Scott Louie Cooks
For a nice vegetarian dish, I turn to Mediterranean food and nothing beats a good spanikopita. So what makes a spanikopita “good”? It’s easy: you must use phyllo dough, rather than a plain homemade flour dough. This isn’t a calzone. Phyllo dough makes this dish what it is (a tasty treat) along with generous portions of spinach and feta cheese.
If a scan of the ingredient list makes my choice of vegetables seem odd, this is why I call my version “American Style”. There is nothing unusual here, it’s just not a traditional type of Greek recipe.
This dish is vegetarian, but clearly not vegan with butter and cheese (and some phyllo dough contains egg yolks). Do note that I leave out the eggs as a binding agent—without the eggs, there is nothing in this dish that can’t be eaten raw with the possible exception of the dough, though that’s debatable. My cooking time is enough to brown the top while well heating the filling without baking all the moisture out.
And, yes, I’ve seen it spelled Spanikopita and Spanakopita. For my American Style dish, I prefer the former. Pour yourself some wine, don’t worry about it, and enjoy.
- 24 oz Spinach (I use two 12 oz bags of frozen chopped spinach), thawed in refrigerator
- 10 oz Feta cheese, crumbled
- 4 oz cream cheese
- ½ medium onion, chopped
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1 small bunch parsley, chopped
- ½ cup diced cucumber
- ¼ cup diced celery
- salt and ground pepper
- rosemary and sage
- 4 oz unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 8 oz Phyllo dough, thawed (1/2 of a 1 lb package)
Prepare the Filling
Preheat the oven to 325° F.
Over a fine strainer, squeeze the thawed spinach until the water is pressed out. Frozen spinach has so much liquid content that the dish will be a soggy mess otherwise. With your hands, squeeze out all the water you can. Then add to the bowl and separate.
With the spinach prepared, add feta, the cream cheese (in small chunks, or use whipped), onion, shallot, parsley, cucumber, and celery. Add your spices.
Assemble the Dish
Handling the phyllo is the trickiest part, but it’s not rocket science. If frozen, thaw your 8 oz package of phyllo in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. When ready, unroll (or unfold) the sheets and lay the whole package flat.
Melt the 4 oz. of butter in a pan. Coat the bottom of your casserole dish with a thin smear of melted butter. See the notes at the end for a word on the casserole dish.
Using two sheets at a time, lay the phyllo into the pan. Then coat with a smear of butter. Note that I tried using a plastic kitchen “brush” but that can tear the dough. So I use the back of a tablespoon. It’s easier to have a light touch and it spreads the butter as thinly as you want. Since there are a lot of layers, you don’t need to overdo it with the butter.
Keep adding two sheets at a time with a smear of butter in between until you’ve used half (or a little more) of your phyllo (about 8-12 sheets). Then evenly spread the filling over the phyllo.
Now add two more sheets and apply the butter, layering two sheets of phyllo at a time with a smear of butter in between until you’ve used up your dough. Spread the last of your butter over the top, and now you can be generous.
Tuck any excess dough along the sides (or cut it off if it’s too bulky) and it’s ready to bake.
Bake at 325° F for about 40 minutes, or until the crust browns and its bubbling gently around the sides. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes.
I served it with green beans for a delicious meal.
Make it Your Own
Optionally, spanikopita can include garlic, but I would use roasted garlic. Unless you want to sauté the garlic in a little butter first, I find raw garlic rather strong. Roasted garlic is mild and delicious.
Instead of the shallot, you could use a whole medium onion, or even a leek, which, on current reflection, I plan on trying the next time I make this.
Do dice the cucumber and celery—you don’t want hunks of the vegetables interfering with the taste of the spinach. Still, I include them since I can’t think Mediterranean food without thinking of cucumber, and it keeps the dish moist, especially since it’s important to squeeze the water out of the spinach or it will be too soggy.
Many traditional recipes use dill, which is excellent, but I like to shake up my spices and try different things. I have found savory spices like sage and rosemary work very well in this dish. Try oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, etc. The possibilities are many.
Not to offend my Greek friends, but I believe people overuse Phyllo dough in their Spanikopita recipes. For the same amount of filling as above, most recipes call for an entire 1 lb package (½ on bottom, the other half on top), which I find makes the dish too bready. The star here is the spinach and feta, so let them shine. A half pound of Phyllo will make all the flaky goodness you need.
Note that I do not use eggs as a binding agent in my recipe. They are an unrequired filler, but use a couple of eggs if you want. I love eggs, and where fillings need binding I use them liberally, but not here. A little cream cheese (not to mention the feta) is all the binding required. Yes, the filling will be loose, but that will not be a bad thing in a casserole. It will be fine.
And while we’re talking about Greek dishes and wine, I am one of the few people I know that actually likes Retsina. This Greek white wine basically tastes like dirt, but its earthy qualities don’t bother me and I enjoy a bottle here and there. Probably an acquired taste. In the picture above, I’m drinking a malbec, so there you are.
On the casserole dish: I use my trusty #32 Le Creuset Au Gratin dish (~ 2 qts), but I believe the #34 (larger size, maybe ~ 3 qts) would work great. I don’t mind filling my dish to the very top (and even heaping) since I line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil in case any of the goods spill over. I rarely have much of a problem or clean up. Keep in mind, my recipe makes about 6 servings (great for 2 people with leftovers), so if you need more, you might want to increase the recipe accordingly. BTW, I make my lasagna with the same dish and have enough for several meals for 2 people.
Stay Friendly and Healthy.