm. They were definitely as delicious as she promised them to be, and knowing the special story behind the dish made the whole experience even better!

If you enjoyed this article then make sure to read the first instalment of the series, where we get to know Louisa and all about Reibekuchen, her favorite comforting dish from Germany.