Spanakopita is one of my favorite Greek dishes. This Greek spinach pie with layers of crispy phyllo dough is a Mediterranean classic. In traditional spanakopita, feta cheese is included in the filling. I recently challenged myself to create a vegan spanakopita recipe for people who are avoiding dairy foods or animal products. Unlike other plant based spanakopita recipes, I opted not to use a feta substitute like tofu or vegan cheese. Instead, I focused on making a filling of pure greens, flavored with healthy ingredients that capture the salty tang of feta, without the need for cheese. The result, in my husband’s humble opinion, is every bit as delicious as the original – and he’s a feta cheese fanatic!
What is Spanakopita?
Spanakopita is a traditional Greek pie made with phyllo dough (also spelled filo dough). Traditional spanakopita includes a filling of spinach or greens, feta cheese, and occasionally other vegetables. This dish is incredibly versatile, and can be served just about any time of day. It works great as a side dish, or as part of a mezze spread. You can change the flavor simply by using different greens, herbs and alliums – for example, using leeks instead of green onion.
In this vegan spanakopita, I have used a combination of nutritional yeast, lemon juice, and coconut aminos to capture a salty, briny flavor in the filling, without the need for any cheese. This delicious savory pastry is full of flavor, and very satisfying.
Spanakopita is typically baked in the oven. It can be served in the form of a whole spanakopita pie, or as smaller wrapped triangular hand-pies. The crispy phyllo dough exterior is light and flaky, with a savory and satisfying filling.
History of Spanakopita
Various versions of pita, the Greek word for “pie,” have been enjoyed in Greece for centuries. Spanakopita is thought to have originated in the northern part of Greece. The spinach and feta cheese filling was likely influenced by the Ottoman Empire. At that time, pies were popular because they traveled well. Additionally fillings could be made with whatever was available, whether savory or sweet. Crusts were made from a combination of barley, millet, oat, or rye flours. More modern versions are made with lighter phyllo dough. The word phyllo comes from the Greek word φύλλο (f´yllo) meaning “leaf,” a lovely descriptor of the thin, crispy signature qualities of the dough.
Traditionally home cooks made spanakopita with whatever greens were freshest and most abundant, including wild greens. However over time, spinach became the most popular green of choice. But even today, in Greece, you’ll find these types of pies made with whatever greens are growing fresh in the garden. And they are almost always made with homemade phyllo dough, rather than the pre-made dough found in grocery stores.
Is Spanakopita Healthy?
Spanakopita is a flavorful and satisfying dish; it’s also very nutritious. This savory pie is packed with nutrients. Spinach is a good source of vitamins C, A, and K, as well as fiber. Spanakopita made with feta has added protein and calcium. While this vegan spanakopita lacks added protein, it can be paired with lentil soup or a vegan moussaka to make a more filling meal. This vegan spanakopita pie makes an ideal snack, appetizer, or side dish.
Why Make Spanakopita Vegan?
Traditional spanakopita is delicious, and for those who eat dairy it’s a savory treat. But not everybody consumes animal products. Likewise, some people avoid dairy products for health reasons or lactose intolerance. To make spanakopita suitable for a vegan diet, the feta cheese must be omitted, and plant-based ingredients must be used. These modifications allow vegans to enjoy a dairy-free version of this traditional dish. For those following a vegan diet for healthy, ethical, or environmental reasons, this vegan spanakopita provides a delicious recipe option.
Is Phyllo Pastry Suitable for Vegans?
Traditional phyllo dough contains only plant-based ingredients, which makes it a great choice for vegans. My vegan spanakopita is made with store-bought phyllo dough, which is typically vegan (you may wish to double check the ingredients of your particular dough to be sure). However, making phyllo from scratch can improve the flavor even more. In the recipe below I have shared a homemade phyllo recipe from my friend Aglaia Kremezi, who runs a cooking school called Kea Artisanal in Greece. It is time consuming and somewhat difficult to master, but it is worth trying for best flavor. And, Aglaia’s dough is completely vegan!
What Do You Serve with Vegan Spanakopita?
For a balanced plant-based menu, consider pairing with these other delicious vegan recipes:
I hope you enjoy this recipe for vegan spanakopita! It’s truly as delicious as the traditional variety.
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided
- 1 medium yellow onion finely chopped (1 cup chopped onion)
- 24 ounces frozen chopped spinach thawed and well drained
- 1 bunch green onions chopped
- ½ cup flat leaf parsley chopped
- 1/3 cup fresh dill chopped
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon coconut aminos or soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
- 1 package phyllo dough thawed (about 16-20 sheets – you may not need the whole package)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing the phyllo
3 tablespoons vodka (optional)
About 1 cup water, as needed
Cornstarch for rolling the phyllo Place the flour, olive oil and vinegar in the bowl of a standing mixer with dough hooks and pulse a couple of times, then as the mixer runs add slowly water on the side, enough to get a soft dough that is not sticky. Let rest at least 30 minutes before rolling. We usually divide it into 4-5 pieces and work well on the counter each piece, adding a little more flour as needed, to get a soft, silky, and very elastic dough that rolls easily. Then we roll with plenty of CORNSTARCH. In this video, shot some years ago by the Culinary Institute of America, you will see Stamatia, my assistant, who is THE expert in phyllo rolling and has taught me and my husband. I had to work with Stamatia to finally master the technique that very much depends on repetition to make thin and perfect sheets so fast.
- Defrost your phyllo dough (you may need to start this process a day ahead).Before you start, make sure your thawed spinach is very well drained by pressing it firmly several times in a mesh colander over the sink. Removing excess liquid is key to keeping the pie from becoming soggy.In a sauté pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once hot add onion and cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes.
- Scoop cooked onions into a mixing bowl. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, along with all of the remaining filling ingredients, to the bowl. Mix well with a fork or clean hands. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Lightly brush the inside of a 9X13-inch baking dish with olive oil.Remove phyllo dough from package and lay it gently on a flat surface. Place a clean damp tea towel over the dough, covering it completely. This will keep it soft and pliable for the recipe. If you don’t cover it, the dough will dry out quickly and break easily.If using 13×18 size phyllo sheets, trim 1 1/2 inches from two of the edges (a short edge and a long edge). If using 9×13 size, overlap the pieces as you layer them to make sure you get good coverage on the bottom and sides for the lower crust.
- Lay phyllo one sheet at a time in the pan, covering the bottom of the dish, with dough coming up the sides. Lightly brush each sheet with olive oil. To spread the olive oil evenly, flick the oil lightly with your brush around the sheet, then brush gently to spread (it doesn’t have to fully coat the sheet).
- Once you have stacked 8 sheets, spread filling into the dish over the top of the sheets. Repeat stacking and brushing with the remaining sheets of phyllo and oil, stacking 6-8 sheets on top of the pie. Brush the top liberally with remaining olive oil, using more as needed – having the top well oiled will give it a nice crunch and a golden sheen.
- With a sharp paring knife, trim excess dough off the edges so the pastry is flush with the inside of the pan.
- Use the same knife to score the top layer of phyllo into 12 squares. Be sure not to cut all the way through the bottom crust, or you’ll risk having a soggy pie.
- Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the top phyllo crust is golden brown. Cool until warm but no longer hot, about 30 minutes. Cut squares along score marks.
- Serve warm. This pie is also great at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days. Note that the filling of this dish is a little looser than a traditional spanakopita, so when it cuts some spinach may naturally fall out from between the layers.