My mom’s mom, my Baba makes the best cheese pita in the world. This is an undisputed fact, it is known among everyone whoever tried it. If you have ever had burek or gibanica it is like that. The recipe calls for half a dozen eggs, a pound of brick cheese, cream cheese, and a stick of butter. My mom more often would make the spinach version, like spanakopita, when I was a kid called Zeljanica which I preferred, probably because it is fun to say (zel E on it za). It was definitely the first dish that I can recall eating my greens and liking them. It was also one of the first things that I learned to make and when I went away to school I liked to make it for potlucks because it is so delicious and easy to make and the recipe makes more than just a few people *should* eat.
After I went vegan I sadly realized I would never eat it again since there was just too much to substitute. Plus, the eggs make it puff up and I didn’t want a bunch of green muck which happened to me once before when I didn’t have the recipe right. A few weeks ago Chicago Soy Dairy sent me some mozzarella Teese and it eventually got me thinking that now I had the perfect cheese element wrapped up in front of me! I could easily replace the cream cheese with tofutti cream cheese and olive oil replaced the butter (I didn’t want to use melted earth balance but I think it would be great). The only problem was the cottage cheese and egg so I replaced both with big tofu crumbles marinated for a couple of minutes in salt and lemon juice and some pine nuts. I also thought that I would have more texture using Swiss Chard, spinach’s sturdier cousin. Then since it is spring time I added a giant leek. I really couldn’t believe how well it all turned out, I still can’t. It is just perfect, even better than I had hoped. The teese worked perfect, there is no weird taste and it is decidedly rich. I don’t want to say “you won’t believe it is vegan” but dammit, I have to! I am also excited because I have my go to potluck dish back!
The Zeljanica also works great as an easter dish, especially if you want to serve it to your Serbian Orthodox friends for American easter since they will still be fasting for another week. You can also sing along with them to this video or enjoy 3 X Love and everyone can have a laugh. You could also serve it for your equinox festival, to celebrate the opening of the first public library (in 1833, in Peterborough, NH), your 4/20 throwdown, Buddha’s birthday or for brunch. It is a dish that will work for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, appetizer, or feast. Hot or cold, it doesn’t matter.
1 lbs extra firm tofu
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp lemon juice
10 oz Mozzarella Teese, grated
1 bunch swiss chard, stems removed and leaves torn
8 oz plain toffuti cream cheese
1 large leek, white part cleaned and chopped in skinny half moons
Box of Filo Dough, defrosted*
olive oil or melted earth balance
*the fresher the filo dough the better it will work. If you have a greek store you can usually find it there in the refrigerated section as opposed to the freezer. Otherwise, get the frozen kind and let it completely thaw in the fridge for a day before you use it. Don’t try any other method (trust me) it doesn’t work you have to wait.
Crumble the tofu into a bowl with your hands squeezing the water out as you go. You want pretty big chunks, like tablespoon size. Next, add the salt and lemon juice and mix together and let marinate while you prep the rest of the ingredients. Add the Teese, the chard, the leek and the toffuti to the bowl and mix everything together with your hands until everything is incorporated but not blended.
Next, Preheat the oven to 375 and assemble your workstation. You want everything at hand because once you get the filo out of the packaging it dries quickly. Get a baking sheet out and oil the bottom and put about a third of a cup of oil in a bowl with a pastry brush. Get a towel slightly dampened with no wet spots, you don’t the filo to get wet because it will stick together so make sure that your damp towel is not that damp! Open the filo and unfurl it and place it under the towel.
Carefully peel off the first layer of filo. Usually the first layer doesn’t come off well so I end up putting it to the side. Don’t worry about messing it up because you have more dough in the box than you will need and the bottom layers don’t have to be perfect. Lay the first sheet down on the oiled pan, cover the remaining filo back up with the towel and oil the top of the first layer of dough. The oil works like mortar sealing everything together. You can patch pieces together and seal holes with any excess you have moved to the side. When you are done get the next piece out and repeat the process until you have 6 layers down. Then spread the filling out over the dough.
Top with pine nuts and then, using the same process add 6 more layers to the top. . You can also use the filo in alternative ways with this filling although this is the easiest. Sometimes I do something decorative on the very top with the leftover filo, just use a lot of oil. I have spelled things out, tried to make flowers, and made a thicker crust around the edge. Or you can top with asparagus pieces and they will roast right on top and then when it is done you can cut it into little squares if you want to be fancy. Once it is assembled you can also refrigerate for a day or two and bake it the day you need it. Another fun thing to do is fold it into triangles
and deep fry.
Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes. The edges will be the first thing to burn so keep an eye on them after 20 minutes. After it has cooled you can cut it into pieces to serve cold or you can keep it whole and warm it up back in the oven if you are not serving immediately. Enjoy!