Today is a very special day in Greece, it is Kathara Deutera (Clean Monday), the official start of Lent before Easter. Lent lasts 48 days, and is broken after midnight mass for Easter. As you may remember from Clark, Lent is a time when we fast all meats (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, etc…), and should restrict all animal derived products (milk, cheese, eggs, etc…). On Clean Monday, it is tradition to go out and fly kites during the morning and then come home to enjoy the company of family and friends around a table filled with delicious Lenten delights. These delights include: taramosalata, octopus, dolmades, olives, spanakopita, and various delicious bean dips and soups. (Ah yes, seafood is allowed :))
If you haven’t flown a kite lately, or ever, you should seriously consider trying it in an open field(where it will not immediately get snagged in a tree). Personally, I love flying kites, especially in Greece. As you can see from the photo above, (taken 3 years ago – when I was last in Greece for Kathara Deutera), the impossibly clear blue sky, slowly being dotted with all kinds of bright coloured kites is truly amazing. There is something about the ability to set something into flight, and maintain it at an ever increasing altitude, that brings out child-like wonder and amazement in everyone.
And one thing is sure, after running around trying to catch the wind with your kite all morning, you really work up an appetite. But every time I am faced with the Clean Monday table, I am met with both excitement and dread. Excitement, because Manoula’s taramosalata (cod roe dip) is LEGENDARY. Seriously. Dread, because I have to go on for 48 days without being able to eat meat. The funny thing is that I really do not eat a lot of meat, but knowing that I cannot have it, makes me think about how much I want to eat it.
Anyway, let me shift back to vegetarian thoughts and to the topic of today’s post: Spanakopita. In my opinion the best pita in Greece, and in the world. Pita is the category that includes all fillings that are contained within a dough(phyllo or other)… so a tart, pie, empanada, or samosa would all fall under the category of “pita”. Pitas are not assigned to a meal, they can eaten as part of a meal, as a snack, or as I prefer it… for breakfast. Spanakopita, as with all Greek food, has infinite variations by geography: some with feta, some without, some with thyme and marjoram, some with pre-made phyllo some with hand rolled rustic dough. The recipe I am sharing below, is the basic backbone of what makes up any spanakopita (although the below is technically a spanakotiropita, because it is made using a “tyri” or cheese, in this case feta).
- 1.5 kg (approx. 3 lbs) spinach
- 5-6 spring onions (finely chopped)
- 1 small bunch dill (finely chopped)
- 350 gr (12 oz.) feta (crumbled)
- 1 1/2 cup olive oil
- salt & pepper
- 2 eggs (beaten)
- 500 gr (1 lb) phyllo pastry
- Preheat oven to 180˚C (360˚F).
- Wash spinach with a lot of water, to ensure it is completely clean. Sprinkle with 3 tbsp salt (I usually do all of this straight into the sink, because it is a lot of spinach and does not fit in a colander). Start tearing the spinach apart and squeezing out as much of its natural water as possible. Until it looks about half the size of the original spinach, and barely lets out any water. (Completing this step correctly is crucial to the success of your spanakopita, if you leave too much water in the spinach – your pita will be soggy.)
- Place the spinach, in a large bowl and combine with the onions, dill, eggs, feta, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well so that all the ingredients are dispersed evenly.
- Oil a deep baking dish, and start layering the phyllo sheets until you have used up half the pack. With the olive oil and a brush, you will grease the phyllo sheets one at a time, laying them into the baking sheet, making sure that all parts are equally covered and that the phyllo hangs over the sides.
- Pour your spinach mixture into the layered phyllo dough, pressing it down, to ensure it is evenly spread.
- Fold the overhanging flaps over the filling, and smooth out as much as possible.
- With the remaining phyllo you will cover the pie, laying the sheets one at a time again, greasing each one with olive oil. (The way i have found it easiest is to fold the sheets in two, as you are only concerned with covering the top.) Once you have finished, score the sheets into serving sizes, and apply one final doze of oil.
- Bake for about 1 hour, until the phyllo has turned a lovely shade of gold. ENJOY!