Greek Greens Pie: The Best Athens Has to Offer

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Spanakopita from a bakery in Athens

I was doing some research in Greece a little over a week ago, and it took me three days to figure out how to say “good afternoon.” Shameful.

What I figured out much more quickly is how truly wonderful Greek food is. We’re not talking about dried-out pitas and over-brined olives here. I mean the real stuff. Greek olive oil is divine, moussaka makes my day, and spanakopita…just thinking about it puts a smile on my face. Next to the Parthenon, spanakopita may be the best thing the Greeks have come up with.

After I got back, I couldn’t stop thinking about spanakopita, also known as spinach pie, but I didn’t want to spend hours layering all that phyllo. Too much work! So I made a Greek greens pie instead. It’s the cheater’s version of the Greek masterpiece.

Spanakopita usually calls for a lot of spinach, but this recipe is more flexible and allows you to substitute other greens. The Swiss chard in my garden got a bit out of control while I was gone, so I used a lot of that, alongside a couple of cups of spinach.

Warning: This recipe does require you to work with phyllo dough, but it’s a lot easier than you think. Fear not! If you work with it quickly, you don’t have to worry about it drying out or putting a towel over it, or any of those complications. Just be sure that you have everything ready to go when you get to the final steps.

This pie makes a nice light summer dinner. Serve it with a baked sweet potato, watermelon, and an ice-cold lager. If you can find it, a Greek beer like Alfa or Fix would be the perfect touch.

Greek Greens Pie

adapted from the New York Times

1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil (Greek, if you can find it)
2 small or 1 really large red onions, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
12 cups (about 10 ounces) raw greens, cut into ribbons (I used 10 cups of Swiss chard leaves* and 2 cups of spinach)
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
black pepper
3 large eggs
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
12 sheets phyllo dough (about 8 ounces), thawed
Pam or vegetable oil spray

1) In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt and the chopped garlic, and stir about a minute longer.

2) Add the greens to the pan, stirring until wilted. You may not be able to fit them all in the pan at once, so add a couple of cups at a time until they all wilt and fit. After all the greens are are wilted, remove from heat. Add parsley and dill, and season with pepper and a tiny bit of salt to taste. (You don’t want too much salt here because the feta adds a lot of saltiness later.)

3) Preheat the oven to 375. Beat the eggs with a fork until a bit foamy, then add the feta and the greens mixture. Stir to combine.

4) Spray the inside of a 10-inch pie pan with Pam. Spread a sheet of phyllo dough evenly across the pan, and fit the center of the sheet to the base of the pan. Spray that sheet with Pam. Repeat with seven more sheets of phyllo, alternating the direction that you lay them so that they form an asterisk pattern. Be sure to spray each sheet before adding the next one.

5) Add the greens mixture to the center of the pan, then top with the last four sheets of dough. Be sure to spray each one with Pam, and to again place them in an asterisk pattern. Spray the top sheet as well. Fold the edges of all the sheets toward the center of the pan. This pie is a bit rustic, so don’t worry about making it look too neat. With a sharp knife, make several slashes through the top of the pie so that steam can vent as it bakes.

6) Bake the pie until the crust is golden, about 45 minutes. This is best served on the day it’s made, and it’s good both warm and at room temperature.

* If you use Swiss chard, be sure to remove the tough stems first. For an easy side dish, you can boil the stems for 7 minutes, then roast them at 400 degrees for 10 minutes with butter and parmesan.