Last week I made plans with my friend Sophia to make dinner together. Sophia and I always have a great time together - and we have an especially good time working together in the kitchen. We cook and chat and discuss culinary decisions and then chat some more and celebrate culinary successes, and so on. It's just so much fun.
I was wondering what we should make for our fun dinner ... and off-the-top-of-my-head I asked Mr VE&T "What's a country in the news right now?" "Greece," he said. Voila! So, that was how I decided that Sophia & I would make Greek food. I think this idea may have been loitering in my head from a book I read earlier this year called "Twelve Steps to a More Compassionate Life." One of the ideas in the book was to "adopt" a country from the headlines that you don't know much about, and commit to learning about it - reading the news stories, watching movies from that country, and cooking food from that country. I already have a few adopted countries, but I liked that idea a lot. Our Greek dinner was great fun, and I like the idea of using the news as a way to explore cuisines and think about people around the world.
I had lots of fun searching the web and flipping through various cookbooks for vegan Greek ideas. I remembered that observant Greek Orthodox Christians eat mostly vegan food during Lent, so I also searched on lenten Greek dishes. I bookmarked so many recipes - because really, there's only so much food that three people can eat in one night. ALAS.
Our Beautiful, Breathtaking Spanikopita
When we were in Bosnia (8-9 years ago), they had something called Burek that looked just like this, but it was huge and filled with meat. It looked so damned good, and I've had repressed longings for it ever since. Mission Fulfilled.
Gentle Readers, this was SO GOOD. Like, freaky freaky freak-out good.Our recipe might be a little hard to replicate, because we used some of my homemade Almond Feta cheese from The Homemade Vegan Pantry, and some of my Kite Hill Ricotta, but if you can recreate it, you won't regret it!
Also, we used four sheets of filo dough around the outer roll, but by the time we rolled it up, the four sheets made it pretty hard to bend into the pan. So for the middle roll we used 3 sheets, and for the innermost roll we used only two sheets. It was great, but I'm sure you could get away with using fewer sheets. Also you could probably lay the rolls in straight lines across an 8x8 dish and make a square shaped pie with the same effect.
by Amey & Sophia2 lbs fresh spinach (washed)
1 tsp olive oil
2 leeks, white parts only. Washed & cut in thin half-moon slices
1 big yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c fresh dill, minced
1/4 c fresh parsley, minced
2 Tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped up
juice of half a lemon
8-9 ounces firm silken tofu, drained
4 oz Kite Hill vegan ricotta cheese
130 grams Almond Feta (from Homemade Vegan Pantry)
salt and pepper to taste
8-9 sheets of filo dough, thawed and read to go
Olive oil for spraying or brushing on the filo dough
First, wilt the spinach. Put a large pot over medium-high heat and fill it with fresh spinach. Toss the spinach frequently with tongs - being sure to get the wilted leaves up off the bottom. Once that batch is done, transfer it to a seive in the sink to drain and cool. It will probably take a few batches, unless you have a really ginormous pot to start with. Once all the spinach is wilted, leave it to cool and drain in the sieve.
Warm the 1 tsp olive oil in large pot (I just used the same pot we had used for the spinach) over medium heat. Add the chopped leeks, onions and garlic and stir occasionally. Cook until the leeks and onions and translucent and even a bit golden. While they are cooking, chop up the fresh herbs (dill, parsley, oregano, and thyme). Also, once the spinach has cooled, use your hands to squeeze out as much extra moisture as possible. Then transfer it to a cutting board and use a sharp knife to chop it up a bit.
When the onions-leeks mixture is ready, add in the lemon juice prepared spinach and fresh herbs. Add in the silken tofu, ricotta, and feta, and give it a good long stir, until it looks like everything is really well incorporated. Taste it (but don't eat it all), and add salt and pepper to taste. I think we used about 1/4-1/2 tsp black pepper and a generous sprinkle of salt.
