Spanakopita Strudels

spanakopita streudel

I am Greek. I did not, however, grow up in a family like the one portrayed in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. My mother did not pack me “mouss-ka-ka” for lunch. My aunt never chased me around with a roasted lamb’s eyeball. And I never felt pressure to marry a nice Greek boy nor to become a Greek baby-breeding machine.

But I do have about 50 uncles named Nicky. And my aunt’s vegetarian chili does contain lamb. And many family celebrations do culminate in circular dances stepped to the rhythm of Macedonian folk music. And every woman in my family does make it her mission to feed everyone around her till the day she dies.

Greek food is comfort food for me, and yet, if you searched the recipe archive of my blog, you’d never know it. You’d never know that before my mother comes to visit, I request she make a spanakopita, and that once she’s here, keftedes (lamb meatballs), and that before she departs, kourabiedes (powdered-sugar almond cookies).

In preparation for Easter, I’ve started brushing up on a few of my favorite Greek recipes, starting with spanakopita. Here I’ve halved my family’s recipe, which fills a 10×13-inch roasting pan with enough spanakopita to feed a large family for weeks, and made 10 strudels instead — isn’t everything more delicious when baked in small packages? In strudel form, spanakopita assumes an almost breakfast croissant-like character, a perfect bundle of flaky pastry, egg, cheese, and greens. Yum.

Over the next few weeks, as my Easter menu — spanakopita, keftedes, tzatziki, and olive bread — comes together, I hope the all-but-absent Greek category on this blog starts gaining a presence. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. Happy spring everyone.

spanakopita streudel

spanakopita ingredients

filling

When making spanakopita, don’t be tempted to brush each layer with butter. If you spoon a few teaspoons of butter over each layer, the resulting pastry will be lighter and flakier.
spanakopita assembly

streudels, unbaked

Spanakopita Strudels
Yield = 9 to 10

10oz. baby spinach
8 oz. cottage cheese (small curd)
12 oz. feta
5 eggs, beaten

1 box fillo dough,* thawed (I let mine sit out at room temperature for a few hours, but you could thaw this in the fridge overnight as well.)

1 1/2 sticks butter (gasp! melted)

*Fillo comes in all shapes and sizes these days. The variety I can find, Athens brand, weighs 1 pound and contains two 8-oz bags of 20 sheets each measuring 9 x 14-inches. This size sheet is perfect for strudels. If your fillo comes in the larger sheets, cut it in half so that it’s roughly 9 x 14-inches. (Don’t cut the fillo until you’re ready to assemble. See step 4 below.) If you’re making a large pan of spanakopita, this small size of fillo is kind of pain — use two sheets per layer.

1. In three batches, place spinach in food process and pulse until just roughly chopped. Place in a large bowl.

2. Add cottage cheese, feta cheese (break this into pieces as you add it to the bowl) and eggs. Use a spatula to stir it all up.

3. Set up your work station: A large cutting board is helpful (see picture below). I use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to measure out the filling. You need a teaspoon (like one you eat cereal with not a measuring teaspoon) to spoon butter onto the fillo dough and you need a brush to brush butter onto the assembled strudels. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper and set aside.

4. Open up the box of fillo. If your fillo is like mine — in that it comes in two sealed bags — open up one bag and unroll it. Place it next to your cutting board. Fillo dries out quickly, so if you need to step away from your assembly process, be sure to gently re-roll it or fold it up and place it in a ziplock bag. If you are working with the larger sheets, cut them in half to roughly measure 9 x 14-inches. Place half (about 20 sheets) in a ziplock bag.

5. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place one sheet of fillo on your cutting board or work surface. Spoon three teaspoons (again, an eating spoon vs. a measuring spoon) of the melted butter over the layer of fillo (see picture above in the upper-left corner of the montage). Note: You do not have to brush it or make sure that every bit of the dough is covered with butter. The finished spanakopita is actually lighter when you don’t brush the dough with butter. Top with another layer of fillo. Spoon three more teaspoons of butter over the areas of this layer that were not covered in the previous. Top with one more layer of fillo and again spoon over three teaspoons of butter.

6. Using your 1/2-cup measuring cup, scoop out a level 1/2-cup filling and place on fillo about 2-inches from the bottom (see photo above). Pull bottom of fillo overtop of this filling. Fold sides in. Then, fold this bottom portion up and over itself and keep folding till you’ve made a little parcel. Place this parcel seam side down on your parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush top with butter. Repeat with remaining fillo and filling.

