We’re Cooking: In Honor of Greece, Part 1….Classic Greek Salad and Mini Spinach Pies

Greek Salad

It was impossible not to be inspired by the food in Greece.  Throughout the country, from the southern islands to the northern mountain regions the cuisine made mouths water and stomachs rumble throughout the 10 days my group and I traveled throughout the country.  And, as I always say, the wine paired beautifully with the food, from refreshing, mineral rich, acidic whites in Santorini and Crete to pair with grilled whole fish, octopus and gorgeous tomato filled salads and fritters, to hearty, bold and intense reds of the north to pair with mounds of roast lamb, hearty stews and decadent roast potatoes.

Mini Spinach Pies in the background. Homemade tatziki in the forefront (recipe to come).

I spent most of this past Sunday trying to recreate a few of my favorites for dinner with a few friends, including one of my dearest who’s Greek Grandma made some of these dishes for her when she would visit Greece as a child.  (No pressure) Here is the first of a few posts in honor of Greece.  The Greek Salad as we know it is more like a village or country salad in Greece.  The mini spinach pies are a scaled down version of the illustrious Spanakopita without the pressure of keeping all those layers of phyllo moist and pliable.   I would highly, highly recommend pairing with a steely Assyrtico from Santorini, like THALASSITIS from Gaia Wines or Kallisti Reserve from Boutari.


Classic Greek Salad of Santorini
They rarely grow olives in Santorini; instead harvesting wild capers that grow in the crevasses of rocks throughout the island, so this salad highlights the use of capers along with the addition of a few Kalamata olives for good measure.  To put a Cretan twist on it you can add big chunks of day old bread made into croutons that soak up the rich olive oil, lemon and red wine vinegar dressing.  I also made this somewhat rustic, crumbling the feta and roughly chopping the veggies.  I have made more uniform Greek Salads in the past, with everything composed and chopped to the same size….this was much more casual, prefect for the setting.
For the salad –
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, chopped roughly
1 large English cucumber, roughly chopped – you could also use a regular cucumber, just remove the skins and scoop out the seeds, then chop
1/2 poblano pepper, seeds removed, very thinly sliced (you could use a portion of a green pepper too, but we don’t like the taste and this added a little heat to the salad)
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 green onion, green parts only, sliced
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and smashed slightly
2 tablespoons kalamata olives, pits removed and chopped roughly
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
6 oz Greek feta (I found one from Mykonos that was awesome.  Just find a good, creamy one), crumbled

For the dressing –
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped shallot
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon crumbled feta
Salt and pepper

Add all the ingredients except the oil, salt and pepper to a small bowl and whisk together.  Then slowly begin whisking in the oil to emulsify. Season with about 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.  Set aside.
In a large serving bowl layer in all the ingredients for the salad, adding the cheese at the very end on top.  Season lightly with salt and pepper if desired.  When ready to serve drizzle just enough dressing over the salad to add a dash of flavor without drowning it (you want to taste the freshness of the veggies).  Adjust any final seasonings and garnish with a bit of extra parsley or cheese and serve.

Mini Spinach Pies
1 10oz package baby spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 leek, dark green ends and tip removed, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, chopped
juice and zest of 1 lemon
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1 egg, whisked
1/2 cup ricotta (we used part skim)
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste
30 pre-made/pre-packaged mini phyllo cups

Add oil to a skillet over medium heat and add onion and leek, saute for about 5 minutes then add garlic and white wine and cook until very soft.  In another pan add all the spinach over medium, medium-low heat and begin to wilt, stirring occasionally.  If using baby spinach this will wilt very fast.  Remove from heat and scoop spinach into a paper towel lined colander.  Let cool slightly, then wrap the spinach in the towels and squeeze all the water out.  Then add to the pan with the onion, leek and garlic with the basil and parsley.  Season with about 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, or to your taste.  Cook to incorporate for about 3 minutes, then add the toasted pine nuts.  Stir to incorporate and then set aside.  In a mixing bowl combine the whisked egg, lemon juice and zest, dill and ricotta.  Stir well to combine.  When the spinach mixture has cooled stir it into the ricotta mixture and add the feta.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  When ready to make your cups follow the package directions for baking; ours we filled each mini phyllo cup with a tablespoon of mixture and placed on a baking sheet and baked at 350 for 10 minutes.  Serve immediately.


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