My love for Greek food spiced with Indian flavours is real and runs deep. I merge these cuisines’ flavour profiles often. These palak paneer-esque hand-held pies are a variation on novelle grecque food: traditional Greek food lightened up and gussied up with modern flavours. They are also a nod to the North Indian classic, Palak Paneer. Their inside texture is soft and creamy, packed with spinach and dotted with specks of cheese that look/taste a lot like paneer.
I will not deny that perhaps this hand-held pie is just another excuse to get my spinach and beet greens fix. I adore greens. They are embedded in my DNA and I crave them repeatedly, cooking them and devouring them every chance I get. You did not misread that line. I crave greens. Spinach and beet greens — along with brussel sprouts, bitter melon, and daikon – are all vegetables that I have grown to enjoy.
Growing up, I found the cartoon Popeye, the Sailor Man annoying. It was difficult for me to be hoodwinked into believing his mighty strength was attributed to eating spinach. I was not a believer. Secretly though, I disliked the cartoon because my brother would associate me with Olive Oyl — Popeye’s girlfriend. Appearance wise we have similarities. She, like me, was tall, very tall, thin, and had long black hair. On the occasion, I am looking a bit thin and have my hair in a low bun — he is quick to make the connection to Olive Oyl. His endearing ribbing is quite funny, since it is a guise for his more serious observation that I may need to slow down, eat more, or take better care of myself.
Enough about spinach and the complexities of sibling love, the beet greens imbue hints of red and magenta to this filling and sometimes stain the pastry while baking. Do not be afraid, it looks stunning. The two greens combined, pack a heavy dose of vitamins A, C, K, magnesium, iron, and folic acid. Meld that with the aromatics and glugs of olive oil in this recipe and you have pretty much everything necessary to help with achieving radiant skin.
I include mushrooms to this filling because I like the earthy heartiness they provide. (If you are not a fan, you may omit them). The cheese, eggs, herbs, and spices add more flavour profiles. But one warning: when making this filling, it is tempting to add salt, I know. Watch yourself: the cheeses add enough saltiness, I promise, and you’ll be surprised at how beautifully seasoned everything turns out, just as it is.
The exterior thanks to the phyllo pastry is magical on so many levels. Working with phyllo is worth the little bit of effort, it puffs up perfectly browned and crispy after baking for mere minutes. I’ve tried to codify the process so that it’s straightforward. Bonus: it is really pretty.
These hand held pies are truly a gateway food that merges Greek elements with Indian spices. But they are a curiously complex recreation of what it is like to eat well on a late spring or summer evening. The hand-held pies pair well with my pomegranate raitzaziki (recipe is forthcoming), lemony hummus, and a Greek salad loaded with tomatoes, olives, cucumbers and olive oil. If you haven’t already figured it out, these Palak Paneer-esque Hand-Held Pies are exactly what you need to be eating right now.
Palak Paneer-esque Hand-Held Pies
8 cups fresh spinach or 2 pounds frozen spinach (If using frozen, thawed and drained in colander. Then tightly press spinach to remove excess moisture)
3 cups fresh beet greens
2 cups of sliced mushrooms
¼ cup olive oil
1 1/2 large onions, chopped
8 to 10 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup spring onions, chopped.
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
2 teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon ground fennel seed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons black pepper
8 ounces cottage cheese
8 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1 cup Parmesan, grated
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 to 2 packages of Phyllo pastry (thawed)
Olive oil for brushing on the dough
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large pot, sauté the onion in some olive oil for about five minutes. Then add the minced garlic and sauté for another two minutes and then add in the spring onions, mushrooms, and sauté for another three minutes. Add the spinach, beet greens, dill, and cilantro. Add the cumin, garam masala, black pepper, fennel, and chili flakes. Cool this mixture.
Mix the spinach mixture with the cheeses and the beaten eggs. Given the cheeses, I tend to not salt this mixture but instead check the seasoning, adding more chili flakes and black pepper, if necessary. Mix this filling well.
Unwrap the phyllo sheets gently and lay them. Notice that the sheets are very thin. Separate two sheets from the pile, cover the rest with a damp, clean kitchen towel. Cut the pastry sheets into two. Using a pastry brush, brush the sheet lightly with olive oil. Fold in half lengthwise
Put a large spoonful of the spinach mixture on the end of the rectangle closest to you. Fold the edges into centre. Now fold into rectangle. Repeat until you are at the end of your rectangle, and you have made a rectangle filled “pita”. Brush it lightly with olive oil.
Put the rectangle onto baking sheet. Keep on making rectangle until the baking sheet is filled.
Brush the tops of your triangles with olive oil. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the tops are puffy and lightly browned.