July 19, 2011

How I make Spanakopita

Spanakopita is traditionally a spinach and feta phyllo pie but these days they can also be made with various cheeses, fillings or they can be shaped into spring rolls or samosa shapes instead of the usual large pie. 
I’ve looked at many recipes for Spanakopita and essentially they are pretty much the same.  If you don’t want to work with flimsy phyllo pastry you can use puff pastry instead.  To me, they are both are acceptable (but don’t quote me if you have a fussy Greek mother-in-law!).

I’m going to show you how to make the spring roll type with halloumi cheese, which you can easily substitute with feta if you prefer.

This weekend I was at Organic Foods & CafĂ© and found some organic spinach from South Africa.  It was the loveliest bunch of spinach I’ve seen since I moved to Dubai.  The local spinach is quite different to what I’m used to so this was such a treat to find spinach that’s dark green in colour, with large leaves.  You can really use any local spinach for this dish.  You may need to adjust the cooking times depending on how tender the leaves are.

Anyway, here’s the recipe I use and have adapted over the years.  The nice thing about this dish is you can prepare a large batch in advance and then freeze until you’re ready to cook them. 

Serve as a snack or starter.


3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
1 large bunch of spinach, roughly chopped (I usually add the stems if they are tender but discard any tough pieces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 - 2 cups grated Halloumi cheese or crumbled Feta (depending on how cheesy you like it)
1 large free-range egg, at room temperature
75g butter, unsalted
Packet Phyllo pastry, defrosted

SautĂ© the onion in oil on medium heat for 3 minutes or until translucent.  

Add the spinach and cook just until the spinach wilts.  If your spinach is not wet before you add it in the pan, you can sprinkle it with a little water to help with cooking – but not too much otherwise you have to pour out the excess liquid.  Season to taste.

 Remove from heat and stir in the parsley and halloumi.  Allow to cool.   

Lightly beat the egg and mix into the cooled spinach filling.  Set the filling aside while you prepare the pastry.

 Unroll the phyllo pastry and have a damp dish towel handy.  To keep the phyllo from drying out, simply cover with the damp towel.  

Now melt the butter in a saucepan and arrange everything on a working surface so that you have the spinach filling, melted butter and phyllo pastry in close proximity.

Place the phyllo horizontally in front of you and cut in half lengthways.  It doesn’t have to be perfect so if it looks a little rustic it’s ok.  Place one half sheet on a working surface and lightly brush with butter paying attention to the edges.  Top with a second sheet and brush with butter. Now take a tablespoon of filling and place it in the bottom part of the sheet as indicated below.  Shape it into a log across the pastry, leaving a border on each side.  Fold over the left and right sides, then fold over the bottom flap and slowly roll it up so that it looks like a spring roll.

Place the Spanakopita into a greased baking dish and continue rolling up the rest.  You should make about 16 spring rolls depending on how much filling you use (Note: this is also a test of your patience).  When you’re done, brush over a little butter on the tops and sides of each Spanakopita.

Now at this point you can cover them well and freeze for baking later or you can bake them in an oven preheated to 180C/350F/Gas 4 for about 20 minutes or until lightly golden.  If you’re cooking them from frozen, do not thaw, just pop them straight into a preheated oven.