One of the many things unique about Melbourne is the city’s multicultural diversity. Since the 1950s, Melbourne’s culture has has been shaped by the many immigrants who have made Melbourne their home.
As an immigrant myself, living in Melbourne has exposed me to foods and cuisines outside of my native Southeast Asian cuisine. Besides the usual Anglo-Saxon fare, other cuisines available in Melbourne’s many restaurants and cafes include Greek, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Indian and more.
In particular, the influence of Melbourne’s Greek community (one of the largest outside Greece) has made foods like souvláki as common and popular as fish and chips. My Greek friends and co-workers have also introduced me to other Greek foods, one of them being spanakópita.
Filled with spinach and Greek feta cheese, spanakópita is wonderfully hearty and flavourful. The layers of light, crisp filo pastry give the pie a crunchy texture and complements the filling perfectly.
In my opinion, this dish is a much tastier and healthier alternative to the gooey, thick-crusted meat pies Australia inherited from the British.
Feta cheese is an ingredient new to me, and I’m still learning how to use and enjoy it. Here, I’ve found that feta works beautifully in this dish, adding texture and accentuating the taste of the spinach. It was also interesting to learn that authentic Greek feta is made from sheep and goats’ milk. Nearly all the supermarket varieties sold here as ‘Greek feta’ is actually made from cows’ milk, which is a different cheese altogether. If you can find it, use authentic Greek feta in this dish.
Here’s my first attempt at making spanakópita, using a recipe from World Food Greece by Susanna Tee. As you can see from the picture, I forgot to fold in the edges of the pie, but apart from that the pie came out great and tasted fantastic.
Six servings, as a main
Adapted from World Food Greece by Susanna Tee
2 tbsp Greek olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 kg (2lb 4 oz) fresh spinach, washed and drained
or 500g (1lb 2 oz) frozen spinach
3 eggs, beaten
4 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional)
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped (optional)
200g (7 oz) authentic Greek feta cheese
salt and pepper
100g (3 1/2 oz) butter
225g (8 oz) filo pastry, preferably Greek
Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F, Gas Mark 5).
To make the filling, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan or sauté pan. Add the onion and fry until softened, about 5-10 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Fresh spinach will cook in about 5 minutes, frozen spinach a bit longer. Turn off heat and leave to cool.
When the spinach has cooled, drain off the liquid in the pan. Add the eggs and optional dill and parsley. Crumble in the feta. Season with salt and pepper. The feta is already salty so extra salt may be unnecessary.
Melt the butter over medium-low heat and lightly grease a 30 x 20 cm (12 x 8 inch) baking dish.
Cut the filo pastry sheets in half width-wise. Work with one sheet at a time, keeping the remaining pastry under a damp tea towel. Line the base and sides of the baking dish with half of the filo pastry, brushing each layer with the melted butter.
Spread the filling into the lined baking dish, and top with the remaining pastry sheets. Brush each sheet with butter, and when the last sheet is in place fold or tuck the edges towards the inside of the pie. Using the tip of a sharp knife, score the top layers of the pie into six squares.
Bake for about 30-40 minutes until pastry is crisp and golden. Serve hot or cold. To reheat leftovers, allow to reach room temperature and place in a warm oven.