Years ago, when I lived in Astoria, Queens, with a large black-and-white cat named Indiana Jones, I used to start my one day off each week with spanakopita. At my favorite Greek bakery, a kind woman named Lydia knew my order by heart: three of the walnut-honey cookies called melomakarona, one square of custardy galaktoboureko and a dozen triangular spanakopita.
On my walk home, I would eat two or three of the still-hot spinach-and-feta pastries, small as a toddler’s fist, wondering if I could live on spinach pie and honey cookies alone, phyllo crumbs blowing away behind me like gilded confetti.
It’s no big secret that I don’t feature much meat in my recipes. I grew up eating it at practically every meal — bacon with breakfast, ham sandwiches for lunch, arroz con pollo for dinner — but that’s not how I eat anymore. A lifetime of learning about the world around me, about how other people eat, about what feels good in my body and what’s best for the planet has shifted my diet. Maybe it’s shifted yours, too?
To that end, I always try to suggest other ways to make recipes, both for those with dietary restrictions, and for others, like me, who may be moving toward a more plant-based diet.
Dinner tonight is an open-face spanakopita pie, in honor of Lydia’s pastries. It’s got a pretty traditional spinach-and-feta filling. But, like most of the recipes I write about, it’s entirely adaptable. Here are ways you can tweak it.
The filling here calls for scallions and baby spinach, but the markets are absolutely overflowing where I am now with all sorts of leafy green things peeking out of baskets and stacked neatly on folding tables. (Isn’t this season grand?) If that’s the case where you are, too, put them to use!
I’ve made this pie entirely with parsley, chives, cilantro and dill — it had some real kuku sabzi vibes — and once used scraggly radish and beet tops, well chopped, plus a tablespoon of dried basil. I’ve heard from some readers who can’t eat onions or garlic, and if that’s the case for you, omit the scallions. Pretty much any kind of dark, leafy green works, but if you use anything sturdier than spinach – I’m looking at you, chard, kale and collards – cut out any thick ribs and chop or shred it well before sauteing.
If you don’t have phyllo, or are gluten-free, you could certainly bake the filling in a greased pie dish and serve it like a crustless quiche instead.
Sheep’s milk feta is traditional in spanakopita, but any salty, crumbly or grated cheese, including the vegan kind, is great here. Think: cotija, chevre, extra-sharp white cheddar, paneer or pecorino. (You could also skip the cheese, if you want.) The breadcrumbs catch the extra moisture from the greens, or use cooked rice or another grain instead.
Finally, eggs help keep the filling together, but you can use an egg substitute, or skip them, if you don’t mind a looser pie. It still will be beautiful, shiny as ruffled taffeta, full of the earth’s greenest goods, a little salty, a little creamy, and just the way you like it.
Active time: 10 minutes | Total time: 40 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Traditional spanakopita, a Greek feta and spinach pie, is either baked in a large pan and cut into slices or folded into triangles or rectangles or spirals. This version is less fussy, and can be on the table in less time. It relies, in part, on a rustic, open-face approach and breadcrumbs, which help absorb the liquid from freshly cooked spinach and add a fluffy texture to the filling. If you’d prefer to use frozen spinach, make sure it’s fully defrosted and very well drained – wring it in a clean kitchen towel to remove excess liquid. This makes a nice brunch dish or main course, perhaps with a grain salad, sliced tomatoes and red onions in a simple vinaigrette or roasted white fish on the side.
Make Ahead: The spinach filling can be made 1 day ahead.
Storage Notes: Leftovers may be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
- 1 bunch (about 4 ounces) scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 10 ounces (8 to 10 cups) baby spinach
- 1/2 teaspoonkosher salt
- 8 ounces phyllo dough, about half a box, defrosted
- 1 bunch fresh dill or parsley leaves and tender stems, chopped
- 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 5 ounces feta, crumbled
- 1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 3 large eggs, whisked well
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown, about 1 minute. Add the spinach and salt, and cook until the spinach wilts, releases its liquid and dries out, about 5 minutes. Scrape the spinach into a large bowl and let it cool while you prepare the crust.
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Brush a 9-inch pie plate with olive oil.
- Unravel the phyllo dough onto a clean, dry work surface. Working quickly, gently brush the top sheet of phyllo with some of the oil. There’s no need to oil every spot; the oil will spread as you work. Pick up the first three or four sheets of phyllo in a stack and lay them, oil side up, in the pan, allowing one narrow end to cover the bottom of the pan and the other end to climb up the side of the pie plate and hang over the edge.
- Repeat, brushing the top of the remaining stack of phyllo sheets, and placing the next three or four sheets into the pan, oil side up. Continue oiling and fitting the oiled phyllo into the pie plate, rotating the pan so that the bottom is covered and a roughly even amount of phyllo is hanging over the circumference of the pie plate. This will not look perfect; if the phyllo tears, patch it and keep going. Once the pie plate is lined, lightly oil its surface and then set aside.
- Add the dill or parsley, breadcrumbs, feta and black pepper to the cooled spinach, stirring to combine. Then add the eggs, mixing well to combine. Pour the filling into the phyllo-lined pie plate and, using your fingers, crinkle the phyllo overhang partially over the top of the pie, leaving a 5- to 6-inch diameter in the center exposed. The more crinkled the top is, the nicer it will look once baked, so don’t worry about making this look neat.
- Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the filling is set and the phyllo is deep brown in places, like the color of an almond skin. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Nutrition (per serving, based on 6) | Calories: 304; Total Fat: 14 g; Saturated Fat: 6 g; Sodium: 676 mg; Carbohydrates: 32 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugars: 2 g; Protein: 11 g.
Recipe from Washington Post staff writer G. Daniela Galarza