Spanakopita Recipe

flaky spanakopita

The most commonly-asked question for a certain cookbook author, aside from “Can I replace the corn syrup?” by a longshot, is: “Can that be frozen?”

So the fellow in question wrote an ice cream book, knowing that I—I mean, he would get a break from being asked that question.

salt spinach

Because Sunday is the day my producteur of vegetables shows up at the outdoor market, I stock up for the whole week, although I don’t know what possessed me to buy a couple of kilos of spinach for just me last weekend. Probably because after all these years, I still have a hard time thinking in kilos, which is a little over two pounds.

Only when I get home do I think, “What was I thinking?”

Faced with way too much spinach, I tweeted and Katelyn twittered back with a one-word suggestion: Spanakopita.

feta

Bang! That was it. (And double-bang! Wasn’t that easy?) The following day I went to the Arab market and picked up feta and filo, in more reasonable quantities. Well, except for the feta, which I never mind having too much of.

I have a somewhat difficult time using filo because I used to buy freshly-made filo at Scheherazade, a place in San Francisco that made their own from scratch. Once you tasted it, you realized that the frozen or long-conserved stuff tastes like nothing and it’s impossible to go back. And it was a pleasure to work with, too, since their handmade filo not only tasted like fresh dough, but also didn’t dry out and fly away the minute you slid it out of the package.

Unfortunately, the bakery finally closed. An elderly Middle Eastern woman ran it with her husband, and he would effortlessly flick king sized, whisper-thin sheets of the dough with his hands over a big table while she worked in front of the shop. One day they told me they were calling it quits and retiring, and said their kids weren’t interested in taking over the business.

When I told them that I wanted to learn and take over the bakery, she laughed; “It takes five years to learn how to make filo dough by hand, you stupid idiot!”

trifolded filo first fold

Ok, so she really didn’t call me a stupid idiot. But I feel like one because I chose another career path, depriving hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans without fresh filo. So although I specifically wrote an ice cream book just to avoid the “freezing” question, I should let you know that I rarely freeze desserts except in their raw or half-baked state, like cookie dough and crisp topping: I think if you’re going to make something buttery from scratch, it should taste freshly-baked when you stick it in your gullet.

spanakopita

Although the preparation for spanakopita takes a bit of time, once done, you can keep a bag of the triangles in the freezer and when you need a last-minute dinner or lunch, just brush one or two with butter and pop them in the oven and thirty minutes later, you have a hot, delicious meal. Which isn’t a half-baked idea. Or is it?

Spanakopita
Makes eight triangles

I used a seasoned salt that a friend whose family harvests salt in Brittany made and gave me, which has dried tomato, garlic, coriander, and paprika in it. I don’t know if adding those spices will raise the ire of purists (who will rightly claim this is actually called spanakopitakia), but you can season the filling as you wish. You’ll see I like the addition of a squirt of lemon juice, which brightens the taste. Adding some freshly-chopped mint is another option.

I also used 2 sheets of filo per triangle, since each sheet was about 12-inches (25cm), but if you prefer less dough, you can use one sheet. There are folks make spanakopita in a pie plate, although individual triangles give you more of the crisp-crunch of the filo, and are easier to freeze in individual portions.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and minced
  • 12 ounces (325g) fresh spinach, well-washed and towel dried
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • 8-10 ounces (230-250g) feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely-chopped flat leaf parsley
  • pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • lemon juice
  • 16 sheets filo dough (about 12 ounces, 350g), thawed, if frozen
  • Melted butter (2-3 ounces, 60-90g)

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan or skillet. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until transluscent.

2. Add the spinach and a bit of salt and pepper, cover, and cook until the spinach is completely wilted, stirring once or twice to hasten the process.

3. Scrape the spinach into a colander and let cool completely. Once cool, firmly squeeze out the excess liquid then chop the spinach with a chef’s knife into smallish pieces.

4. Mix the spinach in a small bowl with the feta and parsley until chunky. Taste, and add nutmeg and a squirt of lemon juice, plus more salt and pepper if desired. Stir in the egg.

5. Unwrap and unroll the filo and keep it covered at all times with a damp tea towel.

6. Working quickly lay one sheet of filo on the counter and brush it lightly, but thoroughly, with butter. Lay another sheet on top of it and brush it with butter as well.

7. Set a scant 1/4 cup (50g) of the filling in the center, about 1-inch (3cm) from the edge of the sheets of filo, then roll the two edges of the dough over, lengthwise, to encase the filling. You should have a long rectangle with filling underneath the top far end.

