Macedonians are a proud people, and for many reasons. Perhaps the root of this is that we come from an area of the Balkan Peninsula that's been vigorously contested throughout history. Given that, Macedonians have always had to strike a firm claim to things that belong to them. Zelnik is no different!
So...What is Zelnik?
Some people have compared my family's Zelnik recipe to quiche. Others have said that my Zelnik is kind of like a hot pocket. People with similar Balkan backgrounds may call it Burek, Komat, Banitza or maybe Maznik. Regardless, it is indeed a Balkan pastry consisting of a variety of fillings encased in a flakey crust. BUT, it is its own thing prepared its own way, it is distinctly a Macedonian tradition, and this Macedonian calls it Zelnik!
A little about myself...
Like many “Old World” cooks, Baba didn’t write her recipes down or use measuring devices. She did use a coffee mug to approximate things. My Dad, determined to learn, recorded notes by hand as he watched her work. As Baba portioned out ingredients with her coffee mug my Dad would then measure them in more traditional measuring devices. For many years he tried to duplicate her work, but Baba always found something a little off. “Too much salt...Needs more butter...Crust is too thick.”
I remember Baba visiting us just one time. Dad was making Zelnik and she hopped in to help. Baba was happy with the end results on that one. I remember how excited Dad was about it. “I finally got it,” he told me.
When Baba passed, Dad made some Zelnik for the post-funeral service gathering. Baba’s Zelnik was well known in the Macedonian circles of the Akron area. Some elderly ladies were in awe over the Zelnik my Dad had made. It was exactly as Baba’s. Dad told them that he made it and they didn’t believe him. It was too good. Surely this must have been made by Baba and sent from heaven. I’d say he got the recipe down!