I remember the first time I ever had Spanakopita from the only Greek restaurant in town, and I was instantly in love. This is my take on Spanakopita, and over time I have made this savory pastry into a dish that favors my preferences for complex flavors and fresh herbs. The ingredient list here is pretty long, and this is admittedly a bit of a project! You can make the ingredient mixtures ahead of time to bake the pastry within a few days, or make the whole dish and enjoy over the course of a few days. Reheat leftovers in the oven and they may taste even better than before. Take a weekend afternoon to make this herb pie and you won’t be disappointed–it melts in your mouth and is sinfully good. Serve with a hearty red wine.
Serves 4 in large portions.
For the greens
- olive oil for cooking
- 1 large white or sweet onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 pound fresh or 12 oz frozen chopped greens such as spinach, collards, mustard, or chard
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 5 cardamom pods, pods removed
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp mustard seed
- 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp coriander seed
- 1 clove or a pinch of ground cloves
- 1 green onion, tender white and green section thinly sliced
- 2 eggs
- 2 oz each fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 oz fresh mint, roughly chopped
- 2 oz fresh basil, roughly chopped
- 1 oz fresh rosemary
- 1 oz fresh oregano, roughly
- other optional herbs include about 1 oz fresh arugula, dill, oregano
- salt to taste
- zest and juice of one lemon
Toast the spices-cardamom seeds, cumin, mustard seed, peppercorn, coriander, and whole clove- in a dry skillet for about 30 seconds over medium heat. Grind the spices in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle until they form a coarse powder. Set aside.
Pour about 1 tbsp olive oil into a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for about 10 minutes without browning the onion. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in the wine, greens, and spice powder and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated. When the liquid is gone, add all of the fresh herbs and stir these for about 1 minute more. Remove from heat.
Stir the greens mixture together with the salt, lemon, eggs, and green onion. Do not over salt the mixture- add no more than a 1/2 tsp. because the cheese and butter will contribute to the saltiness of the whole dish. Set the greens aside for assembly.
For the eggplant
- 1 large globe eggplant (about 1 pound) cut into 1/4″ slices
- olive oil for cooking
- 1 tbsp sumac (optional)
Slice the eggplant and lay the slices on a paper towel. Sprinkle a little salt across the eggplant and leave to sweat some of its water for about 20 minutes. Make other ingredients while you wait.
Heat about 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Fry the eggplant until slightly golden brown, you may need to do this in 2-3 batches so you don’t crowd the pan. Remove from heat and sprinkle with the sumac.
For the cheese filling
- 8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 2 tbsp tahini (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
Combine all ingredients together and set aside.
- 9 oz/ half a package of phyllo pastry sheets
- up to 8 tbsp butter, softened enough for brushing
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Brush a large rectangular baking dish with the melted butter on all sides. Lay in a sheet of phyllo pastry and brush it with some butter. Cover with another sheet and continue to brush the sheets until you have 8 layered sheets covering the bottom of the dish. Don’t worry if the sheets break, just try to layer the sheets so that they overlap the cracks.
Layer the eggplant slices on top of the phyllo. Then sprinkle in about half the cheese and half of the herb mixture, spreading so that the dish is filled evenly. Proceed to add 8 more layers of phyllo dough as before, brushing each sheet with butter over top. Layer on the remaining cheese and herbs, and then add a final 8 layers of phyllo dough brushed with butter. Make sure to brush the top pastry sheet as well.
Bake the pastry in the oven for about 35-40 minutes until the phyllo dough on top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes, then cut and enjoy!