Note: I made 9 strudels, but I think I could get 10 next time around if I portion out a scant 1/2-cup versus a level 1/2-cup. Unfortunately, I had to open up my second bag of fillo and only used half of the sheets. I re-froze (not sure if this is a good idea) the remaining sheets for a future use, but if you’re feeling creative, you might be able to find a fun use for these remaining sheets. If I come up with something, I will report back.

7. Bake strudels for 30 to 45 minutes or until nice and golden brown on top. Mine baked for a little over 40 minutes but I started checking them at the 30-minute mark. Cool briefly and serve.

spanakopita assembly

Update: 7-17-2012: Full-size spanakopita for your reference. This was from this past Easter:
full-size spanakopita

full-size spanakopita

Large Spanakopita

2 10oz. pkg of baby spinach or 3 6oz pkgs (about 20 oz total)
16 oz. cottage cheese (small curd)
3 8-oz. pkgs feta (24 oz. total)
10 eggs (well beaten)

1 pkg fillo dough (20-28 layers)

3 sticks butter (gasp! melted)

1. Chop up baby spinach — you can do this very quickly in the food processor. Just do a rough chop.

2. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, cottage cheese, feta cheese (break this into pieces) and eggs. You can whisk this all together or use a spatula.

3. Butter the bottom and sides of a large roasting pan. Use about two sheets of fillo per layer — they’ll overlap a little bit, but you need about two to cover the surface of the pan. In between each layer, spoon three teaspoons (an eating spoon vs. a measuring spoon) of the butter over the layer of fillo. You don’t have to brush it or make sure that every bit of the dough is covered with butter. The finished spanakopita is actually lighter when you don’t brush the dough with butter. Depending on how many layers of dough your box of fillo has, layer half of the number of sheets in the pan to form the bottom layer of the spanakopita. Pour the filling over top. Repeat layering the fillo dough on top of the filling with butter in between each layer until you are out of dough. Brush the top layer with butter. Bake at 350ºF for 1 hour.

119 Comments

  1. Hi, love this recipe….Greek food is to die for. Your blog is amazing…looking forward to trying out more than a few of your recipes

    Reply
  2. Hi Alexandra, I made these last weekend after stumbling across a picture of these strudels on pinterest and they were just fanastic! I’m a sucker for the spinach and feta combo but have never made anything using them until this, and I can’t believe how easy it was to rustle up a batch of these strudels. Thank you for sharing!

    I hope you don’t mind but I blogged making them (again this weekend, much to Hubby’s delight!) with Brit-friendly measures under my tried & tested tag, with a credit back to you and your blog :)

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    • Fifi — This is fantastic! How wonderful of you to provide Brit-friendly measurements. I love your detailed post. And you added the butter so perfectly! It made me so happy to see your post, I can’t tell you. Hope you are enjoying the weekend. Side note: Call the Midwife is finally airing over here. LOVE it!

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  3. Someone mentioned not being able to get a nicely browned top when they bake the filo.

    Have you tried brushing the top with milk or egg and milk whisked together?

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  4. Just made your strudels. Yummmmm! Thanks so very much for sharing this recipe! It was wonderful. I’m going to try to make bite sized strudels next time. They would make terrific hot hors d’oeuvres.

    I followed your directions to a T and everything turned out as it should have. Though i patted the spinach dry and strained the cottage cheese to minimize the water in the filling.

    They took almost twice as long to bake in my Frigidaire oven than the recipe suggests.

    Things I will try next time:

    - add salt and pepper to the filling
    - brush the top with an egg/milk wash to give the strudels a nice shiny top

    This is definitely a recipe I will make again and again.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • LSB — thanks for sharing your results. I am sure others will find your tips very helpful. Love the idea of making bite-sized versions for hors d’ouevres. I have in fact made them in the same fashion as the tiropitas — small cheese-filled triangles and they are always a hit: http://www.alexandracooks.com/2012/04/06/tiropitas/

      I’ve been dying to try the strudels with other fillings as well, like mushrooms and caramelized onions with some sort of cheese? I’m going to start experimenting. Thanks again for writing in!

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    • Jan — I have not used ricotta, but I think you definitely could. I think one commenter did this in fact because she didn’t like cottage cheese. If you are wary of cottage cheese, just know that it doesn’t taste like cottage cheese in the finished product — you honestly wouldn’t even know it was in there. That said, definitely use the cheese you prefer. This mixture can be tailored to your preferences.

