Spanakopita is a perfect food.
My little cousin is a pain in the ass at dinnertime. He won’t eat anything. Any attempt to get him to consume something that isn’t plain pasta results in the sort of temper-tantrum you expect from a South American dictator. I’m not talking about a 2 year-old either. He’s almost 10, which pretty much means when he decides he doesn’t want to do something his means of communicating it isn’t just an indiscernible wail, it’s a full-blown tirade complete with a list of every single way in which you’ve wronged him over the past decade. He is a dick.
That is, until presented with spanakopita.
If you’re unfamiliar with spanakopita, you may also know it as spinach pie, or you might not know it at all. That’s probably because as Greeks we’ve done an absolutely terrible job of elevating our best elements of cuisine to a respectable level.
The premise behind spanakopita is simple: wilt some spinach, mix it with some fresh cheese, wrap it in pastry, brush it with butter and stick it in the oven. It hits the full spectrum of healthy to artery-clogging without skipping a beat.
Spanakopita is the Trojan horse of Greek food, disguising a stick of butter as some sort of vegetable-like pie packed with greens. Growing up this was pretty much an acceptable substitute for carrots or broccoli, a switch that pretty much has no basis in nutritional reality. That said, we also thought Fritos weren’t that bad for you, if that helps you gauge our compass.
What makes spanakopita so perfect is also what makes it so deadly. It’s a food in which you take an ingredient with tremendous health potential (spinach) and literally layer it with the sort of mildly unhealthy counterparts that guarantee a pleasing experience. Spinach is a green that’s nearly unapproachable for many adults (let alone the tiny terrorist in my family) yet in this form it’s pretty much rendered harmless, playing passive vehicle for feta and ricotta. Layer it on phyllo dough and you’ve provided a crunchy, buttery texture that would otherwise relegate this to Eastern European creamed spinach.
Spanakopita is a perfect food because it’s a balanced dish: salty, savory, and easily consumable in any form without even the need for protein. It’s not too filling but will never leave you hungry. You can snack on it or eat it for dinner. It can be the star or the sidekick. It’s never offended. It would make Popeye proud, and it’ll make your 3-year-old salivate.