Upon learning of my veganism, of the top questions I get asked by people is “don’t you miss anything?” I think given the fact that we live in a global culture that is emotionally attached to certain foods, this is the one thing that seems to baffle people. How did I “break up” with cheese, they wonder. How is it so that me and butter don’t even speak anymore? And (the pinnacle of unwarranted responses) “hey, don’t you ever just crave a steak?”
The honest answer is no, I don’t crave milk, cheese, eggs, dairy, red meat, poultry or fish. Even if I did enjoy the taste of meat (which I don’t), I can’t ever fathom willingly consuming animals or animal products ever again. That said, I’m only human, and I too have emotional attachments to certain dishes that I associate with a particular memory.
One such dish is Spanakoptia – a classic Greek pie of spinach and feta in crispy golden filo pastry. Admittedly, the rolled pastry I used to purchase from my university coffee shop was a highly bastardized version – but it was delicious all the same, and quite popular on campus too. I remember once standing in line after a long morning of lectures trying to thaw from the cold, only to notice there were but 2 rolls left and 6 people (including myself) queueing up to be served. I held my breath as each person ordered, silently hoping that the last roll would be mine, and sure enough it was. I can’t tell you how satisfying and warming biting into a crisp spanakopita alongside a cup of steaming herbal tea was on that icy day.
Due to the fact that I am near useless when it comes to working with filo pastry, the recipe I’ve devised here is closer to the original pie format, but I can guarantee you it is just as tasty, buttery and crisp as the one I remember.
- 1 kg bag frozen whole-leaf spinach
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 large onion, finely sliced
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ a package of super firm tofu, crumbled
- ½ a package of vegan cream cheese like Tofutti
- 4 slices of vegan cheddar cheese (optional)
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 package of ready-made puff pastry - I used the jus-rol brand which is vegan
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Preheat your oven to 200 C / 390 F. Start to thaw the spinach by cooking in a pot with a little water, cover and heat gently stirring frequently until completely defrosted. Transfer to a sieve or strainer to get rid of the as much water as possible.
- In a large pan, heat the olive oil and fry the cumin for about a minute until fragrant, then add the onion and sautee until golden, before adding the thyme.
- Drain the water from the spinach with your hands and chop roughly, then combine with the onion mixture, season generously with lemon, salt and pepper and continue to sautee gently.
- In a separate bowl, combine the crumbled tofu, cream cheese and nutritional yeast. This should make a creamy faux feta. Add it to the spinach mixture and roughly stir through - you could also crumble it on top of the spinach once added to the pie - either works.
- Grease a square baking dish using more olive oil and lay down about half of the pastry on the bottom ideally with the edges hanging over so you can fold over and trim later. Puff pastry is very difficult to maneuver (at least for me) so feel free to frankenstein the base if parts break off, it'll all come together in the end anyways.
- Spoon in the spinach and cheese mixture evenly. If you're in to a cheesier flavour, you could add some slice or shreds of vegan cheddar on top for a stronger flavour. Cover the pie with the remaining pastry and brush with olive oil .
- Bake for about 25 minutes or until the pastry is puffy and golden brown, and serve at once!
A cornucopia of flavours and textures.
Crispy, creamy, spinach infused. This was just perfection.
Mental note to make this again soon – my stomach is rumbling at the thought!