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  5. Thank you! I’ve been looking for this recipe for a long time! I’m not Greek but I’m from New Orleans and we love food (I love all kinds of food). I can’t wait to try this!

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    • Jessica — I use three sheets for each little packet. Now, I made a note of this in the recipe, but I can only find the boxes of fillo dough that come in two smaller packs — does that make sense? If you buy the large sheets, but them in half, and then use three of the half sheets. Hope that makes sense. Let me know if you have any other questions about this. I’m dying to make a mushroom-onion-cheese filled variation of this.

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      • Your website makes me hungry!! Can’t wait to try your soups.

        Just wanted to add if you have a Wegmans food store they carry their brand of Phyllo (fillo) in smaller boxes. I am trying their brand today wish me luck ,also I am adding spinach to your tiropita recipe. Nothing like experimenting, with 26 people coming for a 90th Bday for Mom.

        Are you there help?

        Reply
        • You are brave! I wish I could help you! Where do you live?

          Great tip on the wegmans phyllo — thanks!

          Spinach will be delicious in the tiropitas. You can also just use the spanakopita mix here — I would make a much smaller quantity — and make triangles with it.

          Let me know if you have any other questions!

          Reply
  6. Would it be alright to include some type of meat to this mixture? I was thinking maybe grilled chicken? What do you advise?
    This looks fabulous, and I can’t wait to try it. You are the first one I’ve seen use cottage cheese in a hot recipe. My father used to use it in his chili pie. I was like a Mexican lasagna. I sure do miss his cooking.

    Reply
    • Hunny Kid — definitely! Just add whatever meat you like best. Grilled chicken sounds great, but really anything from ground hamburger to ground lamb to steak sounds good — spinach and cheese complement so many meats nicely. Love the sound of your dad’s chili pie. What a nice memory to hold on to.

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  7. I have made spanikopita and trigona before and I use the triangle folding method for both. I make them ahead of time and par-bake them; let them cool and then freeze them. I then just pull them out of the freezer when I get hungry for them or want an appetizer for company. They are so delicious, thanks for sharing.

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  8. Do you think it would work as well with ricotta cheese? I don’t have feta, but I have ricotta and all of the other ingredients at home.

    Reply
    • Sterling — I can’t say for sure because I’ve never tried it, but I think ricotta will work nicely. Because ricotta is not quite as salty as feta, you might want to add a pinch of salt to the spinach-cheese mixture. Let me know how it turns out — I’d be curious to know. I think some of the texture of the filling might be lost because ricotta is creamier than feta, but I don’t think this is a big deal. Good luck with it!

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  9. It turned out really well :) Everybody went for seconds! The ricotta made it quite creamy which was nice. But I want to try it with feta now so that I can compare the texture. Thanks for the recipe!

    Reply
    • Sterling — thanks so much for reporting back! I’m so glad they were well received, and it’s good to know that ricotta can be used in place of the feta. I think a lot of people will appreciate that tip. Thanks!

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  10. It’s funny, I just read the last few comments about the ricotta and I was thinking to myself this morning (as I was contemplating my monthly making of this treat) if I could replace the COTTAGE CHEESE with ricotta! Hmmmm. Anyway, I had asked months ago about the calorie information on this little gem and I found out by entering the recipe in myfitnesspal.com. Using low fat cottage cheese, butter substitute, and fat free feta in this recipe, and having it yield 9 strudels, your caloric count per strudel is 362, 47g carbs, 10g fat, 20g protein, 3g fiber, and 4g sugar. For anyone who was interested. Most of this fat comes from good sources, except for what’s in the dough, but we all knew that anyway lol. If only I could keep myself from eating 4 of them!

    Like I said earlier, I make this recipe once a month and only bake a few at a time for my husband and I, and freeze the rest. In case anyone missed my previous comment, when wrapped individually in saran wrap or in sandwhich bags, these freeze beautifully!

    I love your blog and this recipe!

    I’m going to try the ricotta trick!

    Reply
    • Jaimee — Thanks so much for this nice comment and wonderful information — lots of people seem to be interested in a cottage cheese substitution, and calorie info is always (maybe not always) welcomed information for people, especially when these, or your healthful variation of these, turn out to be really quite light! Thank you for that. Now, how can you help us all from eating 4 at a time? :) You are funny. Love the freezer tip, too. What a great food to have on hand! Thanks again for this nice follow-up comment!

