Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Spanakopita

There are certain movies that I have watched a million times yet I never get tired of them. I may know the storyline, heck I may even know all the lines verbatim, but I watch them repeatedly because they make me feel good. They allow me to escape from my everyday life, they lift me up when I'm feeling down, they make me cry—sometimes a girl needs a good cry, —and they bring back memories.

The same thing happens with certain foods or dishes. They are embedded in my DNA and I go back to them again and again, craving them, cooking them, devouring them. These are of course Greek dishes, dishes I've learned how to cook not through reading some recipe in a cookbook or in a blog but through watching my grandmother, my grandfather and my mom cook them; dishes I know inherently how to improve upon or slightly alter to suit tastes and preferences without losing any of their originality and authenticity; flavors I am so incredibly familiar with, it is difficult to remember a time when I was not savoring them.

Spanakopita is one of those dishes. Growing up, it wasn't my favorite pita (pie in Greek), I hated green foods like any other normal kid but as I grew up, it grew on me. My mom's spanakopita is the best in the world after all. Everyone says that about their mother's cooking but really, my mom's is the best. She never made her own phyllo pastry, she was a working mother with two kids that didn't have spare time for such endeavors, but in Greece the ready-made phyllo is the best in the world.

I see so many recipes in cookbooks, magazines and blogs for spanakopita and with only a few exceptions, they disappoint me. They are nothing like a real spanakopita. Everyone adds their own twist and that is perfectly okay but if you want the real deal, here it is. This is how we Greeks eat it in Greece.

Spanakopita means spinach pie (spanaki=spinach, pita=pie) and the prominent flavor should be just that, the spinach, wild spinach in particular, but you can also use baby spinach, as I did this time. It must have feta cheese inside, but not a large amount, just enough to cut through the acidic flavor of the spinach; that's the reason leeks are added as well, to bring a sweetness to the pie. Dill is essential with its herby, grassy quality and spring onions are a must to give it some mild heat. Good, virgin or extra virgin olive oil needs to drench the whole lot and when you mix everything together, you have your filling. As simple as that.

Get your phyllo ready, and let's eat some real spanakopita.

Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)

Working with phyllo is easy, as long as you follow some rules. You can read in this post how to handle ready-made phyllo as well as some useful tips.

I always eat my spanakopita with a good dollop of Greek strained yoghurt on the side. It's the perfect combination. I usually have it as a main meal but it can be served as an appetizer, cut into small pieces.

Yield: 12 large pieces / 1 pie

450 g phyllo dough with 12 sheets (around 50 x 40 cm each) (1 package), thawed
600 g fresh spinach leaves
1 small leek (about 100 g), white and pale green part only, finely sliced
4 large spring onions (about 300 g), white and pale green parts only, finely sliced
A bunch (about 30 g) dill, leaves and stalks, finely chopped
220 g Greek feta cheese, preferably barrel-aged feta if you can find it
70 ml virgin or extra-virgin olive oil plus more for oiling the pan and phyllo sheets
Frehsly ground black pepper
Dried breadcrumbs (optional)

Greek strained yoghurt, preferably full-fat (I use Fage), for serving

Special equipment: colander, large baking pan (about 35 x 25 cm), pastry brush

Start off by making the filling.
If you happen to use wild spinach, cut off the hard stems and discard them, and chop the rest into smaller pieces. If you use baby spinach, don't chop it up. Also, small, tender stalks are okay to add in the filling.
Rinse the spinach well under cold, running water and drain it in a colander. Then take a bunch of spinach and squeeze it very good and repeatedly between your hands to remove all the excess water and to also shrink its volume. Place the squeezed spinach in a large bowl (preferably a very large bowl) and continue squeezing the next bunch until you have no more spinach left in the colander.

Next, add to the bowl the sliced leek and spring onions, as well as the chopped dill. Crumble the feta with your hands over the whole lot. You can also grate the feta with a box grater if you don't want any large-ish pieces of feta in your pie. Then add salt, but not too much because the feta is salty, and a good sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle the olive oil on top and mix everything well together with your hands. You need to go in with your hands to do a proper job, don't bother using a spatula or spoon for this. It'll not work.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius / 375 Fahrenheit.

Take your baking pan and, using a pastry brush or your hands if you don't have one, oil the base and sides. Line the bottom of the pan with the first sheet of phyllo (it's funny writing this because phyllo, a Greek word, means sheet, so it's like writing: "line the pan with a sheet of sheet", anyway, moving on), making sure to leave an overhang on all sides of the pan. Oil the sheet lightly and continue doing the same thing until you have lined the pan with half of the sheets (6 sheets).

At this point, you can add some dried breadcrumbs over the last phyllo sheet, so the bottom of the spanakopita doesn't become very soggy, but I never do that. I don't mind the spinach juices soaking my phyllo.

Empty the filling in the baking pan, making sure to spread it around evenly, and fold over the overhanging pieces of phyllo. Add a sheet of phyllo over the top and oil it, like you did with the bottom sheets. Continue adding the rest of the sheets, oiling them as you go, until you have no more sheets left.

Crimp up the edges of the phyllo, don't worry about the look, this is a rustic pie, no elaborate crimping needed. With a large knife, score the pie, being careful not to go through all the top layers of the phyllo. You need to score the two-three top sheets only, so the filling doesn't ooze out—something that admittedly happens to me once in a while.

