Gibanica is sometimes called Burek (cheese pie).

Serve Gibanica (savoury cheese strudel) with roasted peppers, cucumber salad, tomatoes, raw onions if you like ’em and pljeskavica (grilled meat patties)

It was summer.  I was in university and my boyfriend had a Serbo-Croatian next-door neighbour (his dad was Croatian and his mom was Serbian) who was his best friend.  They used to hang out every day and would eat at each other’s homes quite often.

Days were spent talking about cars and puttering around his garage as he fixed his old ’64 Firebird.  The car was more Bondo than metal.  It was so cool though.  We drove down to Ambleside, cruised down Robson Street and walked along the Stanley Park Seawall during those warm summer nights.  
Layer phyllo sheets with cheese mixture.  Brush with oil or butter
Summers were full of barbecues and inevitably I would be invited to their big parties.  The house was full of people from all generations, chatting, playing pool and helping with making the food.  The tables were loaded with grilled chicken, grilled meat, a savour monkey bread, a cheese strudel, tomatoes, onions, cucumber salad and much more.   Everything was made from scratch.  His mom was the best cook ever.  

I should have used melted butter instead of olive oil.  I also did not butter each phyllo sheet before I layered on the cheese mixture…so it was drier and not as decadent.  It wasn’t as rich tasting as I remembered from the past 
The iconic foods that were a mainstay at all the barbecues were the Savoury Cheese Pie (Gibanica [Gee-ban-itsa]) and the Grilled Meat patties (Pljeskavica [Plyess-ka-vee-tsah]).  My boyfriend had once asked his buddy for the recipe, but didn’t get a response.  The recipes were well-guarded family secrets passed down through the generations.  I encountered a similar response from my Portuguese girlfriend’s family when I inquired about a fried shrimp empanada-like appetizer.   I never bothered asking anyone for their amazing recipes again.  I knew they wouldn’t divulge.  I just tucked those tastebud memories away with the faint hope that I might encounter an authentic recipe sometime in the future.
Bake until the bottom and top is golden brown.  

When I got married to my boyfriend, and his best friend became his Best Man, we moved out into our own townhouse and we no longer hung out at his parents’ house and I no longer ate the Serbo-Croatian foods that so resonated with me the smells and feelings of summer.

Today, lately since Stomach bought a new barbecue, (Weber!) I have been having nostalgic yearnings for the meat patties and custardy savoury cheese pies of my youth. 

Serve slices of Gibanica with the Pljeskavica.  Leftovers can be refrigerated and you can eat it at room temp or even cold
Though Stomach would often watch his best friend help his mother with the layering of the phyllo for the cheese pie and we would sit at the kitchen table as he helped make the meat patties and then grill them on the bbq, the thought never crossed my mind that I should be taking mental notes.  My bad.
Use a pyrex baking dish to bake the Gibanica so you can check that it is golden brown on the bottom.
From Stomach’s recollection, there were 7 different cheeses in that Gibanica (or Burek) dish.  Apparently, the layering of the Gibanica would take a long time and it was his friend’s job to do it.   I personally recalled some sort of dehydrated vegetable concoction that was sprinkled into the raw meat patty mixture. 

Pljeskavica (Croatian Grilled Meat Patties)
There are no Croatian or Serbian restaurants around Vancouver that I know of (let me know if there are!) and I suspect this is because the moms know how to cook so well…so why bother?  Other than befriending way more Croatian and Serbian friends in the hopes of being invited to their awesome bbq parties, the only way I figured I’d get to eat these tasty dishes whenever I wanted was to get to work researching and testing recipes.  I realized that I’d have to get going on researching the recipes that I longed for…on the internet.
Ground beef and pork are combined with finely minced onion, garlic and sweet paprika 
Interestingly, none of the recipes I found were exactly as I remembered.  None of the Gibanica recipes called for 7 different cheeses.  The recipes I found had at most 3 different cheeses.  The Pljeskavica recipes were so simple and didn’t call for any of those dehydrated veggies…that I wondered if they were truly authentic.  In the end, I found a product called “Vegeta” that was invented in Croatia.  Apparently, it is as ubiquitous as ketchup in North America.  So I suspect that Vegeta (which has an MSG and non-MSG version) is the product that my friend used in his meat patties mixture.  I also think the Vegeta he used had MSG in it because his Pljeskavica were soooo good!

Allow the ground meat mixture to sit covered in refrigerator so flavours will meld.  I did this overnight.

In the end, I cobbled together my own recipe from the myriad of recipes out there.  I used a technique from one recipe and some ingredients from a few other recipes and kind of guessed at the proportions.  

These two super tasty dishes are my faves for barbecues.  The sides will have to wait for another day’s post as this one’s getting pretty long on its own.

I will be tweaking the recipes this summer until they come out the way I remembered.  The Gibanica was a bit too dry for my liking.  This recipe was very good but not amazing!  I will be trying to make it more rich and custardy as I recalled it (and maybe add a few more cheeses? possibly 4 more? and use butter instead of olive oil).  I think the calorie counts will be going up for the cheese pie.  The meat patties are almost perfect.  I need that Vegeta seasoning mix.   Next time I have to form the patties differently…thinner and indented in the middle. Gotta look around for the Vegeta somewhere.  Doubt Safeway has it!

1 package phyllo dough (defrosted in the refrigerator overnight)
2 eggs [next time I will use way more eggs…maybe 4 or 5 because I didn’t think it was rich and custardy enough…also may add some milk]
2 cups feta cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons club soda or mineral water
olive oil or melted butter for brushing

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the feta until crumbly.  Add the ricotta, sour cream and 2 eggs.   Continue to pulse until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
  3. Add the club soda or mineral water.  Pulse again to combine.
  4. Butter, oil or spray a large pyrex rectangular baking dish.
  5. Save 4 sheets of phyllo; setting it aside for the “lid” of the strudel.  Cover with a towel so it doesn’t dry out.
  6. Take a sheet of phyllo and place into the baking dish.  Allow the phyllo to overhang the dish.  Brush oil or butter on the phyllo sheet.  
  7. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup,  measure out two scoops of the cheese mixture and spread evenly over the phyllo layer.
  8. Repeat until you are finished with all the phyllo sheets.
  9. Tuck into the dish any of the phyllo overhanging the dish.  Cut the reserved 4 sheets of phyllo to the size of the baking dish.  Layer sheets on top of the pie, brushing with oil or butter.  Finish with a brushing of butter or oil.
  10. Have ready some tin foil in case your Gibanica browns too quickly.  Place the pie on middle rack and bake for 25 minutes.  Check to ensure it’s not burning.  If it is browning too quickly, you can place the foil on top.    Continue baking for another 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye on the bottom and top.  Take it out of the oven when you see through the pyrex dish that the bottom is golden brown and the top is flaky and golden brown.
  11. Cut the cheese pie into squares and serve.  Leftovers can be refrigerated.  Gibanica can be eaten at room temperature or cold and is a delicious accompaniment to grilled meats.

1large onion, finely minced [I used the food processor]
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika
[next time I will try and find the seasoning mix,Vegeta to add to the mixture for a more authentic flavour]

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  2. Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to combine.
  3. Form the meat into thin patties.  You may want to indent the centres of the patties because they will puff up in the centre when cooked.  
  4. Grill the meat patties on the barbecue until done.
  5. Serve with Gibanica, roasted peppers, chopped raw red onions, tomato and a Yogurt Cucumber salad (post coming soon!)


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