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Spanakopita: Famous Greek Appetizer with Spinach and Feta

    Finished Spanakopita, cut and ready to serve

    Spanakopita is a delicious, nutritious, easy to make Greek appetizer with spinach and usually with feta. Depending on how it is folded or rolled, spanakopita can be perfectly portable. Often made in a classic pie style in a square or oblong pan, it can also be folded over like a galette, a hand pie, or in small triangles called spanakopitakia, typically served as part of a pikilia (variety plate).The processes for building a spanakopita are similar to building a baklava, except that olive oil is preferred to butter for this savory pie.

    How to make Spanakopita

    Spanakopita is made with fresh spinach, white or green onions, and fresh dill, or sometimes mint, tucked gently into phyllo sheets basted with extra virgin olive oil, and baked in a pie dish. Recipe below is an easy spanakopita recipe, but ALL spanakopita recipes are simple by nature.

    Even if this is your first time making spanakopita, your results can still convince anyone that you are a seasoned pro. The most complicated thing that might be done is adding some bechamel sauce to the cheese mixture, which this recipe does not call for.

    Is Spanakopita a main course, a side dish, or an appetizer?

    Yes, to all of it.

    Spanakopita can be any of these things depending on how much of it is served.  Often made in a classic pie style in a square or oblong pan, it can also be folded over like a galette, a hand pie, or in small triangles called spanakopitakia, typically served as part of a pikilia (variety plate). A large serving with a side of Greek salad, and fresh crusty bread is a meal, and is very much a traditional way to serve it.

    The suffix” akia” is an affectionate diminutive, like “ette” in French (and sometimes in English). So, Spanakopitakia are tiny spanakopita triangles, made for mezzes, or a pikilia (variety) plate. Many Greek foods are intended to be served at room temperature or at the very least not piping hot. This is because traditional Greek foods were developed in a culture that predominately used communal ovens.

    Variations on a theme of Spanakopita

    Important Tips for a Successful Spanakopitakia or Spanakopita

    Finished Spanakopita, cut and ready to serve

    You can serve Spanakopita hot, but it’s designed to be served warm or even at room temperature. this reason, I strongly recommend olive oil rather than butter for this dish. If you intend to freeze it for later use however, I recommend using melted butter after the pie is assembled using oilve oil, as butter will create a better seal for the freezer, then cooled before freezing the pie. Salted butter is better for this purpose, as the salt helps drive out buttermilk, making it less liquid. As with many Greek dishes, Spanakopita is naturally vegetarian. The olive oil and the cheese provide the important calories that make this filling work as an entrée. To make this into a vegan recipe, eliminate the eggs and cheese.

    In modern Greek homes many people have ovens, but even now, not every house had an oven. in many communities, it is more common that people would cook baked or roasted items in a communal oven, or at the local bakery. Traditional Greek ovens are wood-burning ovens made of clay, similar to pizza ovens. As a country with a very hot climate, it would often be too hot to cook comfortably during day time hours. 

    Do things in the following order to have the best results

    Here is the short version, read on for detailed instructions and the recipe, or use the “skip to recipe” button above if all of this is tldr

    1. Cook and drain the spinach if you are using fresh, thaw the frozen spinach if you are using a package
    2. Chop the onions, crumble the feta and mix all filling ingredients in a large bowl
    3. Prepare the phyllo sheets for the top and bottom crusts
    4. Lay the bottom layers in a large pan, folding and tucking the corners and pushing the crust up the sides of the pan. 
    5. Fill the pie crust with the spinach mixture
    6. Put the top layers of crust  on top of the filling
    7. Cut into serving pieces with a serrated knife, using the gentlest pressure to cut. Let the blade do the work
    8. Bake
    9. Opa!
    Spanakopitakia from Envato Images

    Squeeze Out Excess Liquid From the Cooked Spinach

    Freshly cooked spinach for Spanakopita

    Cook the spinach just to the point where the leaves are fully wilted, but still bright green. You will be cooking the filling a second time when it bakes, so do not overcook the spinach at this point. Cook the spinach first before preparing other ingredients, then put it in a sieve to drain the excess moisture while you prepare the rest of the ingredients If you are using thawed spinach

    . Put a small heavy dish on top of the resting spinach to help the draining process. The dryer the spinach is, the better your spanakopita will be. If you are adding fresh herbs to this, please add it to the spinach mixture after this step. The herbs will add very little moisture, and you don’t want to diminish their flavor. 

    Spinach for spanakopita

    Spring Onions, Leeks, or Sweet Onions, and Fresh Herbs

    Onions for Spankaopita

    Onions are great in this dish, but please do not use a spicy onion (eg Egyptian walking onion) as this will overpower the dish. Spring onions, or leeks are perfect, but a sweet onion or basic cooking onion is fine. Similarly, use a light hand with the herbs, they are there for enhancement, not as a primary flavor. I often do not use herbs at all. It is still fine and remains authentic.

    Mix the Spinach Filling in a Large Bowl

    This is universal. Always mix ingredients in a vessel that is large enough to allow free movement of the contents. Otherwise, you will have trouble mixing everything in fully. Mix the spanakopita filling gently with your clean hands, as you want the ingredients to be well-incorporated, but not homogeneous. 

