Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

In the Feast That Is Greek Orthodox Easter, This Spanakopita Is Legendary

by 
Alexia Kontolemos
April 13, 2022

At the end of the day, you will ask me two questions: 

“Can I come back again next year?”

And, “Can I have the recipe for your aunt’s spanakopita?”

Our Greek Easter celebration on this side of the Atlantic looks a lot like it does in the old country. It features a lamb on a spit, a large gathering of multi-generational family members, old-school Greek music, traditional Greek line dances, and food — non-stop, all-day long. 

The one way Greek Easter differs in the United States, however, is that we have a myriad of friends of the non-Greek variety who join us to find out just what we rave about every year. 

If you were to accept our invitation, arriving at our Easter celebration would be an intimidating thing, especially if you haven’t been exposed to anything like it before. But it’s not because you won’t be warmly welcomed. Quite the opposite, in fact. 

It brings great joy to the Greeks to be able to share their rich culture with others. From the moment our non-Greek guests arrive they are immersed in it. Clusters of family members will greet you, embrace you, and kiss you on both cheeks like long-lost cousins. You will get pulled into the Greek dancing line (“Opa!”), you will have to drink my uncle’s moonshine (actually drink it because he will watch you until you do. Then, he’ll offer you more.) 

Food — copious amounts of food — will be handed out with great abandon. There is a good chance you will have to be rolled out at the end of the day. 

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At first, you might be skeptical about this boisterous, festive group of misfits and food pushers and the magical never-empty plates of food that accompany them. But it just takes some getting used to. And trust me, you will want to come back again the following year. 

I do have some important tips for you, however, if you are invited to our Greek Easter celebration, that will definitely enhance your enjoyment of the day. 

Don’t be distracted by the loud, circus-like atmosphere. It's part of the intrigue. 

Don’t be intimidated by various uncles grabbing meat off the bbq and handing it to you. Sometimes it will be several different pieces of meat from several different uncles at the same time. They are doing this out of love. Just. Keep. Chewing.

Don’t be worried about the teenager collecting money from all those who want to watch the spectacle of him eating the lamb eyeball. All is good here. And normal. (And besides, he probably needs the money). 

And do not, I repeat — do not — overlook my Theia Maria’s Legendary Spanakopita. 

The spanakopita may be hidden amongst the abundance of culinary offerings — things like meat, casseroles, cheese, potatoes, breads, dips — all the deliciousness that comes out of the kitchen nonstop. But my Theia Maria’s spanakopita is a thing of legends, the crown jewel of Easter, the pièce de Grecian résistance. 

Theia Maria’s Legendary Spanakopita, full of spinach and other savory greens, fragrant herbs and feta cheese, would make even Popeye himself weak in the knees. There is no doubt that he, too, would leave our family celebration dancing to Zorba the Greek, holding Theia Maria’s Spanakopita in his hands and a few extra pounds in his belly. But I digress. 

If you remember one thing, it should be this: You cannot miss out on this famous dish.

And when the sun sets on another Greek Easter celebration, you’ll hug and kiss everyone good-bye, you’ll feel the weight of all the food you ate dragging you down, but you’ll dance and clap all the way to your car anyway, laughing about the kid who ate a lamb eyeball. It is at that very moment you will have become an honorary Greek—Opa! 

But just before you leave, you’ll ask me those two things.

Yes, and yes.

You’re welcome.

Theia Maria’s Legendary Spanakopita

 | 
 | 
Yields 1 pie

Ingredients

For the dough

1 cup cold water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp salt

3 cups flour

Note: Store-bought phyllo dough will also work.

For the filling

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed

10-12 oz (2+ packages) Fifth Season spinach

1 bunch (approximately 5) green onions

2 leeks, chopped into rounds

1 cup chopped parsley

1 cup chopped dill

1/2 cup chopped mint

2 cups feta cheese, crumbled

2 eggs

2 tbsp olive oil 

Salt and pepper

 | 
 | 
Yields 1 pie

Ingredients

For the dough

1 cup cold water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp salt

3 cups flour

Note: Store-bought phyllo dough will also work.

For the filling

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed

10-12 oz (2+ packages) Fifth Season spinach

1 bunch (approximately 5) green onions

2 leeks, chopped into rounds

1 cup chopped parsley

1 cup chopped dill

1/2 cup chopped mint

2 cups feta cheese, crumbled

2 eggs

2 tbsp olive oil 

Salt and pepper

Ingredients

For the dough

1 cup cold water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp salt

3 cups flour

Note: Store-bought phyllo dough will also work.

For the filling

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed

10-12 oz (2+ packages) Fifth Season spinach

1 bunch (approximately 5) green onions

2 leeks, chopped into rounds

1 cup chopped parsley

1 cup chopped dill

1/2 cup chopped mint

2 cups feta cheese, crumbled

2 eggs

2 tbsp olive oil 

Salt and pepper

Directions

For the dough

1. Mix all ingredients to create the dough.

2. Knead it preferably in a stand mixer with a bread hook attachment for 25 minutes, and then let it rest for 10 minutes. Cut and roll the dough into 4 balls the size of fists.

3. Let dough rest for at least an hour in a plastic tent. When the filling is ready, roll dough into thin layers.

For the filling

1. Swish and soak the Swiss chard, green onions, and leeks in plenty of cold water to remove any grit. Rinse and dry them.

2. Chop the Swiss chard, green onions, and leeks, and blanche them along with the spinach. Drain and mix them in a bowl with all remaining ingredients.

To assemble

1. Oil the bottom of the pan. Place one layer of dough inside and lightly press it up the sides, going over the edge of the pan. Oil again and place in a second layer of dough.

2. Fill with prepared mixture. 

3. Place another layer of dough on top — loosely, making wrinkles. Brush with olive oil and cover with the last layer of dough. 

4. Cut the extra dough off of the edges so it fits the pan.

5. Roll the edges of the dough together to seal. This closes the pie nicely and gives it a nice crunchy edge when it is baked.

6. Brush oil all over the pie and score it in a few places. Bake for approximately 1 hour at 375F or until the dough is perfectly golden. Let the pie rest for at least 30 minutes, cut and serve.

About the Author

Alexia Kontolemos

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