Saturday, November 29, 2008

GREEK SPINACH-FETA & MOROCCAN LAMB TRIANGLES

A LITTLE GEOMETRY - MY COOKING IS SHAPING UP

A few weeks ago, our neighbor Manu came over for a glass of wine before dinner, accompanied by his delightful and mischievous 3-year-old daughter Rosalie. I pulled out all of the usual aperatif olives and store-bought crackers. But give me any reason at all to cook or bake and I will. It is yet another chance to try a new recipe on an unsuspecting guinea pig or elicit oohs and ahs from admiring crowds (well, just a little leeway for exaggeration please....).

I have loved Spanikopita since my brother recreated Anna Thomas’ fabulous recipe from her amazing cookbook The Vegetarian Epicure. Well, as the old saying goes, you can’t return home again.... Once I was married and my children were small, I tried to recapture those heady days of my youth, the days of candles and incense, coop markets and college dinner parties when we were all vegetarians. Kids love feta, I thought, so maybe this is a geat way to get them to eat spinach! Well, needless to say the results were more than disappointing. The filling was boring and watery. I guess I just hadn’t yet developed the patience to work with spinach. Until a very recent lunch with a friend. She prepared these Spinach-Feta Triangles and I finally understood the secret to thoroughly drained spinach. She also added freshly grated parmesan cheese and just a bit of fresh chopped mint. Both complemented the spinach and the feta perfectly. These are utterly delicious!



GREEK-STYLE SPINACH-FETA TRIANGLES

1 1/2 lbs (800 g) fresh spinach, well-cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups (235 g - one package) feta cheese, drained and crumbled
1/2 cup (60 g) grated parmesan cheese, fresh when possible
3 large eggs, lightly beaten (if you make this in pie form, use 4 eggs)
2 Tbs chopped fresh mint
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
freshly ground pepper and a dash of salt to taste
1/2 lb (250 g, about 20 sheets) filo dough, thawed if frozen - if you make these 6 large triangles, you will need 12 sheets
Melted butter for the filo


Wash the spinach leaves, shake off excess water and put into a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Steam the spinach until wilted, then pour into a collander to drain. Allow to cool until easy to handle. Press out all the excess water you can with your hands, then gather up the cooked spinach and place in the center of a clean but old cloth dishtowel. Wrap or roll up the spinach in the towel and squeeze for all you are worth, squeezing out as much water as possible. Place the spinach on a cutting board and chop.

Put the chopped spinach in a mixing bowl, add the crumbled feta and parmesan cheeses, the chopped mint, nutmeg and salt and a good grinding of pepper (when adding salt, do so sparingly; remember that the feta is salty). Blend well. Now beat the eggs until well blended and stir them into the spinach-cheese mixture.



Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Now - the filo triangles. As you use each sheet of filo, keep the rest of the sheets covered with a just-damp towel so they don't dry out.

Melt the butter and allow to cool a bit.

Lay out the first sheet of filo with the wider length side to side , left to right. Brush the sheet quickly with butter. Lay a second sheet on top of the first and brush with butter. Repeat with a third sheet.

With a very sharp knife, carefully slice from top to bottom into three equal strips. This will make the first three triangles.

Divide the spinach mixture into 6 (like I do here) or more parts depending on whether you want to make more or less triangles.* Scoop up one quantity and place it on the edge of the first strip of filo closest to you. Now, to form a triangle, lift up the bottom edge and bring the right bottom corner up towards the left edge (side), lining up the bottom and side edges to form a triangle. Holding this in place, use your free fingers to push the spinach mixture so it fills the triangle shape. Lift this up and fold upwards and continue folding until you have only about an inch of filo dough at the top. Brush this with butter to moisten, fold it over and seal your triangle "package". Place the triangle on a parchment-lined or buttered baking sheet.



Continue until you have made three triangles with the first three sheets of buttered filo. Repeat the process with three more buttered sheets and the rest of the spinach mixture. You now have 6 large triangles on your baking sheet. The triangles can be made ahead up to this point. Cover them with plastic wrap and put into the fridge until ready to bake.



Brush the surface of each of the triangles with more melted butter. Bake for 15 minutes until golden.