8. Brush the exposed surface of the filo with butter and fold one corner diagonally over the filling, then continue folding keeping the triangle shape (as you’d fold a flag) and brushing the exposed surfaces of the filo with butter, until you have a neat triangle. Brush the top with butter and set on a baking sheet in the freezer.

9. Continue making more spanakopitas with the remaining filling. Once all the spanakopitas are frozen, store them in a freezer bag until ready to bake. If well-wrapped, they’ll keep for a couple of months.

10. To bake the frozen spanakopita, preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and put the frozen triangles on a baking sheet, then brush each with butter. Bake for 30 minutes, or until deeply-golden brown. If you’re baking them without freezing them first, they’ll take less time to bake, so check them before the recommended baking time.

Serve warm, with a green salad, or part of a Middle Eastern dinner with favorite side dishes. I like to eat these accompanied with Retsina, a Greek wine that’s an acquired taste, due to the resin-flavor. The Achaia Clauss brand is the one I prefer and is available in well-stocked liqueur stores.

all folded up

Related recipes:

Fig and Black Olive Tapenade

Cabbagetown Hummus

Lamb Tagine

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

Joanne Weir’s Cucumber and Feta Salad

Baba Ganoush

Goat Cheese Custard with Strawberries

Creamy Feta Red Wine Dressing

Dave T’s Spinach Cake

Marinated Feta

62 comments

  • Yum, that looks tasty. This is totally unrelated, but I just found out today is “Le Jour du Macaron.” I’m off to Pierre Hermé for a free macaron tasting!

  • I like the idea of using the seasoned salt for the spanakopitakia. (I’m of Greek descent and I say stuff the purists!) And these are perfect anytime of the day. Great stuff!

  • The spanakopita sound delicious, but what a lovely pile of mâche! Is that from the same stand as the spinach?

  • I had my first taste of this wonderful stuff in Athens. I LOVED it. I’ve never had another one that I liked, probably because all the others I tried were just stuffed with spinach with out even any feta cheese and that is totally necessary.

  • Yum! thanks for the post, David. I might have to make that this weekend, since I have most of everything here already.

  • Hi David, I like your version of spanokopita too. I am Greek and my mom makes different versions of spanakopita. The one I like is with one or two sauteed leeks, spring onions, spinach, eggs, feta, black pepper, parsley and lots of fresh dill. My mom always makes her own phyllo. I am lucky to find phyllo in the refrigerated section of my Chicago Greek grocery store. You might enjoy this version of something similar made by a Greek blogger–http://jodimop.wordpress.com/2009/02/18/greens-pie/
    Thanks for blogging!!!

  • My love affair with filo began at a very early age. This post is making my mouth water. The seasoned salt also looks spectacular. You can freeze ice cream? Ours never lasts that long! (Which by the way, I have a batch of your blood orange sorbet chilling right now and it smells wonderful.) Thanks for all the terrific recipes David! I love visiting your site.

  • No matter how many times I’ve worked with phyllo I just can’t learn to make it look pretty. It’s my bane. That’s okay though, for my spanakopita fix I just take a walk to the Greek Delicatessen in Pike Place Market for a minor pig out.

  • Thanks, David. This looks amazing. I can’t wait to make it as soon as possible. Thanks for posting the recipe!
    (And PS- I recently acquired my first ice cream machine, and your book… so far, Chocolate Sorbet and Strawberry-Sour Cream Ice Cream have been thoroughly enjoyed!).

  • Julie: Glad you’re enjoying the book! : )

    MarthaD: You’re a very lucky girl if your grandmother makes filo dough. I’ve made streudel, which isn’t that hard, but takes a bit of pluck to get it nice and thin.

    Barbra: Yes, I got the mâche from them, too. And, of course, I bought too much of that as well..

  • This is my MOST favorite food ever! I saw a show once featuring that SF. filo making couple! I wanted to learn how to do what he did too, what a LOST art. I am sorry to hear they are no longer in business…

    Thanks for the recipe! I have made it with a pastry sort of dough before, never with filo…hope I can find some this weekend!

  • I feel like such a hick–I’ve never seen spanakopita in individual packets like this before! I’ve only seen it (and made it) in a layered, lasagna style that you serve cut into squares. And this is SO much better! More crunchy pastry, portablility, freezability, I love it!

