Monday, January 12, 2009

Something Greek

Bouts of laziness and other distractions have led me to being MIA for a while, but now I'm back, and glad for it ^^

Before Christmas (a very long time ago I know, I told you I've been MIA), Justin threw a holiday party. It was a lovely affair, a gathering of friends as intimate as family, celebrating the festivities with laughter, games, and the occassional voodoo mistletoe. It was raining that day, I remember, and when I woke up in the morning, I looked forward to being in the cheery warmth of the kitchen. I made a large batch of chocolate chip cookies, decorated with red and green M&M's, and some white chocolate cranberry cookies for Sandy. They're one of my favorite flavors, but Sandy has never tried them. I hope she liked them.

I remember back in high school when I tried to make baklava, and bought puff pastry instead of phyllo dough. That was an interesting night...I've been wanting to work with phyllo for a while, but it's one of those things that seemed a little too fussy for everyday eats. So Justin's party gave me the occasion to make these cute little phyllo triangles, spanakopita.

Traditional Greek spanakopita consists of phyllo dough wrapped around a filling of spinach and feta cheese, baked until golden brown. The sheets of phyllo are brushed with butter, and when baked, puff up to create delicate crunchy layers, juxtaposing with the creamy filling. It's a long process only because each triangle has to be wrapped individually, but each step is very simple in itself. The phyllo dough needs to be handled carefully to prevent it from drying out and cracking. Here are some tips on how to work with phyllo.


1 package phyllo dough, thawed overnight in the refrigerator

1 onion, diced
2 (10 ounces) package frozen spinach, thawed, drained dry, and chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
8 ounces feta cheese (plain or flavored)
1 large egg, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

To make the filling:
Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Add in onion and garlic and cook until softened. Add in the drained spinach and green onions. Salt and pepper according to taste (be careful with the salt, since the feta is salty). Turn the heat off and stir in egg, ricotta cheese, feta cheese, and parsley. Allow filling to cool before proceeding.

Unwrap the phyllo dough from packaging and place flat. Cover with a damp towel (this prevents the dough from drying out and cracking). The thawed phyllo dough should be soft and pliable. There are several ways to fold the phyllo triangles, depending on preferred thickness of the phyllo layer and the overall size of the triangles. Since I was making appetizer-sized ones, I used the following process:
Remove one sheet of phyllo from underneath the damp towel (taking care to cover the rest), and place on work surface, short size facing you. Cut the sheet in half width-wise (cut is parallel to the short side of the sheet). These 2 half-sheets will each make 1 phyllo triangle. Taking 1 half-sheet, brush the lower half with butter and fold the top half over, creating 2 layers. Place a spoonful of filling at one end, about a 1/2 inch from the edge, then fold the dough up like a flag. It's hard to explain in words, so here's a diagram. When you reach the end, brush with a bit of butter to seal the edges. Repeat with the remaining phyllo dough.


Fold some more, brush edge with butter


Place seam-side down on a baking tray and brush the top with butter. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Don't stack them until they've cooled completely or they will turn soggy. I promise it's worth the work and it looks so much more complicated than it really is ^^

Warning: NOT for weight-cutters

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