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8 Traditional Vegan Bulgarian Christmas Recipes for a Festive Feast

София, България

Sofia, Bulgaria

December 25th 2023

After thoroughly answering the ever-present "why Bulgaria" question, the topic of food often closely follows. Bulgarians and foreigners alike wonder, how does a vegan maintain a plant-based diet amongst meat-heavy balkan cuisines?

To my surprise, after moving here I discovered that Bulgaria not only boasts a wealth of traditionally vegan recipes, but may be the only country in the world with an entirely vegan Christmas meal by design.

On Christmas Eve (Бъдни вечер), and for up to 40 days before Christmas Day for those devout to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, it is customary in Bulgaria to fast by consuming only vegetables. While not everyone strictly adheres to this tradition, it has given the region a whole host of vegan-friendly dishes.

In this blog I will go over eight traditionally vegan Bulgarian recipes we made this Christmas. Many of these recipes feature common ingredients found in a typical Bulgarian kitchen, including smoked paprika, red peppers, olive oil, and walnuts, as well as some region-specific products that may be difficult to source elsewhere, such as summer savory (чубрица) and whole-pickled cabbage leaves. Some I chose to cook in a guvetch (гювеч) clay pot, however a standard stove-top pot can also be used.

1) Зелеви Сарми

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

For me a quintessential Bulgarian dish, sarmi consists of a dry rice mix wrapped into pickled cabbage or vine leaves and cooked until soft.

Recipe: Cabbage sarmi with mushrooms, walnuts and raisins

Makes: ~15-20 sarmi


  • 50g olive oil / олио

  • 1 large onion / лук

  • 150g mushrooms / гъби

  • 220g rice / ориз

  • 50g tomato paste / доматена паста

  • 10g vegetable stock / зеленчуков бульон

  • Salt and pepper / сол и черен пипер

  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika / пушен червен пипер

  • 1 tbsp spearmint / джоджен

  • 1 tbsp summer savory / чубрица

  • 100g walnuts / орехи

  • 60g raisins / стафиди

  • 15-20 Pickled cabbage leaves / кисело зеле


  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Chop the onion and mushrooms finely, and add one at a time. After a few minutes add the uncooked rice, tomato paste, vegetable stock, spices and approximately 300-500ml of warm water.

  2. Cook until all the water has gone, then take off the heat, add chopped walnuts and raisins, and leave to cool.

  3. Taking one cabbage leaf at a time, spoon ~1 tbsp of rice mixture into the base of the leaf and roll it up. I personally cut out the thick root in the middle of the leaf and use half leaves for rolling. Place them snuggly in the bottom of a clay pot or cooking pot, arranging them in circles and layering when necessary.

  4. Place a heavy heat-proof dish on top to weigh the sarmi down, and fill the pot with warm water. Place in an unheated oven and cook for 45 minutes at 220°C, followed by another 45 minutes at 180°C. If using a stove-top, cook for 45-60 minutes on low heat after reaching a boiling temperature.

2) Пълнени Чушки

Stuffed Peppers

Ottomon cuisine really seems to be about stuffing things into other things constantly.

Recipe: Potato-stuffed peppers

Makes: 5 stuffed peppers


  • 20g olive oil / олио

  • 1 large onion / лук

  • 600g potatoes / картофи

  • Salt and pepper / сол и черен пипер

  • 2 tsp smoked paprika / пушен червен пипер

  • 1-2 tsp summer savory / чубрица

  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek / сминдух

  • 5 large red peppers / чушки


  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Peel and cut the potatoes into small cubes and fry until they soften a little. Add the spices and stir for a few minutes.

  2. Cut the heads off the red peppers and remove seeds. Spoon in the potato mixture until peppers are full. Leftovers can be cooked alongside the peppers.

  3. Place on a baking try and cook for 20-30 minutes at 200°C, or until peppers begin to brown (longer is better for softer potatoes).

3) Боб Яхния

White Bean Stew

This is a variant on the soup version (боб чорба), a very typical winter dish in Bulgaria. One of the benefits of making it into a stew however, is that it can also be stuffed into leftover peppers and cooked in the oven.

Recipe: White bean stew

Makes: 8-10 portions


  • 500g dry white beans / бял боб

  • 1 tsp baking soda / сода за хляб

  • 10g + 80g olive oil / олио

  • 1 large onion / лук

  • 2 garlic cloves / чесън

  • 200g carrots / маркови

  • 400g red peppers / чушки

  • 350g tomatoes / домати

  • 30g tomato paste / доматена паста

  • Salt and pepper / сол и черен пипер

  • 3 tbsp summer savory / чубрица

  • 2 tbsp spearmint / джоджен

  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika / пушен червен пипер

  • 2 tbsp flour / брашно

  • 10g vegetable stock / зеленчуков бульон

  • Fresh parsley for seasoning / магданоз


  1. Soak dried beans overnight in excess water. The following day, rinse and bring to the boil with a little baking soda added. The water will foam up, remove the foam with a spoon and boil it for ~5 minutes. Then rinse, boil again and repeat one more time.

