When I cook I always like to improvise and add my own touch to the recipe or maybe something I saw in another recipe and I kept somewhere in the back of my mind waiting to be processed.
I was planning to make the classical type of spanakopita I always make but whilst I was washing the spinach I kept thinking about other ways of making a Lenten version (without eggs and dairy products). The spinach was more than a kilo, I had bought spring onions, dill, parsley and silverbeet. (The silverbeet was intended to be cooked tomorrow with black eyed beans).
I’ve seen on Greek T.V. food shows women in the rural areas making hortopitta (a spinach pie mixed with several types of wild greens). Of course it’s rather difficult to get some wild greens in Athens but if I had planned this I could have found some at the farmers’ market. Anyway, as I had the silverbeet, that gave me the idea instead of using wild greens to experiment and add the silverbeet in the recipe. I would still make the usual one just in case it didn’t turn out good but this was a good opportunity for me to recreate a Lenten spanakopita I ate years ago in Cyprus but I did not know anything else about the recipe. I decided to make a small one by combining a couple of other Cypriot recipes. The classical spanakopita was the base for this one, the Cypriot bulgur pilaf with the bulgur wheat and vermicelli and finally from Kolokotes (the pumpkin pies) the almonds and raisins (but I did not have almonds so I used walnuts instead).
The final result was fantastic. Usually, when eating nistisimi spanakopita it’s like eating a crust and a spinach filling which although aromatic by the herbs is still too much to each all that green inside. We do eat the usual Lenten version but it’s something we have to eat but don’t really enjoy. Here you have a filling with the bulgur wheat and vermicelli, which is by itself something tasty and you get a bite with a sweet raisin here and there and a bite of a walnut and all mixed together with the crunchy phyllo.
I am submitting this recipe to Chris, of Mele Cotte, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer seven years ago. Chris is hosting the event Cooking to Combat Cancer 2, so let’s all contribute to this wonderful event by submitting a healthy recipe. The deadline for this event is by the end of this month so there is plenty of time to prepare and submit a healthy recipe.
Spanakopita Nistisimi for Lent (Cyprus)
Preparation time: about 45 Minutes
Baking time: about 1 hour
Hand made phyllo (see step by step instruction here)
1 kilo spinach
1 bunch of silverbeet
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 spring onions, finely chopped
½ cup of parsley, finely chopped
½ cup of dill, finely chopped
2 vermicelli nests
½ cup of bulgur wheat
½ cup of coarsely cut walnuts
½ cup of olive oil
2 – 3 spoonfuls of sultana raisins
1 spoonful of sesame seeds
See link above for detailed instructions on how to make phyllo from scratch.
Wash spinach and silver beet and cut the stems, leaving only the most tender ones. Place into a big pan, without water, and bring to a boil for about 10 minutes. They will become soft and their volume will be reduced. Place them in a colander to cool down and when they can be handled drain any water by squeezing them. Cut them into smaller pieces.
Add oil to skillet and sauté the onions until they have become soft but not caramelized. Add the vermicelli breaking them into small pieces and stir a couple of times, add bulgur wheat and also stir until becoming darker in colour. Add spinach in and stir. Finally add walnuts and sultanas. Let in cool down and mix in parsley and dill and stir.
Oil a baking tin and roll out the phyllo. You can either make a big round tin or you can roll out phyllo in the pasta machine.
For strifti (twisted) Cut phyllo in two pieces and join them together. Place on the big side the filling and make it into a roll. Take both ends and twist a couple times into the opposite direction. Place into baking tin. When you finish with the procedure brush some oil and butter on top and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.
If you are making it by putting a sheet of phyllo below and a sheet above and in the middle the filling, when you cover it with the second phyllo cut the edges of the phyllo to be exactly the size of the tin and then taking both phyllos give them a bit of a twist at the edges so that they both stick together but also making a small pattern. Don’t forget to carve the top phyllo but do not cut through and brush with oil and butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180ο for about 1 hour until a nice golden brown colour is achieved.