I think that the first time that I heard of Greece was most likely in Primary School in relation to Greek Mythology. Hearing about mythical creatures sparked an interest for me. As a teenager I got a little more insight into the more modern day Greeks through a woman that I used to babysit her kids for. All her family had fabulous dark skin and big brown eyes, were very noisy and argumentative with each other, but all in a very good way. I wanted to be just like them. I remember one of the many noisy occassions with her extended family she saw how fascinated I was by the goings on and she just laughed and said “don’t mind us we’re Greek”. As an adult my interest in Greece continued through watching movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and I’m not sure if I should admit this in public but Mama Mia the movie. There is just something about the place and the people that I love.
Greece is high on my list of places I would like to visit. Apart from the warmer climate, great people, good food and beautiful countryside, for me there is Wildlife and in particular Sea Turtles. I always fancied the idea of volunteering with a Sea Turtle Rescue in Greece but as yet I haven’t made it there. However when I lived in Australia I did have the pleasure of working with Sea Turtles at the Australian Seabird Rescue in Ballina New South Wales. It was during my time in Australia that I was introduced to Spanakopita. The first time I had it I got it simply because it was Greek food and I had never had it before. Now I do not like pastry and normally stay away from anything that has pastry in it but under the circumstances I just had to at least try it. I was instantly hooked. It became a comfort food so when Greece was drawn out of the hat as the country of the week it was a no brainer, nothing else would do.
Now bear in mind that I am living in the middle of nowhere in the Irish Midlands and have to depend on public transport. The Spanakopita that I made was not true Spanakopita as I had to adjust the recipe to suit the ingredients available to me and also to suit my talents or lack of as the case may be. Also I am the type of person who when it comes to instructions I just do my own thing. When it comes to recipes I try to use the right ingredients where possible but when it comes to quantities anything goes.
So it was d-day or Greek night as the case may be. Spanakopita is traditionally made with Phyllo pastry (or filo pastry depending on where you live) and I am most defintely not a pastry chef so I had to resort to frozen Puff Pastry instead. That was my first hurdle. The next hurdle was getting the rest of the ingredients. Feta cheese was surprisingly easy enough to get and Cottage Cheese was no problem but Ricotta cheese was a different matter altogether so that was one ingredient out. Now in the numerous recipes I looked up all said I could use either Fresh or Frozen Spinach so as I happened to have Frozen Spinach in my freezer I obviously opted for frozen. Using Frozen Spinach adds more liquid and the last thing I wanted was soggy pastry where the filling poured out so I made sure to defrost the Spinach completely and then squeeze out the excess juice. The juice can be used for drinking and is quite nice mixed with Orange Juice. Next I mixed the Spinach with the Feta and Cottage Cheese and some finely chopped Spring Onions or Scallions as they are called here. At this point I had rolled out the pastry to the required thickness and then I spread the Cheese and Spinach mixture onto one half of the pastry and simply lifted the other half over the top and then sealed the edges. Traditionally Spanakopita is baked as pie in a tin and served in slices but as I don’t have a pie tin I just used a flat baking tray. Now this next part was the most stressful for me in terms of worrying if I could actually cook this in my oven. I live in rented accomodation and the cooker here is really really bad If that wasn’t enough the smoke detector is directly above the cooker so every time the oven door is opened the alarm goes off. To make sure that it was cooking properly and not just burning on top and raw everywhere else I had to keep the heat down and check on it every 5 minutes so yes you guessed it the alarm went off every 5 mninutes. Halfway through the cooking time I turned it over. Luckily for me I had lined the tray with baking paper so it was an easy flip to cook the other side. After 30 minutes in the cooker and cursing at the alarm going off every 5 minutes I produced a very acceptable Spanakopita even if I do say so myself. It can’t have been too bad because my daughter in law who is doing International Food Night with me had 2 helpings. Sorry Kate the cat is out of the bag on that one now.
So you see from what I produced that even if it’s not exactly like the original you can still produce acceptable substitutes or versions with limited resources.
Join me next time for Vietnam Night.
Until next time. Goodbye for now.