  • Love this post, I am going to make it this weekend. Just wanted to say how much I’ve been enjoying your blog. The day I discovered it, I stayed up all night and read just about every post. Thanks for very enjoyable reading. :)

  • Gorgeous…I plan to have a cooking weekend and I’m also trying to organize my life, so this is the perfect combo…I’ll be one of those uber prepared people who keeps h’ors d’ouevres in the fridge for when people pop by.

    By the way, I checked out “Room for Dessert” from the library and am loving it! That bread pudding was just fabulous.

  • Thanks for the recipe. I love Spanikopita and can’t wait to try it out! BTW I got to see Molly Wizenberg this past weekend at her Oklahoma City book signing and made sure to say hello for you. Her book is really sweet and she does make an honorable mention of you. Have a great weekend!

  • I really like this specialty. Delicious!
    Cheers,
    elra

  • This looks fantastic. I usually buy these but I think I can make a pretty good version at home with this recipe.

  • Yum, yum, that looks tasty! I love to make little triangles like this with a number of fillings. It’s so easy to pop them out of the freezer for last-minute appetizers or an easy lunch!

  • I strongly agree, it’s purely impossible to have too much feta at home :D

    if I have one big square of feta that seems to be a little old (but this is nearly impossible either, at least at my home :D), I scramble it over a bunch of grilled slices of courgettes and without tossing, I put the plate in the hot oven for a few minutes. with garlic, herbs and some black olives as a side dish, it’s a pretty decent use for this old piece of cheese :)

  • Never too much feta. We can put it on anything. Little spannies are so fun to eat. Crispy, crumbly dough in the corners of your mouth and salty feta on the tongue.

  • My brain teeters back and forth between the English system and metric far too often. In the U.S. we are on English…in work (wine) we are metric. So as a winemaker, I wonder… why do we bottle in milliliters and get taxed in gallons? Yes, this is very tangential…

    But good call on your meal…it’s beautiful.

  • Mmm Katelyn made a fabulous suggestion! I’ve never had spanakopita I didn’t LOVE! :D

  • I am in love with you, David Lebovitz.

    Fortunately, I am content with only having a virtual relationship with you, by reading your blog.

    Your recipes are superb. So far I have made your salmon rillettes, quince tarte Tatin, kig ha farz and chocolate sauce. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, so it is a bit surprising that my favourite food blogger should be a pastry chef.

  • You remind me of David Sedaris in “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” he describes going to the (French) market and buying several types of produce in 2-kilo increments, even though it’s just him and his partner at home, because he doesn’t remember the noun genders.

    And I lurve, lurve spanikopita. Good stuff.

  • Hi,
    I am sitting on my desk in Athens, Greece, reading and devouring the images of your latest post, with the self evident title SPANAKOPITTA and I am trying to remember what urge made me decide to get on a diet this time….
    Spanakopitta and the rest of the greek words ending with PITTA (pie) IS THE REASON WHY we have the figures we do…. in Greece
    and some of the tastiest recipes of the greek cuisine are pies.
    Love you version by the way, but especially the images!! Looks like a very fresh view on spanakopitta indeed!

  • love this site!
    a delicious addition to spanakopita is the addition of herbs
    like dill, fennel/anise and green onions. Dodonis brand
    feta is wonderful to use, too.

  • Those look gorgeous! I do love spanakopita and you wrap them so expertly. I am just glad for my sake that they still taste great even if the wrapping is a bit shoddy :)

  • YUM!!These pies look delicious and the photography is exquisite David.

  • Love the golden, kinda orange-y, hue of your filo dough!
    Spanakopita is so good! Can be frozen and there is no corn syrup in it, gotta love the greeks!
    Ana

  • OK, so here’s my spanakopita experience: I decided to use Ina Garten’s recipe (she’s the Barefoot Contessa) and mixed up the ingredients, then realized the feta and spinach were SWIMMING in the olive oil, so I literally wrung it out over the sink, then plopped it onto the filo. She said it should cook in some amazingly short time; well, mine took 3 times that amount. I was sure it was ruined, but my partner tasted one piece and said it was fine, so I took it to the party where two people who had visited Greece proclaimed it was better than any they had ever tasted! Just goes to show…
    (Seriously, one of them is a world traveler and he does know his food!) So as far as I’m concerned, David, you can do anything to this recipe (except perhaps add chocolate, then again…) and most people will appreciate the work you put into it. Cheers!

