Opa!

If you’ve been to a farmers market lately, you’ve probably seen an abundance of spinach — one of the first crops of spring with so many uses: spinach salad (warm or chilled), omelets, creamed spinach and stuffed pasta, to name a few. One of my favorite spinach recipes is spanakopita, a traditional Greek spinach pie. The flaky crust and warm filling make a great appetizer or snack. If you can melt butter and chop spinach, you can make spanakopita.

 

Dough
Phyllo is a thin, unleavened dough, popular in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines. You can make your own or simply buy it prepared and packaged in your grocery store’s freezer section. Be sure to thaw the dough for at least 30 minutes before use. Lay the dough one or two sheets at a time onto a flat, smooth surface; brush with butter and repeat until you reach the desired thickness. For spanakopita, you’ll only need two or three sheets. Butter is your friend. What might seem excessive will leave you with a flaky, golden crust.

Filling
Spinach is the main component, with other ingredients such as feta and cream cheese binding the filling. Onions, garlic, dill, oregano, coriander and lemon juice round out the flavors. Cook the mixture just enough to wilt the spinach. Let the mixture cool to a medium temperature; too warm makes the filling runny, too cold leaves it too chunky.

Folding
Detailed instructions follow, but here are key points to remember when using phyllo dough.

  • While working with one sheet, always place a damp (not wet) towel over the remaining sheets.
  • Butter is your friend. Use liberally.
  • The more sheets of phyllo dough used — and the more generous the butter — the flakier the golden crust.

Baking
Bake spanakopita at 350 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes (longer in a nonconvection oven) until the outside is a crisp, golden brown. Remove pan from oven, and place spanakopita onto a serving tray.

Spanakopita
Yields 20 to 25 pieces

2 tablespoons butter
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces fresh spinach, rough chopped
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 ounces cream cheese
½ teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and crushed (or ¼ teaspoon ground)
1 teaspoon dry oregano (2 teaspoons fresh)
Fresh minced dill to taste (about 2 teaspoons, more if desired)
1 tablespoon lemon juice (preferably fresh)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ to ¾ cup melted butter
8 to 12 sheets phyllo dough

Thaw phyllo dough out of the box in its wrapping for 30 minutes to an hour. Sauté green onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat for a little more than a minute until they become aromatic (sweating, not brown). Add chopped spinach and wilt slightly. Add feta and cream cheese, and cook until melted. Turn off heat. Add coriander, oregano, dill and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Lay out one sheet of phyllo dough at a time, and brush generously with melted butter. Repeat with one or two sheets. Use more for a flakier crust. Cut dough into three to four even strips. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of filling at bottom of each strip. Fold dough around filling like a flag into a triangle shape. Brush the outside of each triangle with butter, and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat until all filling is used. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 until golden brown (about 7 to 10 minutes). Remove, let cool for a few minutes and serve. Απολαμβάνω!
Brook Harlan is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He is a culinary arts instructor at the Columbia Area Career Center.

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