Spanakopi-wha?

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‘Tis the season for fresh greens, so I’ve been buying a lot of kale at the farmer’s market.  When I can’t get to the farmer’s market, I check the co-op.  (I’ve bought kale at the grocery store in the past when I’m dying to have it, but I’m seriously spoiled by the farm-fresh variety…)  Recently this yielded a beautiful bunch of NY-grown organic kale–on sale!  Score!

Having kale around all the time means finding something to do with it.  I love it in salad, as salad and on sandwiches, of course, but there are so many other great ways to prepare it.  This time, I went with something that struck me as particularly unique: tofu kale spanakopita from Vegan Planet.

Before deciding to make this, I’d never had spanakopita before.  I’d heard of it and seen it on menus, but hadn’t actually tried it.  I keep coming across dishes like this in my cookbook collection.  It seems kind of strange to me that there were all these different foods just waiting to be experimented with, but I didn’t actually start doing any experimenting until I went vegan.  I find it drives home the point of how narrow my focus was before I transitioned to eating more plant-based foods.

spanakopita closeup

From my searches around the Internet, it sounds like traditional spanakopita is made with feta cheese and spinach and is often served as a side dish rather than the main course.  (Feel free to enlighten me if I’m wrong!) In the Vegan Planet version, Robin Robertson uses firm tofu and kale to mimic the effect.  The kale gets cooked with garlic and onion, then tossed in the food processor with the tofu and some seasonings to make it taste more “cheese-like.”  Then comes the fun part: getting to play with phyllo dough!

spanakopita in the pan

I bought some phyllo dough back around Christmas to make a veggie strudel, and the rest of it has been sitting in the freezer ever since.  Part of what turns me off to using it is the necessity of brushing every layer with some form of butter or oil to make it crisp and flaky.  That alone is enough to relegate it to the category of “special treat.”  It’s also very fiddly to work with, making it a bit too time-consuming for regular use.  But when there is time, it can be a lot of fun.

Since I was only making two servings of the spanakopita, I used four sheets of phyllo in a loaf pan rather than ten sheets in a square baking dish for the full recipe.  I wound up using about a tablespoon of oil for the whole brushing process, which I was okay with, plus I didn’t use any in the preparation of the filling.  Low-oil cooking has been working out well for me, and I’ve found that I enjoy food more when it doesn’t look, feel or taste greasy.

spanakopita served with salad

Since I was serving the spanakopita as a main course, I hunted around Google for what would make a good side dish.  The consensus seemed to be a Greek-style salad, I’m assuming because the original version of spanakopita is so heavy on oily ingredients.  I loved the idea, so I went with customized side salads using some Olivia’s Organics spinach/arugula mix, chopped tomatoes and orange peppers.  My salad got some cucumbers as well, and Mom’s got kalamata olives.  A little drizzle of balsamic vinegar made them the perfect accompaniment.

My searching also turned up the idea of tziaki sauce, yet another thing I’d seen in cookbooks but never made.  The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet has a recipe for it, which I wound up taking inspiration from but not actually following.  I can’t say if the result resembled actual tziaki, but it tasted pretty darn good on the spanakopita, so I’d call it a success!  The spanakopita itself was flaky with a soft, warm center and an entertaining green color from the kale.  I think the filling would taste equally good in a potpie crust or a different kind of savory pastry dough…maybe even as a crepe filling!

I might be getting a little carried away.

About The Author

Sam has been a vegan since summer of 2009 and has spent the subsequent years experimenting with all manner of vegan food. She holds a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and is a graduate of the Bauman College Nutrition Consultant Program. She is a member of Toastmasters International and currently serves as part of the Capital View Toastmasters club. When she's not blogging or cooking, Sam likes to read, play silly card games and knit socks.

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