  • David, this looks fantastic. One of my very favorite things to eat is spanakopita. The first time I had it (that I remember) was at age 10 when my childhood friend’s mother, Athena, served some to me. Since then, I have been a devoted lover of Greek food!

    I just made a feta-zucchini tart this week that tastes very similar to spanakopita and it had me in heaven.

    Thank you for the beautiful post!

  • Growing up in New Jersey, the land of the greek diner, I grew up thinking it was pronounced “Spanky-pita”. To this day I still can’t see the word and NOT think of a naughty, naughty circle of bread. However, I love spinach, so have come to love the dish–even if I have to titter every time I speak of it.

  • Here in Australia, our greek family makes them with: feta, spinach, finely chopped celery,and chopped spring onions. The greens are lightly microwaved or sauted till done, then added to feta with no egg, but just salt and pepper. I like it with half feta and half green vegetables, but my mum likes more green. Try it..

  • This looks so amazing, I want to eat it for breakfast this morning! And I can appreciate the over-purchase of spinach, I once bought 5 pounds of it for myself. I say myself, because although there are other people in the household, they are these crazy no-green-vegetable people. I managed to come up with ideas to use it all up! Wish I had this one at the time, will have to “over-buy” again!

  • yum! that looks delicious! and i just LOVE feta! i, on the other hand, never buy enough spinach! it always looks like so much, only to shrink the second it hits the pan ;) i love your posts, they always make me smile! thank you!

  • I love spanakopita, and make it in a log I slice and serve as a first-course with a meaty meal. Your version looks lovely!

  • David, they just came out of the oven and they are DIVINE!!!!! I had to stop and write before finishing the first one to thank you. These will defintiely become part of my repertoire.

  • check this out:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-oUr1DqrD0

    Filo is no where near the handmade real ‘yufka’. You can do a lot more alternatives with the handmade pastry, but filo is so limiting to work with.

  • Those look terribly delicious!

    Nice pictures too.

    Keep them coming!

  • Hi Selen: Thanks! I’ll bet it took him quite a while to master that. There’s also a Moroccan dough (called something like ourq..sp?) that is made by rubbing a ball of dough on a hot griddle, then you peel off the thin sheet of dough, and use it to make pastries. I think I saw it in a Paula Wolfert book, with a warning that it’s an acquired skill.

  • You know if one let’s go of trying to be perfect, then you don’t stress about little tears and such. It’s a great life lesson, because they still turn out beautifully and tasty, too. I even made them with my niece when she was 6. If the two of us could do it, no one should hesitate to try it.

    The Mache reminds me of the rare times we find good, fresh mache here. Once made a lovely soup with it, too. It’s so delicate and wonderful. Wish we would find it more here.

    Have added you to my reader now. Thanks for the beautiful work!

    Cheers,
    Jacqueline

  • Is that mache on the plate? I love it and it’s only available in the spring (duh) so I like to use it when it is around. How do you like to dress it? Do you ever saute it?

  • What a gorgeous spanakopita. Lovely! And why would anyone ever want to buy feta in moderation? I’m with you. Re: spinach. Honestly, even having over 2 lbs of the stuff–it shrinks so much while cooking I’m always like: “Hey! Where did you go?”

  • Hello David! Loved your post, since I’m Greek. Just a a few comments, meant well of course. First thing is, you have to have spring onions in your spanakopita. Makes a huge difference compared to regular onions. Dill is a welcome addition, too. As far as filo is ocncerned, what is shown in the pictures is what we call in Greece “filo kroustas”. At home we make lovely, crusty yet tender filo, which is a LOT better than the store bought one, and is not easy to make, but can definitely be mastered after some practice (and who would mind eating all the trial spanakopitas?). I could send you pictures of the procedure if you like, just let me know.
    Keep up the good work!!
    ellina

  • Julialuli: Yes, it is mâche. I normally drip just a bit of very good olive oil or hazelnut oil on it and sprinkle it was a few flakes of sea salt. Very easy, and much better than any heavy dressing.

    ellina: I love spring onions and green onions, but they can be hard to find here (and elsewhere, depending on where you live.) But the great thing about this kind of recipe is cooks can adjust it with various herbs and seasonings, like I did. Homemade filo is great and I prefer it, too. Wish I’d learned how to make it!

  • Thanks for this! I think we’ll try it for dinner this week!

