Chocolate-less Easter – feat. Traditional Greek Spanakopitas

I think that this will be my first chocolate-less Easter… Only because we caved and bought those 1 lbs bags of mini eggs last week and the bag has mysteriously emptied itself. I am to blame for that, so to make up for my naughtiness, I decided that I would make a traditional Greek appetizer, Spanakopita, for my girlfriend and her family.

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For those of you that don’t know, I’m part Greek, and pretty much every year, my mom hosts a semi-traditional Greek Easter dinner at our place. This includes souvlakis, dolmades, spanakopita, tzaziki, keftedes, etc. My mom, my grandmother and myself usually spend a good day or two preparing everything for these dinners. If you’re on the guest list, you will never be disappointed. However, for the past two years, I haven’t been able to enjoy it since I’m not home for Easter, and because I cannot digest lamb anymore, nor eat gluten.

I have yet to come up with a replacement for filo paste, so I apologize to those with a gluten intolerance, I can’t even eat this myself, but I do keep some leftover filling to spread on crackers… It almost does the trick!

I thought about this so I could post this before the grocery stores close in case you had a party or dinner or something to go to and wanted to bring an appetizer. This recipe is very easy to follow, but is a little time consuming… Since it’s a holiday, I’m pretty sure you have the time 😉

If you just got back from the store with this grocery list, don’t put your filo back in the freezer, as you need to let it thaw. If you have filo in your freezer, you’ll need to pull it out 1 to 2 hours prior to making the recipe so it has the time to thaw.

For the filling, you will need

  • 2 lbs of spinach, fresh or thawed
  • 1 1/2 cup of minced onion
  • 1/2 cup of minced fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup of minced fresh parsley
  • 3/4 lbs of feta cheese, crumbled (about 370g)
  • 1 giant tub of ricotta cheese (475g)

If you’re using frozen spinach (like I did), thaw it out first before using. Once thawed, I put it in the pan and sautéd it until most of the moisture was out (same with the fresh spinach). Remove it from the pan and press it or pass it in a sieve to squeeze all of the water out. You really want to remove as much water as you can.

Fry up your onions for 5 minutes in a little bit of olive oil, then add the spinach and sauté until the pan is almost dry. You can do this on low to medium heat.

While the spinach and onions are frying, in a very large mixing bowl, mix in together your feta, ricotta and herbs. To help crumble the feta, you can always use a potato masher, just so you don’t get huge lumps of feta throughout the mix.

Mix in your spinach and onions to your cheese mix and there you have it! Cheesy goodness! Yes you can have a spoonful to taste, but please try not to eat the whole mix because you will be needing it to stuff your filo.

For the folding and assembling part, you will need

  • 1 1/2 cups of melted butter
  • basting brush/pastry brush
  • sharp knife, pizza cutting wheel, anything that is sharp and made for cutting pastry
  • filo sheets, thawed according to packaging

Now, for the tricky part. Wash and dry your work surface, you will be using the table/counter to fold your filo and you don’t want to be doing that on a dirty counter top. Your filo pastry should be thawed by now, so remove it from it’s plastic bag, set it on your counter top, cover it with a sheet of wax paper and place a damp tea towel over it. This will prevent the pastry from drying out and cracking.

Melt your butter and have your brushes ready. Having an extra set of hands is suggested, as it will speed the process up and help keep your buttery fingers out of harms way.

First, gently take a sheet of the filo pastry from under the damp towel and wax paper and place it on your clean counter.

Second, brush it lightly with the melted butter to cover the surface. Not that using a silicone brush isn’t the best of things, so I would definitely recommend something with soft bristles, but silicone will do. Just don’t be too vigorous with the brushing.

Third, cut your filo into three “even” strips with your knife. I used a pizza wheel cutter since it’s super efficient, and you don’t really need to apply too much pressure to get it to cut.

Fourth, place 1 tsp. blob of mix in the middle of the bottom of the strips. Don’t go overboard, because they will explode in the oven if over stuffed.

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Follow the folding technique you like. These are traditionally shaped as triangles (follow picture diagram), but you can also roll them into cigar shapes. The folding technique resembles the one I used for the Samosas I made last fall.

FOLDING PHYLLO

When they are shaped and wrapped, seal all the edges with a dab of butter and place them in either a plastic container (you can freeze these bad boys until you’re ready to use them) or onto a baking sheet if you’re planning on serving them in the near future (as in immediately after you’re done folding them). DSC_0671 copy

If you choose to freeze these, when you’re ready to bake them, just brush them with a little butter and pop them in the oven at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until golden and crispy.

If you’re baking these fresh, bake them at 350 degrees until they go golden and crispy, about 15 minutes.DSC_0679

Hopefully you’ll enjoy these as much as we do!

ps: big thank your to my “Soup-Chef” (aka amazing girlfriend) for all the folding, buttering, and taste testing. It wouldn’t have been the same without you.

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