A Taste of Greece
Based on spanakopita, the classic Greek spinach and feta pie, this savory dish is surprisingly easy make at home.
I once visited the Mediterranean and was lucky enough to try a Greek dish called spanakopita. I had traveled to the edges of the Mediterranean Sea to visit a friend who was in school abroad. It was her holiday, and we spent our days on the beach, experiencing the culture and soaking up the architecture around us.
One night we decided to go to a fancy restaurant that was located around the corner. It was an open-air-concept building, and instead of walls it consisted of archways with a peak in the middle and nothing but views around us. There were large potted plants sitting everywhere, and you could smell the ocean as the breeze blew through, catching the white table cloths.
We ordered wine while we munched on an assortment of olives with hummus. I noticed an item on the menu called spanakopita. I am notorious for ordering items that I have never heard of or can’t pronounce — I didn’t even ask what it was, I just ordered it. It was served with lamb and a chickpea salad. Sounded good to me.
It was brought to our table, and I don’t know what I expected but it looked like a green veggie pie square. It was my first taste of the savory pie made of perfectly flaky phyllo, creamy spinach and cheese, and it was delectable. I knew I would try to recreate it when I got home.
This recipe is not that; instead, it is my humble rendition not worthy of being called spanakopita because my roots are far from Greece. However, it is about as close in flavor as this Southern girl could get.
I made this in a large casserole dish, but it is also known to be served in hand pies shaped in triangles or even rolls. This dish is composed of very simple and clean ingredients. The key fillings are spinach and feta cheese. The other flavor makers are fresh herbs and aromatics.
With just one bite I am transferred back to that table on the Mediterranean, sitting across from my friend while we laughed and discussed what our futures might look like. Sometimes it is just the simple things in life that make us most happy.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- 20 ounces frozen chopped spinach thawed and squeezed dry
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 8 ounces crumbled feta cheese
- 8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese grated
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons fresh dill chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 6 sheets 17 x 13-inch phyllo pastry defrosted if frozen
- 4 tablespoons butter melted
- Note: Brushing melted butter between the phyllo layers helps it puff, so don’t skip this step.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13x9x2 inch baking dish.
- Heat olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the onions and cook until clear (about 5 minutes). Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked onions, spinach, ricotta, feta, jack cheese, eggs, dill, parsley, salt and pepper.
- Spread half the spinach mixture in the greased baking dish. Cover with two pieces of the phyllo pastry and brush pastry lightly with melted butter, then lay one more piece of phyllo on top.
- Spread the remaining spinach mixture over the phyllo. Then place two pieces of phyllo on top and lightly brush with butter. Place the final piece of phyllo on top and brush with butter. Tuck the phyllo in around the edges if it is hanging over the dish.
- Use a sharp knife to mark 12 squares by cutting through the top layers of pastry.
- Bake until the phyllo topping is golden and the filling is bubbling gently, about 45 minutes.
- Cut and serve warm squares.