  • David, you’re right. This video shows just a part of the process, there are many tips and tricks involved. e.g. they use different types of flour to make the dough and then to rest the dough before they process. Usually the person that spreads the dough first and the one that finishes are different. The latter is the master that can spread the pastry evenly, same thickness everywhere and in a perfect round shape. The surface that they work has to be marble or granite and there are other tricks like cooking only one side and then dipping into water one side.. I made a lot of research about this after I decided to move to Asia, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to find the right pastry here. I tried really hard to make it, but it’s very complicated. It’s an ancient art and I do believe the lady who told you that it takes 5 years to learn this art. I ruined a lot of flour myself and then gave up and started using the phyllo and wonton pastries.

  • Ah… this made me remember a greek restaurant i worked at in San Francisco in the 90’s, A. Asimokopolous, on Potrero Hill…. I can still remember that pine tar-lovely retsina… thatnks for the memory jolt…
    -jordan (cookingwillsaveyourlife.blogspot)

  • Jordan: I remember that place, too! As a transplant from upstate New York, in a town with a large Greek community, I used to eat there frequently to get my filo-fix.

  • I still have to figure out where I can buy phyllo pastry. In the mean time my sister who lives in Tokyo had some leftover phyllo pastry from making baklavas so I gave her the link. She made them right away and said they were amazing! :D

  • Yum! I make Spanikopita a lot. My close friend who is Greek taught me a quick way to make it and that’s one of the only ways I can get my picky husband and son to eat spinach. :) By the way, she also got me hooked onto feta (I add it to everything I can) and she told me that even though she’s Greek, she thinks French feta is the very best. I’ve never tried it, but was wondering if you’d agree.

  • Meredith: I’ve not tasted feta cheese side-by-side (although you can no longer call feta-style cheese “feta” unless it comes from Greece) and am not sure where the cheese I get comes from. I buy mine in an Arab market, and they store the three types of feta-style cheese in big plastic bins and they fish out a slab when I ask for one. And it sure is delicious!

  • I love the video of the beautifully efficient pastry artisan. My mother says she remembers her grandmother pulling strudel dough over a table; that would have been about 70 years ago in Brooklyn.

    At Sahadi’s on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn you can buy Greek, French, Bulgarian, or American feta (or “feta,” if you are a stickler). I think the French is the creamiest and smoothest-tasting, and I might choose that for solo eating or salad, but it is also the most expensive, so I pick something cheaper for my spanakopita. I make them with the fresh phyllo from Damascus Bakery down the street (better tasting, doesn’t dry out as fast [as you say], and better for the last-minute cook as it doesn’t need defrosting!).

  • I was wondering exactly what the difference is between strudel dough and filo dough is. I thought they could be used interchangeably. I’m really curious.I DO love spanakopita. Thanks for the recipe, I’ll try it soon.

  • I found this on You Tube about making filo dough, both by hand and machine.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJKvAIgPAtk&feature=related

  • i have a couple of these in the oven right now! can’t wait to try them!

    this was my second attempt using filo pastry… the first ended in tears! this one not so bad at all. i wasn’t able to fold them as nicely as yours, but they still look ‘triangular’ :)

    love your blog :)

  • I always had a hard time working with filo, always using the frozen, packaged variety. I’d love to find a place around me that made it fresh. In one place I worked, we had an escargot dish that wrapped the little suckers in filo dough – one wrong move and your filo broke apart and that was the end of your dish.

    This is a new dish to me, but can’t wait to try it. Thanks!

  • I make mine according to dear friends’ in Athens recipe with an “accident of mint and green onions with a speck of wild greek thyme…

  • A very delicious read, though I’m still scared to make it on my own. Bookmarked though for days of bigger kitchens.

    Pike Place in Seattle still has the best ever.

  • David: You state in the description that you use two sheets of filo for each triangle, and the ingredients list 16 sheets for 8 triangles, but the directions say to use one sheet for each triangle. Where does the second sheet come in? Are they double thickness? Do you brush them separately with butter before stacking them? Or are they attached end-to-end to make a single-layer wrapping that’s thicker?

    I’m making these for an aunt for a gift (at her request) and just seek some clarity.

  • Matt: In Step #6, you add the second layer of filo. Since I normally work in weights, that was how I originally wrote up the recipe. So you use two sheets and butter each one. Happy baking!

  • I really love this recipe. It isn’t difficult and it always wows guests! I think it is difficult to work with the filo, so instead of triangles I have a variety of shapes and I just pretend it’s supposed to be like that! :) Thank you for this tasty recipe.