If you’re a fan of Greek food, you’ve likely heard or tried spanakopita in some form before. But what exactly is it? Spanakopita is actually just spinach pie. But this simple, savory pastry dish has existed within Greek cuisine for centuries.
Spanakopita is a super versatile dish. You can make it with just about anything. And despite what some may think, it’s a great prep-ahead meal. Spanakopita is also great warm appetizer before a larger meal or a delicious afternoon snack to tide you over before dinner. Here are some basic facts about this mouth-watering Greek favorite I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid.
Spanakopita is loaded with some of my favorite things; spinach, sautéed onions, feta cheese, egg and seasonings such as dill. Delicate layers of phyllo dough encase this savory filling forming a one-of-a-kind flakey exterior. The pastry can be baked whole or formed into small triangles and served individually. Butter is the secret ingredient and what makes the phyllo crisp up and turn golden brown when baking giving this classic dish it’s signature look.
Other soft-white cheeses can be used in addition to or instead of the classic feta cheese. Some recipes call for a crust made out of flour and water instead of phyllo dough for a more pie-like exterior. When making the homemade version, you can serve it fresh from the oven or slightly cooled down, as is the typical Greek custom.
History and Tradition:
Like many foods, the origins of spanakopita is difficult to trace, yet many believe it may have originated in Greece over 400 years ago. This savory vegetarian dish may actually be related to ispanakli, a similar Turkish dish. The most delicious and authentic spanakopita recipes in the world originate from the region of Epirus, in the Northwest region of Greece.
Today, spanakopita is one of the most popular snacks in Greece and is increasingly available all over the world. If making the homemade version is not your thing, I get it, but trust me, once you try it, you may never go back. This famous dish is often overlooked these days, but trust me, it’s worth of a comeback. The simple ingredients blend perfectly together and may even get your kids eating spinach, if they don’t already.
- For the Filling:
- 3 tablespoons Extra-Virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 pounds baby spinach, blanched, squeezed and roughly chopped
- 3 teaspoons fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
- 2 cups, crumbled feta cheese
- 7 large eggs, lightly beaten
- For the Crust:
- 1/2 pound frozen phyllo dough, defrosted in the refrigerator
- 1 cup unsalted salted butter
- 1/4 cup Extra-Virgin olive oil
- Step 1 For the Filling: Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch for about 30 seconds. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Use your hands to squeeze out any extra water. Roughly chop and place in a medium mixing bowl, set aside.
- Step 2 Set a large saucepan over high heat and add the oil, when hot, but not smoking, add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional 15 seconds. Mix in the lemon juice and add to the bowl with spinach.
- Step 3 To the spinach-onion mixture add the dill, oregano and feta cheese and mix well to incorporate. Add the eggs and mix well. Set aside.
- Step 4 For the crust: Remove the phyllo dough sheets from the wrapper. Unroll on a work surface and cover with a piece of parchment paper. Drape two moist paper towels over the parchment paper, covering the entire surface area so the dough does not dry out.
- Step 5 Assembly: Using a 13×9-inch baking pan, build the first layer of the phyllo crust. Carefully peel 1 sheet of phyllo from the piled place it into the prepared baking dish positioning one end in the center of the pan and letting the sheet drape out over one of the long sides of the pan. Allow for a 3-inch overhang. Peel another sheet from the pile and place the phyllo into the pan, next to the first sheet of phyllo overlapping it slightly. Repeat, arranging a total of 6 sheets around the entire pan. Two on each long side and one each for the short sides. Using a pastry brush, brush melted butter all over the surface of the phyllo, including the overhang, holding the phyllo gently with your hand. Do not panic if some of the phyllo breaks, it will.
- Step 6 Build the second layer of the phyllo crust: Arrange another layer of 6 sheets on top of the first layer, following the same instructions as above. Brush the phyllo with butter again.
- Step 7 Next, spoon the filling into the crust. Use a rubber spatula to spread it evenly and smooth the top.
- Step 8 To seal the spanakopita, fold the phyllo overhang up and onto the filling. Beginning with the pieces on the long sides of the pan and finishing with the pieces on the short sides.
- Step 9 Carefully peel 1 sheet of phyllo from the pile and place this sheet of phyllo lengthwise on top of the filling and tuck the edges into the sides. With a pastry brush, gently dab some of the melted butter all over it. Place another sheet and brush with butter again. Repeat with 2 more sheets, brushing each with butter. Then place 2 sheets on at a time and dab the surface liberally with the butter. Repeat until you have used up a total of 8 sheets.
- Step 10 Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the spanakopita in the oven and bake at for 35 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden-brown and crispy. Slice and serve immediately.