Hoping for the Hopa
July 21, 2012 5:18 PM   Subscribe

I need your yia-yia's spanakopita recipe.

Trader Joe's is discontinuing their frozen spanakopita because they are, apparently, insane. My sisters love it, however. I want to fill my one sister's freezer with spanakopita so when the other visits they can eat good spanakopita to their hearts' content. I know there are a million recipes online. I want your best one. Bonus points if your Greek mother-in-law/neighbor/best friend's mom passed it onto you.
posted by oflinkey to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
When my older son was in 2nd grade, the class did a project where everybody made a traditional family recipe and wrote about it. My grandmother grew up in Greece, and this is the way my mom taught me to made it.

Caveat: I suspect my mom adapted the recipe to make it more kid-friendly -- I call it suburbanakopita because possibly Greeks outside of the midwest do not make theirs with quite so much land-o-lakes butter. You may want to use olive oil if making the phyllo yourself.

There aren't any measurements. In the "Reflection" section of his assignment, under "What I Learned," my son wrote "I learned that Greeks are not very accurate," which still cracks me up.

Here is the recipe, as written by a 2nd grader:

New Year’s Spanakopita (Spinach Pie) with Homemade Phyllo

· Flour
· Water
· Butter
· One egg
· Frozen spinach
· Cottage cheese and ricotta cheese
· A coin

Make the Phyllo
1. Put flour in a large bowl
2. Make the flour into a volcano shape
3. Pour water into the volcano
4. Stir flour and water together
5. Mix together with your hands
6. Make it into a ball
7. Knead it a lot, until it is really elastic
8. Melt the butter
9. Make the dough into 12 little balls
10. Roll out one into a sheet as thin as paper
11. Put it on a plate and paint it with melted butter
12. Roll another one out as thin as paper, and stack it on top of the first one
13. Paint it with melted butter
14. Do this until you have a stack of 7 sheets
15. Roll out, paint, and stack the other 5 balls to make a second stack
16. Cover the two stacks with saran wrap and put them in the refrigerator

Make the Filling
1. Defrost the spinach in the microwave.
2. Take the water out of it by putting it on a plate and then putting another plate on it and squishing it
3. Beat an egg in a bowl.
4. Put the spinach in the bowl. Put the cottage cheese and ricotta cheese in the bowl and mix it all together.

Put it all together
1. Preheat the oven to about 350 degrees.
2. Take the two stacks of phyllo dough out of the refrigerator.
3. Roll each stack out until it’s as big as the pan you are going to put it in.
4. Put the stack of 5 in the bottom of the pan.
5. Put the filling in.
6. Hide the coin inside the filling. Whoever gets the coin will have good luck for the rest of the year.
7. Put the stack of 7 on top of the filling.
8. Press the edges together with a fork.
9. Poke the middle of the pie with a fork.
10. Paint the top of the pie with melted butter.
11. Cook it until the top turns brown, about 30-40 minutes.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:35 PM on July 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm going to put it out there that the deep dark secret of a lot of Greek households is that many of their "family recipes" came from this cookbook published in the early 1960s. From what I remember, it suffers from selfmedicating's observation that it is not very measurement-oriented.
posted by deanc at 5:39 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're probably right, Deanc. My Yiayia is 90 and she still uses the cookbook printed by her church in the 40s. I don't know how she hasn't memorized the recipes yet, but she still always looks them up!

This is my recipe. It's better than my Yiayia's, and even she says so.

Package of phyllo (I have never attempted my own!)
More butter than you think. Start with 1 stick.
2 lbs of baby spinach
1 brick of feta (sorry, Selfmedicating, but ricotta or cottage cheese don't belong anywhere near spanakopita)
2 eggs
3 green onions
salt and pepper

Rinse the spinach, dry, and put in a large bowl. Slice green onions and add to spinach. Beat eggs and pour over spinach. Crumble feta with hands, sprinkle over spinach, and squish around with your hands until it is all combined. Add a healthy amount of salt and pepper and squish around a bit more.

Heat oven to 350.

Melt butter. Open up package of phyllo, but keep it covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap as you are working. It dries out really fast. Using a pastry brush, paint sides and bottom of a 9x13 pyrex pan with butter. Layer 5 sheets of phyllo in pan, generously buttering after the top of each sheet. Evenly spread 1/2 of spinach mixture on top of the phyllo sheets. Layer 2 or 3 more sheets of phyllo, again with butter between each layer. You might have to melt more butter at this point. Spread the rest of the spinach in the pan. Top with 5 more sheets of phyllo/butter. If you have any extra you can pour it over the top.

Bake until it's golden brown and you are going crazy from how delicious it smells. Maybe 30 minutes?
posted by apricot at 8:15 PM on July 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

Wait, are you talking about the frozen spanakopitas at TJ's that are little triangles? Or the one called "spinach pie" that is a rectangle you cut up into portions?

