The food of our grandmothers is the real “comfort food”; their dishes fill us up in a soul-satisfying way unmatched by other foods. Spanakopita is no exception.
Every Greek yia yia has her own signature version, with little tricks that make it distinct. This one comes from Kanella "Nelly" Cheliotis, a Greek woman who cooks specialties from her homeland every night for her children and grandchildren and who was generous enough to share her own recipe with me.
Nelly started cooking at the age of six, when she joined her mother in the kitchen. “There was nothing else to do in my village!" she told me. All of her recipes come from her childhood home on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.
Spanakopita is a well-known Greek dish here in the U.S., but while you're used to seeing it in form of small triangles at catered events with passed hors d'oeuvres, Nelly explained that in Greece, it's a popular lunch dish, often prepared for visiting guests. It's also enjoyed in the afternoon with a nice glass of wine.
The traditional recipe changed a bit when Greeks started making it here in America: “Back home, we only used fresh spinach, chopped fine. We didn’t have the convenience of frozen chopped spinach we have here in the U.S. Also, back in my village, my mother and I would make our own phyllo dough to use for many of our recipes. Here, you can get it from a box!”
Her husband’s aunt, who was already here when Nelly migrated, was the one who showed her how to make the faster, updated version. Layers of flaky store-bought phyllo dough are slathered with clarified butter and used to sandwich a delicious filling of spinach mixed with feta, a Greek staple, and lots of dill. The flavors are strong and the feta is salty, so be careful with additional seasonings.
Nelly also gave me a few of her secrets for a perfect spanakopita:
For the filling:
For the dough: