Albanian Spinach Pie – Byrek Mi Spinaq

3rd April, 2015

When the baking theme for this month’s Mega Marathon was announced, I knew that I had to make one pot meals or casseroles for dinner. I did not want to restrict myself to just breads or cakes, but also wanted to put the oven into use for making dinner recipes.

We often went to a Middle Eastern restaurant where they serve the spinach pies also known by the name Spanakopita. I had researched this recipe when we did the mega marathon last year (which I could not join). The research had been in my bookmarks for this long and when I was looking for dinner recipes, I thought this would be a good time to put it into use.

Although similar to the Greek Spanakopita, this recipe is very famous in the Albanian region. They use the feta cheese made from sheep’s milk and it renders a pretty sharp flavor to the dish. When browsing through the cheese aisle in the local market, I came across this feta cheese that was imported from Greece. I made the dish right away and it was delicious. As such the recipe is very simple and has very minimal prep work and cooking.

When talking with few of my acquaintance who are from Albania, they mentioned that this is one of the frequently made dishes with homemade pastry sheets. I could not brave myself to make the pastry sheets at home and hence went with the store bough phyllo sheets. Also she mentioned that the spinach is just mixed with the cheese and seasoning and layered between the pastry sheets and baked. I decided though to sauté the spinach with spring onions before layering it. Also I added quite a bit of crushed red peppers to bring some heat to the dish. Egg is used to bind the spinach, but I used Greek yogurt instead.

Preparation time – 15 minutes
Cooking time – 15 minutes plus about 45 minutes to bake
Difficulty level – easy

Ingredients – Makes 1 – 9 x 13 pie

  • Phyllo or filo pastry sheets – 30
  • Spring onion – ½ cup (finely chopped)
  • Spinach – 1 lb (washed and coarsely chopped)
  • Greek yogurt or hung yogurt – ¾ cup
  • Feta cheese – about 1 cup (more or less as per your liking) – grated/crumbled
  • Butter or olive oil – ¾ cup – 1 cup (you could use a combination of both)
  • Salt and pepper – to taste
  • Red chili flakes – about 2 tsp (optional)
  • Olive oil – 2 tsp

Procedure –
  • Prepare the phyllo pastry sheets. Remove it from the freezer and defrost as per the instructions. It is very important to properly thaw the sheets; otherwise it could rip very easily. I have been there and done that several times when I try to rush the thawing process.
  • In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the olive oil to it. Mix both well and keep aside.
  • In a large pan, heat the 2 tsp olive oil and then add the chopped spring onions. Sauté it for about 1 minute and then add the chopped spinach. Sauté until the leaves wilt and then remove it from flame. 
  • Transfer the spinach mixture to a large bowl and let it cool a bit.
  • Now add the grated/crumbled feta cheese, yogurt, salt and pepper, red chili flakes and mix well. When adding salt, remember that the feta cheese already has salt in it. So keep that in mind and add the salt accordingly.
  • Grease a 9 x 13 pan and start layering out the phyllo sheets. Lay one sheet and then brush with the melted butter/oil all over the surface. Lay another sheet on top and repeat the same. Do the layering, until you use up 15 sheets.
  • Now add the spinach mixture to the tray and spread evenly.
  • Top with the remaining 15 sheets of phyllo repeating the process of layering. Liberally brush the top most layer with the remaining butter/oil mixture. Make sure to seal the edges well so the filling does not ooze out.
  • Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for about 45 minutes, or until the pie is golden brown. Check with a knife to see if the bottom most layer is cooked and crunchy.
  • Remove from oven and let it cool for about 15 minutes. Slice and serve.

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