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  11. Can you prepare the packets and refrigerate them … to be cooked just before company comes over so they are warm?

    I have so many ideas floating around in my head about different things to try – ricotta and pineapple or apple, adding meat (like suggested before), etc.

    Can’t wait to try these … running out to grocery store this morning :)

    Reply
    • Velma — yes, definitely. I would be sure to brush the top layer with butter extra well, so that they don’t dry out in the the fridge and definitely cover your sheet pan or plate or whatever you are storing them on in the fridge with plastic wrap. Also, I wouldn’t store them in the fridge for more than 8 hours or so, but you can stick them in the freezer for a much longer period of time. Wrap each parcel individually in plastic wrap. Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

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  12. I can’t wait to try this recipe. I lived in Greece as a child and LOVE the food. Would like a recipe for the stuffed grape leaves if you have one.

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  13. In answer to Sterling’s ? re subing Ricotta cheese for the feta…..Ricotta and cottage cheese are interchangeable, so you would not want to use both in the same recipe & leave out another cheese such as the feta. You could easily sub provolone or mozzarella for the feta, but you need to use either ricotta or cottage…but not both. Hope this helps.

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  14. I grew up with my Greek girlfriend, Stella, who passed along a Greek pastry recipe for karthidopida (sp?) it was made with zwieback baby teething cookies, walnuts, honey and more. What can I substitute for the zwieback cookies which are discontinued? PS can’t wait to try your spanakopita!

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  15. Hi Alexandra…the packets are in the oven cooking as I type….but, um, we seem to have a little problem….there is a lighting-green ooze coming from them…has this happened to you ever? Wondering if I used too much butter? I used more than you did because I ran out when using the teaspoon….any insight? Here’s to hoping we don’t have to call the fire department because of my smoking oven……

    Thanks!

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    • Kristen — oh no! I am truly hoping you didn’t have to call the fire department. I don’t think too much butter is the issue, because that would ooze out on the clear side. It sounds as though the packages may not have been sealed/wrapped properly? How many layers of filo did you use per package? And did you use only 1/2 cup of filling per strudel? It sounds as though they may have been a little overfilled? Just trying to think. Let me know, and I’ll keep brainstorming!

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    • J — they can be served at room temperature, and they taste great at room temperature, but I would say to do this only on the day they are baked. After a day in the fridge, they really need to be reheated briefly for the best results. I hope that makes sense.

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  16. What a beautiful recipe and the shots are brilliant!
    Spanakopita has been a favourite of mine for years. Love mum’s recipe which uses a mixture of feta and ricotta, so can attest that ricotta is definitely fine to use!
    Can I ask; why do you recommend avoiding brushing the filo sheets with butter? That’s always the method I employ and I’m just wondering what difference spooning the butter on has?

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  17. What a beautiful recipe and the shots are brilliant!
    Spanakopita has been a favourite of mine for years. Love mum’s recipe which uses a mixture of feta and ricotta, so can attest that ricotta is definitely fine to use!
    Can I ask; why do you recommend avoiding brushing the filo sheets with butter? That’s always the method I employ and I’m just wondering what difference spooning the butter on has?
    Also, I don’t know if it’s because I use ricotta and the fact that I love biting through chunky pieces of feta, but I actually prefer mine cold, straight out of the fridge!

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  18. These are in the oven now. I have to say I’m a huge fan of the drizzle method for the butter! I usually get frustrated quickly with the pastry brush and then it’s all downhill! Anyway, I made these and they were easy and looked perfect going into the oven. I just checked through the door (25 minutes into cooking) and they are sitting in a puddle of butter! Did I do something wrong? I squeezed the spinach and only used 4 eggs, so it shouldn’t be liquid from the filling. Help!

    Reply
    • SO sorry it has taken me a few days to get back to you! I was away for a week with the kids, and I’m just catching up now. Ok, butter definitely seeps from these packets, both from the butter added in the layering process and from the filo dough itself. How did they turn out in the end? Sometimes it looks worse halfway through than when it’s completely finished cooking. Also, did you use frozen spinach? I ask only because you said you squeezed the spinach. I don’t think that is the issue, but I am curious only because I’ve never made these with frozen spinach.

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  19. Ever since I traveled to Greece as a child, I have been a Spanikopita ADDICT. And oh my gosh, these were so good! I love the cottage cheese in the filling, and that they are individually portioned!

    Reply

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