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Cook Book Club: June's Ingredient Is Dill. The Country: Greece!

Updated: Jun 4

In our second year highlighting entire cultures, we will continue on with Europe as we started last Fall. Kits will include a little bit about the country of focus, a recipe (or more) that is native to the country, and a unique ingredient or two from that recipe without which, it wouldn't be the same. Most recipes are from writers native to the country covered or otherwise live there. I'll post the recipes and information here as well, so let's get cooking!

 

As we continue on our culinary journey through Europe, we make our way to the Mediterranean and Aegean with a look at Greece.


A Look at Greek Food Cuisine

Adapted from various historical and cooking resources

Greece might be most well-known for its olive oil and are probably the first producers, certainly one of the first mass producers of it (6000BCE is the earliest known use of olive oil, or oil in general), a fact that Greeks are extremely proud of and rightfully so. It is an inseparable part of the Greek identity. The Ancient Greeks built much of their wealth off of this commodity and to this day, the best quality olive oil is almost exclusively from this country.


Another food item that, though possibly somewhat lesser known, is inseparable from the Greek identity, at least internally, is spanakopita. While Greece has a rich, varied, and ancient history, it stands to reason that their food culture and values vary quite significantly as well. However, like olive oil, there isn’t a region or municipality that doesn’t have its take on this flaky, cheesy, spinach-filled treat recognizably going back at least until the 1600s, though records show similar products being produced as early as the Byzantine era. It is served every holiday and social occasion and some Greek grandmothers are known to keep one or two frozen in case of the unexpected visitor. It is one reason why it is well known to the Greeks that while other countries may have issues getting their children to eat their greens, the Greeks have never had that problem.

 

Main Course

Spanakopita

This recipe has been adapted from TheMediterraneanDish.com for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club with suggestions by the bloggers of Mia Kouppa*

For the Spinach and Feta Filling

  • 16 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained

  • 2 bunches flat-leaf parsley, stems trimmed, finely chopped

  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

  • 4 eggs

  • 10.5 oz quality feta cheese, crumbled

  • 2 tsp dried dill weed

  • Freshly-ground black pepper

For the Crust

  • 1 16 oz package fillo dough, properly thawed**

  • 1 cup Private Reserve extra virgin olive oil, more if needed

* If you have access to all fresh ingredients, head over to Mia Kouppa. They have some amazing and 100% authentic Greek dishes passed down by their family including at least two versions of Spanakopita. They also were the ones to suggest the recipe to begin with.

** When thawing, do not remove the phyllo (fillo) from the package, place it in the fridge 12-14 hours before using. lace phyllo sheets in between two clean and slightly damp paper towels. This will keep them from tearing too much as you are working to assemble spanakopita.


Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

  2. Before you begin mixing the filling, be sure the spinach is very well drained, and squeeze out any excess liquid by hand.

  3. To make the filling: In a mixing bowl, add the spinach and the remaining filling ingredients. Stir until all is well-combined.

  4. Unroll the phyllo (fillo) sheets and place them between two slightly damp kitchen cloths.

  5. Prepare a 9 ½" X 13" baking dish like this one. Brush the bottom and sides of the dish with olive oil.

  6. To assemble the spanakopita: Line the baking dish with two sheets of phyllo (fillo) letting them cover the sides of the dish. Brush with olive oil. Add two more sheets in the same manner, and brush them with olive oil. Repeat until two-thirds of the phyllo (fillo) is used up.

  7. Now, evenly spread the spinach and feta filling over the phyllo (fillo) crust. Top with two more sheets, and brush with olive oil.

  8. Continue to layer the phyllo (fillo) sheets, two-at-a-time, brushing with olive oil, until you have used up all the sheets. Brush the very top layer with olive oil, and sprinkle with just a few drops of water.

  9. Fold the flaps or excess from the sides, you can crumble them a little. Brush the folded sides well with olive oil. Cut Spanakopita ONLY PART-WAY through into squares, or leave the cutting to later.

  10. Bake in the 325 degrees F heated-oven for 1 hour, or until the phyllo (fillo) crust is crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven. Finish cutting into squares and serve. Enjoy!

Notes:.

  • Tips for Working with Phyllo: As mentioned earlier in the post, remember that phyllo is paper thin and will break as you are working with it. For best results, place phyllo dough sheets in between two very slightly damp kitchen towels (step #4) before you start working with it (unless you think you will work fast enough that the phyllo will not dry out.) Also, be sure to brush each layer with oil; don't skimp.


  • Make Ahead Tips: You can make spanakopita the evening before. Follow up to step #9, cover and refrigerate. When you are ready, go ahead and bake according to step #10.


  • Leftover Storing and Freezing Tips: Already cooked spanakopita will keep well if properly storied in the fridge for 2 to 3 evenings. Heat in medium-heated oven until warmed through. You can also portion cooked leftover spanakopita and freeze for a later time. Warm in oven; no need to thaw in advance.


  • What to Serve with Spanakopita? Spanakopita makes a great side dish for large holiday dinners next to lamb or lemon chicken. But it can easily stand alone as the main dish. Serve it with a big salad like Greek salad; Balela; or Mediterranean chickpea salad, and favorite dips like Greek Tzatziki or Roasted Garlic Hummus.

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