The authentic recipe for spanakopita, the tasty and healthy Greek staple. Spinach cooked with herbs and feta cheese covered with crunchy phyllo.
Ahhh the famous spanakopita. Spanakopita pronounced spah-nah-KO-pee-tah is a favorite appetizer, meal, and snack not only in Greece but around the globe. Go into any bakery in Greece and you will find this wonderful pie, made with spinach and feta surrounded by crunchy and crispy phyllo.
The first time I realized that spanakopita was to become a popular dish all over the world was in the 70’s. My mother would bake a large pan of it and take it to the school PTA meetings. The other moms loved it! They all wanted my mom’s recipe. Mind you this was in a Chicago suburb with few Greek people. And the thing is, it is a dish you never get tired of, flaky crust, earthy spinach, tangy feta…
For us spanakopita is a weekly staple and I also keep a bunch in the freezer for a last minute meal (see below how to freeze). This recipe here is my mother’s of course. Spanakopita is a popular recipe consisting of spinach, herbs and cheese, the types of herbs used, the ratio of cheese to spinach, the phyllo, all make the difference.
Secrets of an Authentic Spanakopita Recipe
This is a tried and true recipe and works every time. It is easy but you need to remember some key points shared by both my mom and dad:
- The filling is not supposed to be salty but rather mild and almost sweet. The addition of soft sautéed onions (sometimes leek) and sugar provide that sweetness.
- Do not add garlic. I know you want to, after all spinach and garlic are often cooked together, but again the idea is to have a somewhat sweet filling, garlic is an “intruder” in this particular recipe.
- Be careful with the ratio of filling and phyllo. I often see photos of spankopita that has a real thick layer of filling, but when you are using the thin phyllo you have to make sure it can hold the filling. In addition, you want to make sure that every bite has the right amount of filling in relation to the phyllo, not too much and not too little. If you want a thicker filling than you will have to use a thicker phyllo (here is a recipe for that).
- Do not expect pites (pies) made with this phyllo to be neat, they are messy. This phyllo is tasty and crunchy but it will break, that is why it is important to score the pie before baking, so that you can get a cleaner cut.
Working with Phyllo
- Most likely your phyllo will be frozen. So, make sure you defrost in the refrigerator before using. Do not open the package before it has defrosted. Once it is defrosted, and you open the package do not attempt to pick up a sheet of it has not defrosted completely because it will break.
- Now that you are ready to work with make sure that you keep it covered completely with a damp kitchen towel, work with one sheet at a time.
- Make sure most of the surface of the phyllo is covered with olive oil, otherwise you will have a paper like texture not a crispy one.
Make Ahead and Storing Spanakopita
Spanakopita is one of those dishes that are easy to make ahead and store. There are 2 ways:
- You can assemble the pie, wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it. When you are ready to bake it, just remove from the freezer and bake, and you will have freshly baked pie to serve.
- Another way, is to assemble the pie, bake it, let it cool completely, cut it in pieces, wrap and freeze. When you are ready to serve, just heat up the pieces at 325 until warm and crispy and serve.
Now back to the recipe. So this recipe is actually lighter than the typical spanakopita. There is a just a bit of olive oil in the mix, and you can adjust how much feta you want to add or you can choose not to add feta.
What to Serve with a Spanakopita
Vegetable pites are such a great way to eat well. Spanakopita is a complete vegetarian meal combining vegetables, starch, dairy and good fats. You really do not need anything else. Vegetables cooked with herbs wrapped in the thin phyllo provide 1-2 servings of vegetables and about 1/2 to 1 serving starch. It can easily be consumed as a meal or as a snack and in Greece we often have them for breakfast. But here are some serving suggestions:
- As a side, it is a great accompaniment to meat or fish.
- For a buffet, serve the spanakopita cut in squares on a large platter or you can make spanakopita triangles
- If serving as a main, I often accompany it with a small tomato salad, some olives and a bit of cheese. But as noted above, I often serve it as is especially for lunch.
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Authentic Greek Spinach and Feta Pie – Spanakopita
- 1 pound frozen spinach thawed
- 1 onion finely chopped or 3-4 spring onions chopped only white parts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for brushing the phyllo
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped dill
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (or 2 tbs dry)
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 10-12 ounces crumbled and grated feta
- 3 eggs
- 12 phyllo sheets
- Preheat oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 Celsius)
- Heat a medium pan with one tablespoon olive oil.
- Sauté the onions until soft.
- Add the spinach (make sure you have squeezed out the water).
- Sauté spinach with onion for a few minutes.
- Add the herbs, nutmeg and sugar and sauté for 2-3 minutes more. Set aside and let it cool.
- Grate half of the feta and crumble the rest.
- In a small bowl beat the egg and add the feta.
- Add the egg mixture to the spinach and add the other tablespoon of olive oil. Mix so that all the ingredients are blended.
- Brush a pan that is about 10 X 15 inches with olive oil.
- Place a sheet of phyllo in the pan and brush with olive oil. Repeat with 5 more phyllo sheets.
- Spread the spinach mixture evenly.
- Cover with 6 more phyllo sheets brushing each one with olive oil. Cut the phyllo hanging over the pan or roll in.
- Score the top with a knife (do not cut all the way through, just through the top phyllo sheets) for about 10-12 pieces.
- Bake for about 40 minutes until phyllo is golden.
- Remove from oven and let the pita cool. Cut in pieces.
- Enjoy at room temperature or if you want the phyllo crunchy, warm in the oven before serving.
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