Place the pan on the bottom rack of the oven and bake the spanakopita for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the top has taken on a golden brown color.
Take it out of the oven and let it stand for half an hour.

Cut the spanakopita into pieces and serve with Greek yoghurt if you want.

Spanakopita is preferably eaten the same day you make it. The phyllo becomes less crispy the next day but that never bothers us. We eat it greedily on the second day as well.


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  1. Your philo is so flakey! I love this traditional pie and I know that when I make it, I will come here!

  2. Finally!!! I have been waiting for you to post spanakopita -- my favorite Greek dish! It's great to see that dill is in it, too (I love dill). I will be making this - soon! Thanks!

    1. I hope you enjoy it! I love dill too.

  3. This truly is a dish you could eat at any time of the year. So easy. Wholesome, flakey and delicious!

  4. Beautiful pictures. I like spanakopita very much!
    greetings, Caroline

  5. Your spanakopita looks superb! I love to make it with uncooked spinach - I see a lot of recipes using cooked spinach (also how my Aunts make it). Spanakopita is surely like an old movie you want to watch over and over again! Got to try with yogurt on the side next time.

  6. Your spanakopita looks perfect. Beautiful color and texture. Now I can make an authentic pan of my own. Thanks, Magda.

    And it is nice to know someone else believes that sometimes a girl needs a good cry.

  7. Beautiful, Magda! I can't wait to try this - I honestly thought it was always made with butter and am so happy to hear about the olive oil! It makes perfect sense, being one of the iconic Greek dishes!

    1. No, no butter in spanakopita. Only olive oil!

  8. I've never made this. My mother was a daring cook and she did make this as well as moussaka, which i loved. I wish you and i lived closer so i could have a taste of yours! See the flaws of the internet?! :)

  9. Love your Blog Magda, and love this recipe,copied it into our Family Cookery Book, and have added it to my Pinterest. I really appreciate traditional Greek summer recipes - please post some more! ;-)

  10. quick comment though arent you supposed to cook the spinach first? what is the difference in putting it in raw?

    1. Hi Fiona! You can either cook the spinach or add it raw. I prefer raw spinach because it keeps all it's flavor and it has more texture than cooked spinach. That's the way my mom taught me how to prepare it as well. Make sure you drain and squeeze it well though.
      Hope you enjoy it!

  11. Spanikopita is one of my all-time favorites (when it's fresh and done well). Yours lokos so beautiful!!


  12. okay, this is the best recipe for spanikopita. I love that you use fresh baby spinach leaves, leeks, and dill--and just a bit of feta. wonderful, Magda--thanks for sharing the Real Deal!

  13. So good to have a website like this that explain how it should be done!

  14. At our wedding, over 17 years ago, now, we were fortunate to have a family friend provide the food. We were EXTREMELY fortunate that said family friend was Greek, and made a knock-out spanakopita. Or, rather, 10 trays of knock-out spanakopita. This looks very much like hers. Thank you for that, and this, and for sharing.

  15. Sues — thank you!

    Nancy — I'm glad you like it!

    Pola — thanks!

    molly — I hope you make it and you enjoy it as much as the one from your wedding!

  16. Excellent spanakopita ! My boyfriend said the meal was delicious, instead of thanking him for the nice comment, I replied he was totally right".

  17. Dear Magda, your blog is great and this recipe attracted me the moment I read it! Thanks, your photo are unforgivable!
    I didn't know that i should use fresh spinach, this improve my phyllo dough recipes....I am making many kind of cheese/phyllo (including strudel) and i am used to make a quick and easy pie anytime, my grandfather came from Greece to Romania to study, he met my grandmother, he never went back....phyllo and puff pastry is the main dough and i have always in freezer,,,,just in case!
    I follow you exactly and the bottom layers are soggy as you said (is ok for me) but the upper layers are not so well cooked, brown and crispy like 4-5 layers, the rest (6-8) are white, uncooked and soft. I brush every single one....Do you have any idea why?,
    thanks so much, Ileana

    1. You're supposed to have about 6 sheets on top. The ones closer to the spinach will not be crispy because of the moistness of the spinach. The top 4-5 will be crispy and browned.

    2. Thanks! I should put 4-5, above spinach (which will be very crispy and baked, and the rest (about 12-13) would be under the spinach.
      I am going to try again, and i will put some bread crumb, too, thanks, Ileana

  18. Hey Magda, thanks for yet another fabulous recipe! Could you please tell me where you get your phyllo dough from in NL? thanks :)

    1. Hi Natalia! I buy mine from Sligro. It is a Greek brand, the best actually.

  19. Hi, I have a recipe for this that I was about to use that uses 2 eggs in the filling....are they not needed? The recipe I have also uses parsley too. Is that not needed either? I thank you in advance. :-)

    1. Hi! I never use parsley or eggs in the filling.

  20. YAYA has a similar recipe however we add fresh parsley and 2 eggs well beaten, and a small handful of uncooked rice. This helps with the moisture of the spinach. Love Spanakopita!!

    1. If those ingredients work for you that's great! The uncooked rice is indeed a good idea to absorb all the liquid from the spinach. I love it too! :)