Preheat your oven to 350 F and prepare your baking dish. We used an 8-inch cast iron pan to bake our spanikopita. To prepare it, we sprayed it with a little olive oil.
Now, have a large workspace clean and ready to go. We worked on top of parchment paper to minimize the mess. Unroll your filo dough and take out 3-4 sheets of dough. Roll the rest up and put it back in plastic so that it doesn't dry out. This next step was easier with a pal, but probably not too hard to do alone: Lightly spray or brush the bottom sheet with olive oil, and then lay on the next sheet of filo dough. Spray, add another, spray, add the top sheet, and spray it with oil.
Take about 1/3 of your filling and lay it out lengthwise across your filo dough into a 1 1/2-inch long "log." Then, roll your filo dough around the filling and keep rolling until you have a long filo tube filled with yumminess. Spray the tube with a little oil and lay it in your pan, around the outer rim. It's okay if it doesn't go all the way around. Repeat the whole process, and make two more tubes, but using only 2-3 sheets of filo for the 2nd and 3rd rolls. We just cut off the extra length we needed from the second tube to complete the outer roll, and we did that again with the other rolls. You might find that you need to press the rolls toward the edges of the pan to fit it all in there. Once it's all squeeze in the pan nice and snugly, give it one last spritz of olive oil and pop it in the stove. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until nicely golden and flaky on top.
We also wanted to make something Moussaka-ish, but didn't really feel like we needed an entire other main entree, as much as we needed a veggie side dish. So, we grilled up some sliced zucchini and yellow summer squash, two medium eggplants, and a large red onion. For a sauce, or topping, I also grilled one entire medium-sized eggplant and a few cloves of garlic (I wrapped them in foil so they wouldn't fall through the cracks of the grill). I made a half batch of this Melitzanosalata Eggplant Dip from TheGreekVegan.com (but I left out the olive oil). We layered our grilled veggies with fresh tomato slices, sprinkled on some fresh dill & oregano, and then topped the whole thing with the Eggplant spread, and baked it at 350 F for about 20 minutes or so. At the last minute, I sprinkled on a few pine nuts for fun. It was really easy and tasty.
We cooked for about 4 hours straight, and -- as they say -- time flies when you're having fun. It was such a great evening together with my special pal. I was pretty much in 7th Heaven. That day, the weather was uniquely warm... and it was even more special that the evening stayed quite warm. Usually we get a cool coastal fog that comes in sometime in the afternoon, and so we rarely get to eat outside. But that night, we took our glorious Greek creations and sat outside together in the backyard in our tshirts and bare feet -- further adding to the Mediterranean feel!
Tahini Walnut Swirl Cookies
Don't worry. We didn't really make dinner and not make dessert. That would be against our principles. I found (and bookmarked!) a number of intriguing vegan Greek cookies and treats, but this recipe for Tahini Walnut Swirl Cookies just captured my imagination.
Plus, like Sophia said, you know you're doing it right when your dinner involved two different dishes that require rolling! These cookies were fun and I especially loved the flavors of the filling: lemon, brandy, tahini, and nuts (we used half walnuts and half pecans). Such a delicious and lovely combo! Plus the dough itself has more tahini and a whole cup of fresh OJ in it. Mmm. Definitely a unique cookie, and they paired perfectly with our post-dinner decaf coffee out in the warm backyard.
Here are our magnificent creations in the light of day. Fortunately we made plenty of food so that I could send some home with Sophia, and have enough left over for a no-cooking-required dinner the next night. One of the joys of spending a good stretch of time in the kitchen is when you don't have to cook at all the next day. Happily, these were both equally excellent the next day! I really can't tell you how delicious that spanikopita was. Just looking at this picture is making me swoon all over again. I think I might just know what to do with the other half of my Kite Hill Ricotta....
ps. congratulations to princesstofu, who won a copy of "The Homemade Vegan Pantry" by Miyoko Schinner! If you didn't win, don't despair. I have still more cookbook giveaways coming on the horizon! :)