Savory Spinach Pastry, aka Spanakopita (vegan!)
Before the invention of cameras and capital letters, when this blog was just a wee little lass and, like with all youngsters, we had no time or inclination to write a proper post or all the background story, I posted this recipe. If you don’t mind, I’d like to make it right. Tell the story. Tweak the recipe. Give you some eye-candy.
The first time I made these was the afternoon of January 1, 2009. My dear friend Liz was visiting from Boston. My then-husband and I were both friends with her from back in our Berklee days. We spent that New Years Eve down on Venice Beach, bundled in sleeping bags on the sand, and sipping what was meant to be lentil soup until the calendar flipped. (I had made the soup that afternoon and didn’t realize until about ten sips in that it was split pea. Does this happen to anyone else??). I could have stayed on the beach all night, welcoming in the new year, watching the waves and the sky, but after a few hours shivering in the chill, others in our group voted to head back to warmer land, so we did.
It was a quiet way to close out 2008. Looking back now, it feels like it was another lifetime. Liz has since moved to Spain. She and I now send text messages to each other using some newfangled app called Viber, and I’ve been putting together a care package to send for her birthday. (Don’t tell.) That spring I began my yoga teacher training, delving into deep self-examination and writing in my journal ahellavalot. So strange to remember those days. It feels now like I’ve been teaching yoga forever, and I look forward to it every time. My then-husband is now my ex. He and I split up by May that same year. He’s since left California and moved back to be closer to his family amid familiar mid-Atlantic stomping grounds.
But on New Years Day 2009, the three of us didn’t know any of that would be coming around the bend. We were just friends from music school, hanging around Los Angeles, trading stories from school, and enjoying each other’s company. That afternoon I put this vegan Spanakopita together — actually, I didn’t even know what to call it until later that night — and headed out to Topanga for a New Years Day potluck with some musicians I’d recently met.
It was a lovely way to kick off the new year. We spent the night singing with a roomful of just-barely-met friends and strangers. I remember that evening as the night I first met Jeff, a man who has since become a truly dear friend. He and I sang some harmonies together that evening which have gone down in both our minds as some of the most lovely harmonies we ever heard. During the teary last months of my failing marriage, Jeff was a lifeline. He was supportive and encouraging, and I can’t count how many lunch hours I spent talking to either him or to Liz, trying to sort through the confusion.
Now, all these years later, and along with my Bad*ss Bassman, Jeff and I are in two bands together, still singing and playing music together. Two years ago he opened up his house for a big birthday party I threw for Bassman. And a few weeks ago, after he mentioned that he was getting a new couch, we moved his old one into our living room to replace our old one. That first night of 2009 we met over music, but we became true friends over this spanakopita.
It’s hard to believe been only just over four-and-a-half years since we met. Even though I know he’ll never cook anything from scratch, Jeff, this recipe is dedicated to you.
SAVORY SPINACH PIE, a/k/a Spanakopita (vegan!)
(makes 6 large triangles)
1 package phyllo dough, defrosted (I get Fillo Factory whole wheat from Whole Foods)
2 cups mushrooms (I like baby shiitake)
1 cup onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 pound of spinach (or a mix of spinach, arugula, or other greens)
1 17-oz package of tofu, drained (firm or extra firm)
1 8-oz container vegan cream cheese (I like Follow Your Heart)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for sauteeing
2 Tablespoons fennel, poppy, sesame seed mix
Drain tofu and set aside. Cover a sheet tray with parchment and set aside. Pre-heat the oven to 350.
If the mushrooms are large, roughly chop to dime-size (I leave baby shiitake whole). Saute onions and mushrooms in two tablespoons of oil in a medium pan till soft. Add the garlic and saute another 2 minutes.
In a food processor, blend the tofu till it is uniformly soft. Transfer tofu to a large mixing bowl. Add onion mixture, cream cheese, thyme, and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly.
Now it’s time to make the phyllo triangles. This stuff dries out quickly, so while you’re working with one sheet, cover the others with a damp towel.
Each triangle uses three sheets. Working on a flat surface, lightly brush one sheet with olive oil. Lay the next sheet over it and brush with oil. Lay the third on top. Scoop out one-sixth of the filling. Mound it into the phyllo towards one corner. Fold the dough over length-wise so the filling is covered. Here’s a handy video that I found, (although here you will just *fold* the dough in half rather than cut as she does in the video). Place the triangle on the sheet tray.
Repeat until all the phyllo and all the filling is used up.
Brush the tops of the triangles with olive oil. Sprinkle seeds on top.
Bake at 350 until triangles are puffed and starting to brown, approximately 30 minutes.