by Cat, Aug 2007; updated May 2020 with second recipe (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
The spinach pies of Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and other Middle-Eastern countries are all a bit different from each other, but they all have the basic ingredients in common: spinach, feta cheese, and pine nuts inside a crust. Where they differ is in added ingredients, spices, herbs and the type of crust.
Scout out real Greek, Bulgarian or Romanian Feta for these recipes. These are usually made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. It should be sold in blocks and kept in a salt brine. American feta from cows milk just doesn’t have enough flavor. If you can’t find good feta in a local store, it is usually available at igourmet.com (3) (type ‘feta’ in the search field, and you’ll get lots of choices). I like their Dodoni Greek Feta.
I recommend presoaking, then toasting the pine nuts (aka crispy pine nuts) before adding to the pie mixture. I also recommend grinding them in a mortar after drying/roasting them, to make digestion easier.
- Includes: 1. Spanakopita (my original recipe); 2. Skillet Spanakopita
- See also: 1. Lebanese Spinach Pie; 2. Savory Tarts, Pies Menu; 3. Vegetarian & Bean Menu; 4. EthnicFoods Menu;
- Other sites: Greg Patent: Greek Greens Pie (2) for a different take on Spinach Pie, using a mixture of greens and a pastry crust:
- NOTE: Lebanese Spinach Pie has been moved to its new link
Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)
This recipe is based on a recipe in The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas (1), and serves 8 or more as a main dish, or 12 – 15 as an appetizer. It is a popular street-vendor food in Greece, but also makes a great lunch or dinner entree. I usually make a half recipe (9 servings) using 8 – 10 sheets of filo (phyllo) and my 9” square pyrex cake pan, because I’m just one person.
Another way to assemble this is to cut the filo into squares, about 5 inches on each side. Layer the buttered sheets, top with a bit of the filling, then fold over the filo to make a triangle shape. Press edges together (adding a bit of butter helps), then place on a baking sheet. Repeat. These will not take as long to bake.
These days most people use packaged filo from the grocers’ freezer, but in older times, filo was made at home, with the entire family participating (one person can do this alone, but it takes a very long time; much faster with the family members helping. This same method is used for making authentic streudel pastry. For a video of this process on YouTube, see Making Filo Pastry (4). See also a photo-essay on the process from Chef In You.com (5).
- You mix and knead a dough using roughly 40% water, 60% flour (a mix of high-protein and low-protein flours). Then place it in the center of a large table covered with a cotton cloth (to absorb moisture), and flatten the dough with your hands or a rolling pin.
- Then the family members surround the table, each putting his fingers under an edge of the dough, palms up. They proceed to walk around the table, using their fingers to lift and stretch the dough just a little bit farther. With each complete round, the sheet of pastry gets wider and thinner until it is so thin you can see through it.
- Multiple sheets are made this way by covering the previous sheet with another cotton cloth..
As an alternative to filo, you could use a short pastry crust (pie crust), or the yogurt pie crust from the recipe for Lebanese Spinach Pies that follows.
I list the pine nuts as optional, only because they can be hard to find. But if you can find them, do use them as they add a lot to the flavor and protein in the pies. I also highly recommend using the garlic.
Ingredients & Equipment
- ½ cup crispy or toasted pine nuts, ground (optional; see below)
- 2 lb spinach: washed and trimmed
- Unrefined sea salt
- 7 eggs
- ½ lb (8 oz) Greek or Romanian Feta cheese, crumbled
- olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
- freshly ground black pepper
- butter (½ – 1 cube)
- 1 pound filo (very thin sheets of pastry. If you buy it frozen, thaw according to directions on the box)
- 1 recipe Wheat or Spelt Yogurt Crust
- melted butter
- unbleached white flour (to dust pastry cloth for rolling out dough.
- large bowl
- 9” x 13” cake pan
- Day before: Prepare crispy pine nuts (see box, below) and grind them in a mortar.
