Yes! I said Easter. Orthodox Easter arrives much later this year, May 1, and today begins Holy Week. For those of us who will be doing the cooking, this week’s fasting restrictions present a challenge. Tasting your food to make sure the seasoning is correct is vital, but since our diet is restricted this is impossible. No meat, dairy or olive oil is to be consumed. The experienced cook, and that includes most Greek moms and yiayiás, have learned to cook tradition recipes without sampling.
In honor of Greek Easter, this week’s posts will include the delicious foods being prepared for Easter, and some recipes to try while holding the fast. Of course, if you are not restricted this week, feel free to try these healthy recipes, as well as the foods you probably have only tried at Greek festivals.
I’ll start with an easy one. Spanakopita. Don’t get intimidated by the phyllo. It’s easier to work with than you think. Make a few trays and freeze them. It’s a crowd pleaser and having them already prepared saves last minute work.
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!
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.