    Spankaopita filling

    Prepare and Fill the Phyllo Crust

    Oil and phyllo
    • Use a pastry brush to paint each sheet of phyllo dough
    • If you are using frozen, as most do, separate the sheets carefully to avoid tearing. If they do tear, move on and piece it like a puzzle using extra oil as needed. It happens.
    • After you remove each layer, immediately cover the unused dough with either film plastic, or a clean, dry, kitchen towel after removing each sheet. Phyllo dries very quickly, and I cannot overstress the importance of this
    • Fill the Phyllo Pastry With the Savory Spinach and Feta Cheese Filling

    Fill and Cover the Pie and Score the Top Before Baking

    It is important to score the top of the spanakopita with a sharp knife before baking, or the nature of the cooked and flaky phyllo dough will leave your slices in a crumbly mess. The same is true for many recipes made with sheets of phyllo, such as tyrpopita, a similar cheese pie with bechamel, baklava, and galaktoboureko.

    The exceptions to this are for meat and fish dishes like Exohiko, a one dish savory pie with vegetables and fish. For this and similar dishes you leave the phyllo uncut to allow the meat to steam without drying, as if it were wrapped in parchment paper. In those cases, the opening of the package is part of the fun. For the best presentation of spanakopita though, please cut before baking.

    Spankaopita filling in the pie

    Cook at a Medium Heat in a Preheated Oven Until the Crust is Golden Brown

    Coiled

    Cook it to the point where the crust is flaky at a medium temperature so that the filling will also be fully cooked. If your oven is unpredicable or has hot spots, watch carefully. Test for doneness by inserting a clean knife into one of your precut slices and see if the eggs in the mixture have set.

    Enjoy!

    Let the spanakopita cool for a few minutes, Greek food is best when the flavors have time to meld. It is typically not served piping hot.

    If your spanakopita is a main course, complete it with a wedge of lemon and some olives, a Greek salad, or some fasolatha, and crusty bread with sesame seeds. Have the bread with lots of butter, or dipped in olive oil.

    Finished Spanakopita, cut and ready to serve

    Spanakopita: Famous Greek Appetizer with Spinach and Feta

    Spanakopita is one of the classic dishes of Greek cuisine and at the same time, one of the most versatile. A main course, side dish, or appetizer, depending on how large you make it.
    Prep Time: 20 minutes
    Cook Time: 40 minutes
    Course: Appetizer, Dinner, Side Dish
    Cuisine: Greek
    Servings: 6

    Ingredients  

    Filling

    • 454 gr Bag of Spinach
    • 3-4 Green Onions Chopped (or 1 med Cooking Onion chopped)
    • 10 ml Dill or Mint, finely minced
    • 250 gr Feta
    • 2 Eggs Beaten
    • 2 tbsp olive oil extra virgin

    Crust

    • 250 gr Phyllo aka filo. About ½ package, you could double the recipe, especially for a party, or you could also make baklava)
    • 250 ml Olive Oil or more depending on how heavy you are with the brush

    Instructions 

    • Filling
    • The first task is to cook the spinach until just after the point where it wilts and then press out any excess water. Cooking to this point takes about 5 minutes at a medium temperature.
    • Wash the spinach before cooking, let it sit in a pot for 5 minutes and then pour out any excess liquid that has dropped from the leaves.
    • Strain the cooked spinach through a colander and allow it to cool.
    • Chop the green onions
    • Slice the cooled mound of spinach across two axis into a pile of cubes. This will allow the filling to mix better, and will eliminate long bits of stem
    • Put the chopped spinach into a bowl with the onions and herbs if you are using them
    • Crumble the feta into the bowl and add the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly.
    • Crust
    • Make sure you have a large, clean, dry area for the filo and prepare a 20cm x 20cm 8×8” pan for the pie if this is a dinner item, or a 23cm x 33cm (9”x13”) pan if you are making appetizers
    • With clean, dry hands, place the layers of phyllo on top of each other, one by one, brushing each layer liberally and completely with a coating of olive oil.
    • Make sure you use enough oil…there should be no dry spots.
    • When you have at least 6 layers of oiled filo, oiling the last layer as well to prevent soaking into the crust, place the stack of sheets in the pan, fitting it to the sides and fill with the spinach mixture.
    • Fold the edges inwards, neatly.
    • Using another 2 layers of phyllo, oil and stack as before, with oil on the final layer as well.
    • Fold the ends of the layers inward about 1” – 2” on either side of the long edge, and the two ends of the long edge towards each other to meet in the middle. Flip this assembly upside-down on top of the pie
    • Cut the top of the crust into your desired number of serving pieces before baking. It will be a mess if you do it afterwards
    • Bake at 180c (350º) for 40 minutes. Remove when the crust is an even, golden brown. IF it seems to cook too quickly, lower the temperature by 15c (25º)
    • Note:
    • 254 gr phyllo is about ½ of a commercial package of phyllo, you could double the recipe, especially for a party, or you could also make baklava, or you can vacuum-seal the the leftover dough, or wrap it carefully in multiple layers of plastic with the least amount of air under the plastic to prevent drying in the freezer
    • If you are making appetizers you may wish to make triangles, or rolled spanakopita. I personally find the rolled version to be much simpler to make, but triangles have some advantages.
    • If there are a lot of pieces and guests to serve, triangles can be easier to load onto a plate for service. They can also be easier for people at a standing party to handle as hors d’oeuvres, although the rolls are not particularly onerous.

    Notes

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