This cheese pie (aka gibanica, pita, gužvara, burek) would have to be one of the most famous traditional dishes in Serbia. Depending on who you speak to, they have a name for it.
From my understanding and the research that I did, it’s best known as gibanica (pronounced ghee-BAN-itsa) and this is my vegan gibanica recipe.
My mum made a different version of this that wasn’t as doughy, and I grew up knowing it as burek. Burek is a slightly different version of a traditional pie but has different fillings.
Gibanica is known for only having cheese and other dairy such as cream, sour cream, yoghurt or milk. You’ll also see anywhere from 3-10 eggs added to the traditional version.
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The cheese can also vary depending on the recipe that you choose, but the base will typically be either ricotta or feta. I have taken the general concepts of some of the non-vegan versions of this dish that I found online, and also from my own experience eating this delicious Serbian cheese pie before becoming vegan.
If you’re anything like me and see images of recipes like this and freak out because you’re nervous about working with pastry, I want to assure you not to worry!
You either don’t have the time or the confidence to make your own, or you simply feel overwhelmed by something that looks simple but may end up being quite complicated.
I had no idea that most recipes out there (unless it’s your baka (aka grandma) making it) use store-bought fillo/phyllo pastry and get a great texture and finish.
So, don’t be frightened when you see that lovely layer of dough on the inside. It’s effortless to achieve! You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The beauty of this dish is that you can have it hot or cold. It’s traditionally known to be a breakfast recipe that would be whipped up the morning of or the night before. If you have time in the morning, go for it!
But like most people that are trying to get out the door first thing in the morning and don’t have a minute spare to whip up a cheese pie, make it the day before.
It’s also great as a lunchbox addition, or a take to work meal. Really, you can enjoy it whenever.
How to serve this vegan cheese pie?
It pairs great with any of the following additions (or simply have it on its own):
- Ajvar (a roasted red pepper relish). Here in Australia, you can find it in most supermarkets. My husband Michael has fallen in love with it! It can also be made with a mix of peppers and eggplant (aubergines). Alternatively, try my romesco dip recipe, it’s just as delicious!
- Vegan yoghurt. I’d recommend a plain, unsweetened yoghurt. It’s traditionally served with the runnier kind, that you’d pour into a cup and drink rather than a thicker variety. You can also substitute this with kefir if you can get a vegan version.
- Vegan sour cream. I used to spread sour cream on the top of the pie. It’s a lovely addition, especially if it’s still warm.
- Gherkins. Need I say more?
- Raw chopped onion with salt. This is a traditional way to enjoy it but be warned to have this maybe when you’re either on your own or with a loved one that doesn’t mind the aftermath of raw onion.
- A simple salad. I’d generally do a cucumber, tomato, and red onion salad with a generous seasoning of salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar. It would also go great with this panzanella salad.
- Chargrilled capsicums (aka red bell peppers) with a garlic parsley oil. It’s one of the most Balkan combinations!
This fillo pastry with vegan ‘feta’ is super simple to make, soft and creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside.
I think I’ve perfected the flavours and textures of the non-vegan version of this traditional Serbian gibanica. I’m happy with how it has turned out, and I’m confident that you’ll fall in love with it too!
Can vegans eat store-bought fillo/phyllo pastry?
A lot of vegans get confused and unsure of whether or not they can eat fillo pastry. The answer is yes. Most supermarket brands will not use butter in their pastry as it’s more expensive to produce and opt-out of using it. This is the brand that I’ve been using and is accessible in most supermarkets here in Australia.
This variety of pastry is thinner than some of the ones that you’ll find in other countries, especially the traditional one that is used, which is a medium thickness. I can’t get access to that and imagine that most other people wouldn’t be able to either.
If you live somewhere, where it’s accessible, go for the medium thickness instead. However, the thin kind will work just as well!
A few tips for making this vegan Serbian cheese pie
- If you’re using a frozen pastry, make sure to thaw it out completely before you start using it.
- Any baking dish will work here—a stainless steel one, ceramic or glass. Just make sure that the size will fit the whole pie. I wouldn’t use a dish smaller than 26cm (10.2 inches).
- Also keep in mind if you use a different sized dish, that the baking time will vary. This will also vary if you use a ceramic dish vs a stainless steel one.
- If you’re making a thicker pie, make sure to bake it for longer. In contrast, if it’s a thinner one (using a large baking dish), it will bake faster. So make sure to keep an eye on it and aim for the same outcome of look based on my pictures. With time, you’ll get a better gauge for it.
- If you have a super deep smaller dish, you’ll have to take it out midway through baking and flip it onto a flat baking tray so that the bottom bakes evenly.
I’ve purposefully left out using vegan versions of traditional dairy in this dish because I wanted it to be as accessible as possible. I don’t buy things like vegan feta, vegan ricotta, vegan sour cream etc. so I didn’t want to use them.
Don’t get put off by the fact that this dish uses tofu. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that it tastes very similar to the traditional version and nothing like tofu!
This vegan version of a traditional gibanica is also healthier for you. With the use of organic tofu, nutritional yeast, lemon juice and aquafaba (chickpea water), it has less fat and all the nasty things that come along with consuming dairy (if you’re interested in learning more about the dairy industry, check out this video).
Have you had a Serbian cheese pie before? What did you think? Would love to know how this one compares!
Other recipes you’ll love:
- Three Incredibly Simple Silverbeet Recipes
- Sauerkraut and Bean Stew (Slovenian Jota)
- Quick and Easy Sauerkraut Pasta
- Serbian Baked Beans (Prebranac)
- Vegan Spinach Pie with ‘Ricotta’
- Romesco Dip (Gluten-Free)
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