What is Spanakopita?
Spanakopita is a traditional Greek savory pastry. It is made with phyllo dough and cut in triangles, and the interior may be filled with cooked spinach and onions. For a heartier version of spanakopita, feta cheese may also be added.
This tasty dish may have originated over 400 years ago, and may have been introduced during the Turkish occupation of Greece. A Turkish dish, ispanaki, is almost identical in presentation, though it sometimes has scallions added. Spanakopita is better known as a Greek food, however, and one will find it served in most Greek restaurants outside of Greece, as well as in virtually all restaurants in Greece. Chefs and food historians credit Epirus, Greece with the most delicious spanakopita.
Spanakopita is now a popular appetizer and catering staple as well. The triangular pastry can be made small, so it is the perfect bite size offering for caterers. It is often sold in delis as well, where it will probably be served lukewarm, as is traditional in Greek cooking.
One can purchase previously prepared spanakopita, ready for baking, to serve as appetizers or finger foods. If one is familiar with working phyllo dough, which is sold in sheets, spanakopita is not a difficult dish to make. Recipes differ, but generally require one to steam spinach and drain it carefully, so as not to make the resultant pastry wet. Onions are chopped and sautéed. Crumbled feta completes the pastry filling.
The filling is sandwiched between thin layers of phyllo dough, which are then cut into triangular shapes. Alternatively, the dough may be cut into a square and folded over to create the triangular look. The inner seams of the pastry may be brushed with egg whites or olive oil to help them adhere to each other. On the outside, the pastry is brushed with oil, butter or egg whites to aid in browning.
Depending on the size of the individual pastries, baking time may vary from 20 minutes to an hour. The pastries can be served hot, though the filling can be extremely hot. Alternatively, spanakopita can be served in the traditional Greek way, only slightly warm. Often, Tzatziki sauce, a dip of yogurt, garlic and cucumbers, accompanies spanakopita, though many feel the pastry is rich enough without embellishment.
You can now buy Spanakopitas and Tiropitas in the frozen section of most American grocery stores. While they are quite good, I prefer them made by hand. Either way, they're a delicious appetizer for any time of year.
My family learned to make spanakopita while living in Athens, and if you've never tried it, you really should! The one ingredient left out of this recipe is cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is blended with feta cheese to make a rich, tasty spanakopita. Whopah!
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