I was first introduced to Spanakopita around the age of thirty by a Greek woman I was dating at the time. She didn’t cook much, but when she did her regional dishes, passed down to her from her mother, were divine. Her spinach and feta pie was one of my favourites, with its crisp filo pastry shell and soft, tangy filling. I also had the pleasure of eating it in her home town of Corfu, where the regional feta was a far cry from the supermarket brands bought here.
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I watched her as she cooked and learned to make my own version and, many years later adapted it to be vegan (which look only a few little tweaks). I present here my vegan version of the classic spinach and feta pie. Violife have, for a few years now, been doing a vegan feta that is actually pretty good and it is the one I would recommend for this recipe. I’ve switched the filo pastry for a shortcrust, which I have a real fondness for, and made sure to include plenty of greens.
Vegan Spinach and Feta Pie (Spanakopita)
Prep time: 25 minutes. Cooking time: about 1 hour 15 minutes, plus cooling time.
For the Pastry:
450g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt
3 tbsp gram (chickpea) flour
175g vegan margarine
150ml plant milk
For the Filling:
3tbsp olive oil
1 fennel bulb, cored, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 large leek, sliced and washed
1 head of spring greens, washed and sliced. Remove and discard thicker stalks
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 x 200g bag baby spinach, washed
3 tbsp lemon juice
A good pinch of salt and pepper to taste
1 x 200g block vegan Greek/Feta cheese, diced
Vegan margarine for greasing
Plant milk for brushing
First make the pastry. Put the plain flour, baking powder, salt and gram flour into a large mixing bowl and use a spoon to combine. Add the vegan margarine and rub the mixture between your fingers until you have a fine breadcrumb texture (this takes about 5 minutes). Now pour in the plant milk and bring together with your hands. Knead until you have formed a dough but don’t knead any further. Cover the dough and chill in the fridge for 30-40 minutes.
While the dough is chilling you can make your pie filling. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or wok. Cook the fennel, leek and greens together for 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until the veg is tender. Mix in the garlic and cook for another 3 minutes, then mix in the baby spinach and cook until it had wilted. Stir in the lemon juice and the salt and pepper and then turn off the heat. Allow to cool for about 15-20 minutes and then stir in the vegan feta cheese.
Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F.
Roll out two thirds of the pastry on a floured surface, large enough to cover a deep-filled pie dish. Grease the dish with the margarine and then line the dish with the pastry. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper and then fill with either dried rice or baking beans. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the baking beans and paper and bake again for another 5 minutes to firm it up.
Turn the oven down to gas 4/180C/350F.
Spoon the pie filling into the cooked pastry case, then roll out the remaining pastry to just larger than the dish. Place on top of the pie, press down the edges with a fork and trim off any excess. Put 2 slits in the lid with a sharp knife, brush with the remaining plant milk, then cook in the middle of the oven, preferable on a baking tray, for 35-45 minutes, until the pastry has browned on top.
Serve either hot, at room temperature or chilled.