* You can make this as one large pie, layering 8 - 10 of the buttered filo sheets in a buttered baking dish (the size of the dish depends on how thick you like the filling to be), spreading the spinach mixture evenly, then layering and buttering 8 - 10 more filo sheets on top. Bake until golden. Or you can make many more smaller triangles by cutting the filo dough either width- or length-wise into narrower strips.

Serve large triangles for lunch or dinner with a salad or smaller triangles as finger food.



The first time I tried this recipe for Little Meat Triangles from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, I found it rather bland. It was basically just lamb flavored with sauteed onions and a little dash of spices. As I really love North African lamb dishes, I decided to borrow a bit from my favorite, Lamb with Prunes. Pretty much the same dish - with chunks of lamb instead of ground meat - but with that wonderful Oriental touch of sweet prunes and honey which complement the meat and onions beautifully and with a blend of spices found in so many Moroccan tagines and snacks. I usually increase the quantity of pine nuts, as well, as I love their delicate crunch.

NORTH AFRICAN INSPIRED LAMB TRIANGLES

1 small to medium onion, finely chopped
2 Tbs vegetable oil
3/4 - 1 lb (350 - 500 g) ground lamb, depending on quantity of triangle you would like to make
Salt and pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 or more Tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted
handful golden raisins
1 - 3 Tbs liquid golden honey
1/2 lb (250 g or 1 package) filo dough, thawed if frozen (count 3 large or 3 - 4 small for 3 sheets of filo dough)
Melted unsalted butter or vegetable or olive oil for brushing the filo dough



For the filling, heat the oil in a large heavy skillet, add the chopped onion and fry until golden, giving it a slightly carmelized flavor. Add the ground lamb and toss, breaking up any chunks, until lightly browned. Salt and pepper the meat to taste. Add and blend in the spices. Toss in the pine nuts and a handful of golden raisins, stirring to heat everything through. Drizzle honey over the mixture a tablespoon at a time, stirring it in and tasting until it is just the right sweetness for you. Let the lamb filling simmer until the meat is cooked and the raisins are soft and plumped.



Allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Prepare the filo dough for making the triangles. As you use each sheet of filo, keep the rest of the sheets covered with a just-damp towel so they don't dry out.

Melt the butter and allow to cool a bit if using butter.

Lay out the first sheet of filo with the wider length side to side, left to right, for large triangles, or away from you for smaller triangles. Brush the sheet quickly with butter or oil. Lay a second sheet on top of the first and brush with butter/oil. Repeat with a third sheet.

With a very sharp knife, carefully slice from top to bottom into three equal strips. This will make the first three triangles.

Scoop up a large tablespoon or teaspoon (again, depending on desired size of triangle) and place it on the edge of the first strip of filo closest to you. Now, to form a triangle, lift up the bottom edge and bring the right bottom corner up towards the left edge (side), lining up the bottom and side edges to form a triangle. Holding this in place, use your free fingers to push the lamb mixture so it fills the triangle shape. Lift this up and fold upwards and continue folding until you have only about an inch of filo dough at the top. Brush this with butter/oil to moisten, fold it over and seal your triangle "package". Place the triangle on a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet.

Continue until you have made three or four triangles with the first three sheets of buttered filo. Repeat the process with three more buttered sheets at a time until you have either used up all of the lamb filling or you have the number of triangles needed and the triangles are lined up on a baking sheet. The triangles can be made ahead up to this point. Cover them with plastic wrap and put into the fridge until ready to bake.

Brush the surface of each of the triangles with more melted butter or a beaten egg yolk.

Bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until golden.



The large triangles can be served for lunch or dinner with a salad, the smaller triangles as finger food.

NEEDLESS to say, Rosalie preferred the store-bought crackers, although she did enjoy pulling off the crisp filo and eating what didn't fall onto the carpet.

2 comments:

Helen said...

Hello! Thank for visiting my blog and for your lovely comments. These parcels really caught my eye! I love spanakopita too so I love the idea of making samosass with the filling and it looks like you got the spinach well and truly drained this time. I was just admiring the spinach ones and then I saw the lamb ones too - good stuff!

dragonmom said...

Great looking treats! I adore spanakopita and think these would be lovely as appetizers.

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