“It was time for the eating marathon to begin. The dinner was a traditional American Thanksgiving — turkey, stuffing, yams, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and corn bread — but the appetizers or mezethes as they called it, were strictly Greek. The table had platters of dolmathes, tiropitas, spanakopitas and taramousalata.”
-An excerpt from Evanthia’s Gift (available on Amazon – goo.gl/iPo1pa)
It pains me to even use a Thanksgiving reference from the book, since I have no desire to give up on summer yet. However, this excerpt is a perfect example of how most of the American holidays in our family went. To be perfectly honest, I’d be happy with the mezethes, and more than willing to forgo the turkey.
I remember “the making of the spanakopita” as the laborious main even of the day. The spinach would have to be washed and rinsed from the sand at least two or three times, and then dried. Then my mother would sauté the spinach and press out all the excess liquid through a fine strainer.
I have so many good memories of watching my mother bake and cook, and learning all that I know from her, but this was not something that looked like fun to me. For years, I never made spanakopita. I made little triangles of tiropita, but never trays of spanakopita. I let my sister slave in the kitchen over that one.
I had this idea. What if I didn’t sauté the spinach? How would it come out? Well, I got my answer. Delicious. And the best part? I didn’t slave for hours.
I forgot to tell you about my second cheat. Now anyone that is acquainted with me, knows I’m not one to cut corners, or use ready-made products, but for this recipe, I only use baby spinach that has been triple washed! A little more expensive, but worth it!
I would like to share the information of a fellow Greek blogger. Unlike me, the home cook who learned from mom and experimentation, the kouzounaskitchen blog is written by a Cordon Bleu trained chef from Greece who also learned her Greek recipes from her yiayia and mother. Follow her blog, instagram and twitter, and wait for the release of her upcoming cookbook inspired by recipes from her yiayia’s island.
2 pounds fresh spinach
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 finely sliced scallions
1 medium onion, diced
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup loosely packed fresh parsley and mint combination, chopped
¼ cup fresh dill, chopped
2 pounds imported Greek feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Pepper to taste
A dash or two of nutmeg
1 pound packaged phyllo
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350°
Sauté the scallions and onion until tender. Normally, what most people do, and what I’d always watched my mother do, was to sauté the spinach, and then squeeze out the excess liquid. This is where I decided to cheat a bit. I saved myself the aggravation of all that pressing and draining and it paid off! It was a risk, but it was worth the try.
In a huge bowl, toss the spinach, sautéed scallions & onions, parsley, mint, dill, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, eggs and the feta together. The spinach is going to melt down when it cooks in the oven and, by not sautéing it beforehand, it won’t wilt down as much.
Grease a large baking pan and lay 8-10 phyllo leaves down, brushing each layer with butter. Spread the filling over the buttered pastry leaves. Lay another 8-10 leaves on top, brushing each leaf with butter. Tuck in any overhanging phyllo edges. Score the spanakopita with a sharp knife into square pieces. Pour any remaining butter evenly over the top. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes until golden.