- Filling: Preheat oven to 375° F. Butter baking dish
- Wash spinach, trimming stems, then drain. Sprinkle heavily with salt, and rub it into the leaves with your hands, tearing the leaves into small pieces. This also releases most of the moisture in the leaves, reducing the bulk to a quarter of its former bulk. Rinse off salt thoroughly and drain again.
- Beat the eggs in a bowl. Crumble feta into eggs and mix together. Add spinach.
- Chop onion and saute in some olive oil until it begins to brown. If using garlic, mince it and add to onion right at the very end of the cooking time. Add to spinach/feta/egg mixture.
- Season mixture with lots of pepper and a little oregano, to taste.
- Assembly: Melt about 4 Tbsp butter in a small cup. Stack filo on a flat surface. Brush top sheet with melted butter and fit it into the buttered baking dish, pressing against the sides; the edges will hang over the sides of the pan. butter a second sheet and fit it over the first slightly at an angle. Repeat until there are only 2 – 3 sheets left; each time placing the sheet at a slight angle to the previous ones, so that the edges fan out around the pan.
- Pour in the spinach mixture, then fold over those fanned edges to cover, brushing with more butter. it will look very rough. Butter remaining sheets and pace the on top, folding the down to the size of the pan.
- Using a sharp knife, cut through the top layers just to the filling in 3 – 4 places.
- Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes. Remove from oven, cut into squares and serve while still hot.
I’ve adapted this version from a recipe by Gretchen McKay (6), originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It uses an oven-proof 10-inch cast iron skillet for shaping and baking the pie. I’ve not yet tested this version (added 5/8/2020).
Ingredients & Equipment
- 30 oz thawed, frozen spinach or fresh spinach
- 5 Tbsp unsalted butter (the real deal, not margarine or plant-based butter)
- 1 small yellow onion, minced
- 2 cups ricotta cheese (made from whole milk)
- 4 large eggs
- ⅓ cup crumbled feta cheese (sheep or goat source)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 6 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed thoroughly
- 10-inch cast iron skillet
- clean kitchen towel
- Remove phyllo dough from freezer, set out 6 sheets (together) to thaw thoroughly, and return remaining sheets to freezer.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Prep spinach; if using:
- Fresh: wash spinach, trimming stems, then drain. Sprinkle heavily with salt, and rub it into the leaves with your hands, tearing the leaves into small pieces. This also releases most of the moisture in the leaves, reducing the bulk to a quarter of its former bulk. Rinse off salt thoroughly and drain again. Then squeeze out moisture as for thawed, frozen spinach (below).
- Thawed, frozen: place spinach in center of a clean kitchen towel, fold up edges and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. The original recipe suggests “this is a perfect job for kids!”
- Prep pie: Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Transfer 2 Tbsp of the melted butter to a small bowl and set aside.
- Add minced onion to skillet and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let pan cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, lightly beat the eggs, then stir in feta, dill, lemon juice, salt and a few grinds of pepper.
- Add egg mix along with spinach and ricotta to the skillet.
- Arrange phyllo in layers with reserved butter:
- Lay first sheet of phyllo dough over the mix in the skillet and brush the top with some of the melted butter.
- One at a time, layer remaining 5 sheets, brushing each with butter.
- Rotate and scrunch each sheet slightly so edges fan-out around the pan, and top is ruffled.
- Bake: Transfer pan to preheated oven and bake until golden brown and heated through, about 35 minutes.
- To serve: cut into 8 wedges.
- Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig Ph.D.
- Greg Patent’s Greek Greens Pie (thebakingwizard.com/greek-greens-pie)
- Feta source: igourmet.com
- YouTube, Making Filo Pastry (youtube.com/watch?v=JJKvAIgPAtk)
- Chef In You photo essay, How to Make Phyllo/Filo Dough (chefinyou.com/2010/03/filo-phyllo-dough-recipe)
- Gretchen McKay recipe: gmtoday.com/cuisine/let-s-eat-skillet-spinach-pie/article_3ee92e8a-8dff-11ea-bbdc-8baf6016b7c5.html or theindependent.com/life/food/gretchen-s-table-skillet-spinach-pie-perfect-for-mom/article_c3a6f968-8f62-11ea-8145-f78955022606.html