Foodie: How to cook a favorite Greek meal

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1995
Foodie: How to cook a favorite Greek meal
The writer's grandmother, Jenny Epitropoulos (right), with her sister, Helen, and mother, Angela, in the 1940s.
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By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]

When I was growing up, I always looked forward to staying at my yiayia’s house. Yiayia, my dad’s mother, had a way of making food magical.

Whether it was typical kid fare, like butter noodles, or her Greek dishes, like ovgolemono soup (lemon chicken soup thickened with eggs), lamb, pastitso (a Greek version of lasagna topped off with béchamel sauce) or Greek desserts like koulourakia (Greek biscotti cookies) or loukoumades (donut holes with honey and walnuts), she always made it delicious, with the help of significant amounts of butter.

Holidays were no different. Even though Thanksgiving isn’t a traditional Greek holiday, yiayia always hosted a celebration, with plenty of lamb, Greek potatoes and, perhaps my favorite dish, spanakopita.

Spanakopita, or spinach pie, is still a favorite of mine as an adult – and, because it has spinach, you can always justify eating a second piece.

The writer’s grandmother, Jenny Epitropoulos, in her kitchen.

Spanakopita is made with finicky filo dough, which makes it difficult to make for those who haven’t worked with the paper-thin dough before. If you buy frozen filo dough, make sure to thaw it at least two hours before you start cooking.

You start with spinach, which can be either fresh or frozen, depending on your preference. For fresh spinach, you simply have to wash and chop it. For frozen spinach, you have to wait for it to thaw.

Once the spinach is ready, sauté a large onion or five scallions until translucent and then add spinach, as well as salt, pepper and dill.

While the spinach is sautéing, you can go ahead and get the egg mixture ready. To do this, blend three eggs, a cup of feta, a cup of blue cheese and three ounces of cream cheese.
When the spinach has cooked down, set it aside until cool. Once it’s cool, combine the spinach and egg mixtures with a standing mixer or hand mixer. Set your mixture aside.

Now for the most difficult part: Preparing your filo dough mixture. My yiayia always made spanakopita in a 9 by 13 inch baking pan, but you can make individual triangle spanakopitas if you prefer.

If you choose to bake your spanakopita in a pan, grease your pan with butter or olive oil. Then melt two sticks of butter and place it in a small bowl and set it by the pan. Carefully unroll your filo dough from the package and place one sheet in the bottom of the greased pan. Using a pastry brush, cover the layer with butter. Repeat this process eight times. Once your eighth layer is buttered, it’s time to place your mixture in the pan.
With a rubber spatula, ease the mixture over the filo dough. Once the mixture is in the pan, place another layer of filo dough, butter it with a pastry brush, and repeat the process eight times.

Once that’s done, carefully cut your mixture into even rectangles with a sharp knife. Then place your finished spanakopita in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Spanakopita is the ultimate comfort food for me – and something that always reminds me of how much my yiayia loved spending time in her kitchen, cooking holiday dinners and teaching her grandchildren how to cook.

If you make it for yourself, just be sure to take yiayia’s advice: Don’t forget the butter.

Recipe: Spanakopita

Ingredients

3 packages frozen or equivalent fresh spinach
½ cup olive oil
One large onion or five scallions
Dill
3 eggs
1 cup feta
1 cup blue cheese
3 ounces cream cheese 2 sticks of butter
Package of frozen filo 9-by-13 baking pan
Pastry brush

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter or grease 9-by-13 baking pan 2. If using fresh spinach, wash, drain and chop. If using frozen spinach, simply thaw
3. Chop onions or scallions and then sauté in olive oil
4. Add dill, salt and pepper before adding the spinach to the sauté pan.
Set aside and let cool 5. Blend three eggs, 1 cup of feta, 1 cup of blue cheese, 3 ounces of cream cheese
6. Add mixtures together in a large bowl and blend using mixer or hand mixer. Set mixture aside 7. Melt two sticks of butter and place in small bowl
8. Place one sheet of filo dough in greased 9 by 13 pan
9. Butter sheet of filo dough thoroughly 10. Repeat step eight times 11. Place mixture on top of buttered eighth sheet of filo dough 12. Place filo dough on top of mixture and butter with pastry brush 13. Repeat step eight times 14. Cut finished spanakopita into even rectangles with sharp knife 15. Place in oven and cook for 30 minutes

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