My grandmother -that I call yiayia- has always told me that the quality of the food we cook is determined by how much we love the person (or people) for whom we are making it.
My yiayia must love me a great deal because everything she makes is delicious, but her spanakopita in particular is perfection.
It isn’t easy being a Greek-American vegetarian, but loving this dish has made it considerably easier over the years.
Even when I was small, it was my favorite food, which is quite a testament to my grandmother’s cooking. What small child likes to eat spinach of any kind, let alone pressed between phyllo dough with feta cheese and dill?
My yiayia is not only a great cook, but a skilled instructor, especially in the kitchen. I don’t consider myself to be a very good cook, not just because I am vegetarian, but because I am a health nut as well.
My yiayia taught me how to make my favorite dish of all time, and I would love to share my modified, healthy version with you so that you, too, can enjoy my favorite Greek food.
Ingredients for spanakopita
– One package phyllo dough. Set out so it can thaw (frozen phyllo cracks when you unroll it, which makes for broken layers)
– 2 sticks of low fat margarine. I use Smart Balance, and obviously you can use real butter if you like.
– 3-4 packs frozen, chopped spinach.
– 3 eggs
– 2 tablespoons parsley
– 2 tablespoons dill (I use more!)
– Teaspoon of salt
– 1 yellow onion
– Cream cheese if desired (makes the filling a little creamier)
– 8 ounces fat-free feta cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Thaw spinach and strain of ALL liquid. Also make sure your phyllo is setting out to thaw while you do everything else.
3. Finely chop your onion. Sautee in one stick of butter. Set aside.
4. After straining your spinach of as much of the liquid as possible, put in a large mixing bowl. Add parsley, dill, salt and eggs. Mix until well combined. Add feta and cream cheese if desired. I don’t think the cream cheese does much for it, but I DO add extra dill. The cream cheese makes for creamier filling, which some people really like.
5. Add sautéed onion and butter to spinach mixture.
6. Melt the remaining stick of butter. In an ungreased cake pan, begin by placing one layer of phyllo in the pan and, using a pastry brush, coat the sheet of phyllo with the melted butter/margarine. Continue with 6-8 layers of phyllo as the bottom layer. If you like more phyllo, you can obviously do as many layers as you’d like. I am not a big fan of the phyllo, so I do less. I like using a smaller pan so as to have more filling!
7. After brushing 6-8 layers with margarine (brush EACH layer in between placing them!), put the entire spinach mixture on top of it and spread out evenly.
8. Add another 6-8 layers of phyllo, buttering each in between, to the top.
9. CUT THE PHYLLO of the top layer before baking it. Phyllo is impossible to cut properly once it is baked and crispy. Sometimes it is tough to remember, but always a must.
10. Bake until the top layer of phyllo is golden brown. Timing varies, depending on altitude.
I really like using the low-fat margarine, as it makes the phyllo less greasy and actually a little chewy.
The same goes for the fat-free feta. Whereas full-fat feta melts better into the mixture in the oven, fat-free feta remains a little chewy, which is a nice texture to have in bites of the spanakopita.
Though it truly is the only Greek dish I have mastered, it means so much to me to be able to cook Spanakopita whenever I feel like having a piece.
I love sharing it with friends and other family members, and I can feel myself pouring love into it whenever I make it.
Yiayia taught me well!