VEGAN SPANAKOPITA – GREEK GREENS & WILD HERB PIE
I absolutely love a good spanakopita, but I was surprised to learn that I didn’t know it as well as I thought! Spanakopita and other savoury pies tend to be crowd favourites, and while pastry can feel indulgent, it is really a healthy and delicious vessel for vegetables like greens. Tucking greens into phyllo pastry adds a great texture contrast and makes leafy greens much more palatable, especially for kids and those who are hypersensitive to bitter tastes.
The dish I think of, made with plenty of feta cheese and spinach in layers of buttery filo pastry, is a rather Americanised version that is a far cry from the many intensely flavoured rustic varieties of spanakopita, spanakotiropita, or horopita served in the mountains of the Peloponnese. It turns out that in Greece, a single egg, a generous amount of olive oil, and a surprisingly sparse amount of cheese is the norm. Many versions are vegan, with no cheese or egg at all.
A Little Background
The amazing health and longevity of the inhabitants of Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, is notably what spurred or inspired the popular Mediterranean Diet. Their consumption of fiber and grain is high, and their consumption of animal products is minimal. What unfortunately is often overlooked is that Greeks and especially Cretans traditionally eat an absolutely massive quantity and variety of wild greens and weeds, and they observe fasting or serve strictly vegan dishes during hundreds of Greek-Orthodox occasions throughout the year.
It turns out that one of these vegan dishes would be authentic spanakopita, which is free from egg and has no cheese. Another name for it would be horiatiki hortopita, which translates to village green pie. It may also be called horopita or horapita, as the filling for the pie must start with an incredibly large amount and wide variety of horta (greens). And folks, we are not just talking about spinach, oh nay nay! In Crete your pie would naturally include aromatic herbs that grow like weeds – think dill, savory, chervil, oregano, thyme or mint as well as wild greens like dandelion greens, purslane, silverbeet (chard), mustard greens, amaranth greens, and many more that are less commonly known.
Our Take on Spanakopita
This is what we will aim to recreate. Since we are going for the absolute healthiest version possible, we will add spirulina powder, a green superfood. It is one of the world’s most popular supplements, but it can have a strong taste if it’s new to you. These pies, with huge quantity and variety of greens and at least two flavourful herbs such as spring onion or leek, chervil, dill, parsley, marjoram, tarragon or rosemary, are a great way to use spirulina. We protect it inside our layers of pastry and keep the baking time and temperature low to help protect the nutrients.
Consider their textures and flavours, and include the greens and herbs you like best or that are local to you. Maybe add often overlooked aerial parts such as celery leaf or fennel leaf. Perhaps you have unsprayed nettles growing on your property. Maybe you’ll only find chard, spinach, or kale at the grocer. It’s all fair game.
Decide to make it either in a round pie pan or rectangular dish. Then, make sure the amounts of greens correspond to the size of pie you are making. We made 24 small hand pies, which filled a full-sized baking tray. For that, you need over a pound of greens and herbs, which may be 10 cups by volume! Weigh and measure them after trimming but before washing.
This recipe does not require a lot of prep work apart from washing and cutting the greens and layering the phyllo. I suggest 8 cups of greens to 2 cups of aromatics. I will be using 2 cups each curly kale, watercress, baby spinach and pea sprouts, with 1/3 cup each of fresh oregano, mint, and sage, a couple of tablespoons of fresh rosemary and 1 cup of scallions from my patio garden. If you make a large rectangular pie (9 x 13 inches), try doubling the amount of ingredients.
If you make the triangles, you can freeze them after baking, to have a vegan-friendly party food ready to reheat if company calls.
Try It For Yourself!
- Nutrient dense superfood snack, appetizer, or light meal
- 100% plant-based / vegan
- Very high in fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants
- Very high in vitamins and minerals
- Large saucepan, cooking utensil
- Food scale and/or measuring cup
- Measuring spoons
- Large mixing bowl
- Baking tray lined with parchment paper
- Pastry brush
- 1 lb. leafy greens – we used 1 bunch each of kale, spinach, pea shoots, and watercress
- 5 oz. herbs and aromatics – we used 1 bunch green onion, and several sprigs each of fresh oregano, sage, thyme, mint, and rosemary
- 1 cup of Flora extra virgin olive oil (for the flavor and high quality)
- 2.5 oz. red onion, finely diced
- 1/2 oz. minced garlic
- 15 g (3 scoops) Gandalf Spirulina
- 1 package phyllo pastry
- Sesame seeds (optional, for topping)
- If your pastry sheets are frozen, allow them to defrost at least 3 hours.
- Wash and dry greens and herbs. Remove any hard stems and finely chop them all.
- Heat olive oil on low, then sauté red onion until soft. Add garlic and cook a few minutes, then remove from heat and add onions and garlic to a bowl.
- Heat more olive oil into the saucepan and fill with greens and herbs. Toss with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Add more greens as they wilt or do this step in batches.
- When all the greens are soft, add to the onion-garlic mixture. Sprinkle in the spirulina powder. Stir well and make sure everything is evenly mixed. Taste and adjust.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. On a clean surface, lay out two sheets of phyllo pastry. Keep the rest wrapped up to keep it from drying out.
- Pour some olive oil into a dish, dip your brush and paint oil evenly over one of the sheets of pastry. Then place the other sheet over top of the oiled one, and smooth them down.
- Using a knife, cut through the two layers of filo 3 times to make four strips. Each should be about 3 inches wide and 2 layers thick.
- Place a scoop of filling at the end of each strip, and then fold the strip diagonally over the filling to make a triangle. Repeat the folding process back and forth in alternating directions until you get the bottom of the strip. The pastry triangle should be sealed on all sides. Using the brush and a light coating of oil, stick any extra dough down flat.
- Quickly repeat with the other pastry strips and lay your triangles on the baking sheet. Repeat steps 7 - 10 until you use up all your filling. If you want, sprinkle sesame seeds over top before baking. Wrap and refrigerate any unused pastry.
- Bake the triangles for 20 to 30 minutes, until the phyllo dough is baked to the colour you prefer (the only thing that needs cooking is the pastry).