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Monday, July 13, 2015

Spanakopita - We Are All Indebted To The Hellenes Not The Other Way Around

I don't like the word "Greeks" or "Greece". I was once told by a scholarly type that the word was a derogatory word ascribed to the Hellenes by the Romans.

Hellas, this same scholar told me, which is what the Greeks themselves call their country, by contrast has a more interesting etymology. Supposedly it comes from two ancient Greek words for "sun" and "rock" - I gather the first is "helios" and the second must be a variation on "las". Hellas is therefore the place where the sun hits the rock. How much of all this is true I could not tell you but the person who told me said it with great authority and conviction.

So there has been a lot of Greek-bashing or Hellene-bashing going on of recent where everybody seems to try to hang all their own insecurities on the Greeks. Countries that are in no great financial shape themselves want to dismiss the Greeks as lazy counter-productive Europeans thwarting the rest of Europe's progress.

Today, rather than bashing on the Greeks, I thought I might celebrate and share one of their great contributions to humanity,  namely, spanakopita.

The problem I've had in the past with spanakopita was that the old Greeks that used to make it in Sydney used far too much salty feta and sesame seeds for my liking. Spanakopita in the 80's in Australia was tasty but it was always done with the wrong pastry and the wrong style of feta. That all changed for me 3 years ago when I met a woman named Helen in Canberra. I was at a wake for an elderly Greek man who had lived a full and rich life after fleeing Greece from the communists that raided his village and shot his father. At the wake we celebrated a life well lived and as the spanakopita came past on a serving tray I was reminded that there was a woman in the room that was considered the spanakopita queen of Canberra.

I sided up next to her and asked if I might be able to write down her recipe on my phone and then experiment when I got back to Sydney. This took a lot of chutzpah on my behalf. Giving away family recipes is not something that you necessarily get just from asking. It's almost like mafia, you need to be made before you are allowed into the inner sanctum. Helen was kind enough to throw me a bone. And today I must say that I am the spanakopita king of Sydney owing to some variations on Helen's recipe that I implemented.

To my bow tie friends and lovers of all things Hellene, please see my recipe for a wonderful spanakopita which will make you the envy of all your friends and will reignite your passion for Hellenism. This is the easiest dish to make for a male and especially if you are not a great cook, you will impress the pants off your woman and/or friends/family.

You will need:

1 big bunch of silver beet.
4 free range eggs
2 spring onions
1 leek
1 large cube of butter
1 tub of cubed feta marinated in truffle oil (most Woolworths have this in stock)
1/2 tub of Persian feta marinated in olive oil.
Sea salt flakes
Fresh thyme
Ground white pepper
3 sheets of puff pastry (I used pampas, the one with the picture of sausage rolls on the front)

The Method:

The first thing that I was instructed by Helen is that you need to remove almost all the white stalk of the silver beet. Once this is cut out, you need to finely slice it. I mean really fine. It's a process so enjoy it. Have a big silver bowl and cut say 3 leaves at a time.

Now grab the leek. Also finely chop it. Chop it so it's not in stringy bits but also don't finely dice it like an onion. Somewhere in between. Throw it in the bowl. Chop the onions finely. Into the bowl. Maybe some thyme. Maybe not.

Now grab the feta and tip the whole thing, the cubes and the oil. Smell that truffle. Myum!!! Now do the same thing for the persian feta but put in half the tub. Crack the eggs over the mix. Add a generous amount of white pepper. Don't go too hard on the salt. Add a little bit of Australian olive oil (it's perfectly good and usually fresher than the sea transported stuff from Greece) and start working the mix in with your hands. Keep going. Keep going. Good.

Now grease (not Greece) a baking dish with butter and lay down your first sheet of pastry against the base. Really, not difficult at all.

In goes the mix. Make sure you got that feta to mix evenly through the mix. Nothing worse than a big chunk of feta in your pie. The marinated feta is often very smooth and should distribute well.

Finally, the top later of pastry. Make sure it goes to each corner.

Now put the baking dish in the oven at 180 degrees celsius for about an hour.

When the spankopita is ready the pastry should be a dark golden brown verging on being burnt. Allow the pie to stand for 10 minutes before attempting to eat.


Whilst you have won over your own taste buds with this lighter more enjoyable spanakopita that has your friends and family all patting you on the back, consider for a moment the wonderful things the Hellenes have added to your life from taramasalata, slow baked lamb, spanakopita, grilled octopus, skordialia, krithiraki, moussaka, greek yoghurt and honey.... Pause for a moment. And then keep eating and hope that they sort out this mess. 

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