If it's the little triangles, Costco sells an even better product, although it comes in much bigger boxes. (I will still freak out though if that is the one you mean that they are discontinuing.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:47 PM on July 21, 2012

America's Test Kitchen recently did a show about spankopita.
posted by ikaruga at 11:07 PM on July 21, 2012

My very Greek-American mother swore by Craig Claiborne's recipe in the 1961 New York Times Cookbook, and none of my super Greek-Greek relatives ever complained. Something about the recipe -- maybe it's the butter -- keeps it from getting as greasy and heavy as the more authentic stuff. I remember getting "real" tyropita and spanakopita the first time I went to Greece and wondering how people could eat the stuff and walk afterwards. The Claiborne recipe is top-notch, and if it makes you feel any better, I am almost positive it comes from the home of a famous Greek restaurateur in NY (Leon Lianides, who owned and ran the legendary Coach House.)

There's an online copy of the Times recipe here, though your browser may complain about an outdated security certificate (clicking through didn't cause any harm, as far as I could tell.) But you should go get yourself a copy of the 1961 New York Times Cookbook anyway if you don't already have it because it's wonderful.

Somebody else mentioned Greek church-lady cookbooks. There are a lot of them, they're all great, they're all written by yia-yias, and looking at them you understand there is no "correct" way to make any of the dishes. Whenever I'm making a new Greek dish, I pull out all my Greek church lady cookbooks, look at all the recipes for that dish, take what I like from each of them, and go for it. Whenever you run across one at a thrift shop, garage sale, whatever, buy it.
posted by Opposite George at 2:52 AM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Selfmedicating: Your mom was a trooper. My guess is that pre-made phyllo was probably a lot easier to get in NYC back in the day than in the midwest, but as soon as commercial phyllo became available, practically everybody we knew stopped making it at home. There was only one lady we knew who insisted on making her own phyllo, and she was famous for being The Lady Who Still Made Her Own Phyllo. Honestly, the prospect scares the hell out of me but given your recipe I might give it a shot.

Also, the butter is probably an American thing but that's all my mom and everybody we knew used here in the Northeast and it makes everything so much lighter and fluffier I see it as the only way to go. I suspect if butter was as available and cheap in 19th and 20th-century Greece as it was in the U.S., they would have used more of it there as well.

As for the cottage cheese vs. feta debate, yeah, in our house the spanakopita was feta only while the tyropites (always in triangles) included cottage cheese or farmer's cheese along with feta. But it wouldn't surprise me if when your yia-yia first started making spanakopita in this country she had no way of getting feta. Hell, it's only within the past -- What? Thirty years? -- that most Americans even know what feta is. Homemakers' recipes have to adapt to include readily-available ingredients (as well as to the challenge of suiting palates conditioned to less robust flavors,) and I'm sure that your yia-yia would rather die than be caught serving a dish to her family that she didn't consider worthy of them.
posted by Opposite George at 3:16 AM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll leave the actual recipes to others but what I found very helpful was watching some youtube videos on the assembly of spanikopita. I was very intimidated by working with phyllo but it is actually not terrible.
posted by Morrigan at 5:11 PM on July 22, 2012

Oh, the complete absence of feta is part of what makes it suburbanakopita. I refused to touch feta or olives as a kid. I'm sure my mom adapted the recipe.

So, I've been thinking about this question a lot and I think the variables that make for a good spanakopita are:

* the spinach cannot be watery. If using frozen spinach (we did), then the best way I've found to completely wring the water out is to put the defrosted spinach on a plate, then stack another plate on it, just like you were stacking them up in the cupboard - except they happen to have a wad of soggy spinach in between. Press together over the sink.

* If you are using store-bought phyllo, the point is the filling, which is basically egg, butter, spinach, salt, and some form of cheese. The percentage of feta will range from 100% (apricot's recipe) to 0% (my preference at age 10). Some reviews I saw online of TJ's spanakopita said there wasn't enough feta, so keep the feta percentage in mind if you're trying to replicate it.

* More butter than you think. This cannot be emphasized strongly enough.

* If you are making your own phyllo, the phyllo is the star of the show. It actually isn't that hard. Your layers aren't going to be anywhere near as thin as store-bought, but they are marvelous in their own way. They are drenched in butter and can be peeled apart and are tender and chewy.

Honestly, making phyllo dough is so much easier than you think. The trick is to make a stack of layers, THEN roll out the stack. This allows you to achieve a thinness that would be impossible if you just rolled each layer out by itself.

You start with a pizza-dough consistency dough, and make a bunch of little balls out of it. Roll out the balls, and stack up the layers with butter slathered on in between. Chill, then re-roll the stack.

Let us know what you ended up making and how your sisters liked it!
posted by selfmedicating at 9:42 PM on July 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

You have inspired me, selfmedicating! Making my own phyllo always seemed ridiculous, but you make it sound possible. I bet it's delicious!
posted by apricot at 10:11 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Where to live on the East coast?   |   Medical Loss Ratio (and I am at loss) Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.