  2. Heat 10g of oil in a large frying pan. Chop the garlic and onion and fry until brown. Cut carrots and red peppers into small cubes and add. After a few minutes, add cut up tomatoes, tomatoes paste, and all spices expect for smoked paprika. Fry for several minutes.

  3. In a separate cup, mix together the flour, smoked paprika, and remaining 80g of oil. It may need to be heated slightly to ensure flour completely mixes.

  4. In a clay pot or cooking pot, place the rinsed beans at the bottom and cover with the flour mixture from the previous step. Then add the vegetable mixture from the frying pan on top, add vegetable stock, and fill with warm water.

  5. Place in an unheated oven and cook at 220°C for 45 minutes. Take out and stir thoroughly. Then place back and cook for another 45 minutes at 180°C. Adjust timings if using a stove-top pot. Afterwards, take out of the oven and leave out with lid off so that water leaves. Add fresh parsley if desired.

4) Питка

Fasting Bread

A simple and easy bread that can be made with yeast or baking soda. Can be eaten with the sweet honey-like spread in the next recipe.

Recipe: Pitka with yeast

Makes: 16 bread rolls


  • 1kg flour / брашно

  • 4g yeast / мая

  • 25g sugar / захар

  • 15g olive oil / олио

  • 7g salt / сол


  1. Mix yeast with 150ml of luke warm water. In a separate large bowl mix the remaining dry ingredients. Then add the yeast-water mix and the remaining 400ml of water. Knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth.

  2. Leave the dough to rise for ~1 hour in a warm place.

  3. Divide into pieces and form into your desired shape. Leave to rise for an additional 15 minutes after.

  4. Place into pre-heated oven at 180°C and cook for about 45-60 minutes.

5) Мед с Oрехи

Honey and Walnut Spread

While honey is allowed during fasting, here we will use a vegan alternative. In Bulgaria Lidl stocks vegan bio alternatives, but I'm sure most thick sweet syrups will do. Can be spread onto bread.

Recipe: Vegan syrup with walnuts and garlic

Makes: ~370g


  • 250g vegan honey substitute / веган мед

  • 100g walnuts / орехи

  • 1-3 garlic cloves / чесън


  1. Chop garlic cloves finely and walnuts roughly. Mix with honey.

6) Тиквеник

Pumpkin Pastry

A seasonal variety of banitsa, Bulgaria's headline pastry. At Christmas its also traditional to place sealed fortunes across the top of it. Whatever slice you get can predict your next year.

Recipe: Pumpkin pastry

Makes: 1 large dish


  • 1kg pumpkin / тиква

  • 100g sugar / захар

  • 100g walnuts / орехи

  • 20g olive oil / олио

  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon / канела

  • 0.5 tsp nutmeg / индийско орехче

  • 370g banitsa/filo pastry sheets / кори за баница


  1. Peel and grate the pumpkin. Mix with sugar, walnuts and spices in a bowl.

  2. Lay the pastry sheets flat on the table and put some oil in a container. Sprinkle some of the oil over the sheet and spread a small amount of the pumpkin mixture over the pastry sheets (roughly divide the mixture by the number of sheets you have). Roll up and arrange into a baking try.

  3. Bake at 200°C for 20-30 minutes. Sprinkle sugar on top to finish.

7) Ошав

Fruit Compote

A mix of dried fruits is soaked into water with a sweetener to create a sweet compote drink.

Recipe: Oshav

Makes: Fills a litre jug


  • 50g dried apricots / сушени кайсии

  • 40g prunes / сини сливи

  • 75g dried apple and pear / сушени ябълки и круши

  • 25g brown sugar / захар

  • 70g cinnamon sticks / канелени пръчици


  1. Mix ingredients with ~700ml of water in a pot and cook for 20-30 minutes on low heat. Cool it in the fridge after if desired, and dilute with more water if strong.

8) Баница


Banitsa is one of my favourite Bulgarian snacks and even ranks 13th on Taste Atlas' top 100 pastries in the world.

Recipe: Banitsa with potato and sun-dried tomato

Makes: 1 large dish


  • 1kg potato / картофи

  • 100g frozen spinch / спинак

  • 75g sun-dried tomatoes / сушени домати

  • 20g olive oil / олио

  • 1x onion / лук

  • 1 tsp smoked paprika / пушен червен пипер

  • 1 tsp sweet paprika / сладък червен пипер

  • 1 tsp garlic powder / чесън на прах

  • Salt and pepper / сол и черен пипер

  • 370g banitsa/filo pastry sheets / кори за баница


  1. Peel and cut potatoes into small cubes. Place in cold water and cook for 8 minutes from the point of simmering (so they are soft but not too mushy). Afterwards take them out and rinse them.

  2. In a separate large frying pan heat oil, add chopped onion, tomatoes, and frozen spinach. Mix with spices and fry for several minutes. At the end, mix in the potatoes and then leave to cool completely before rolling.

  3. Take one pastry sheet, brush it with a thin layer of oil and add another sheet on top. Add roughly 4 tbsp of potato mixture and roll up. Repeat this until the mixture is used up, and place them on a baking tray arranged into a circular shape. Brush the top with oil and bake for 20-30 minutes at 200°C.


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