This time of year always reminds me of my initial decision to move to Chicago. I had lofty expectations for food adventures in the big city - I would eat at the best restaurants, I would sip fabulous craft cocktails in swanky lounges, I would work 100 hours a week to pay for it all!
Little did I know that many of my finest Chicago food memories would be made in the tiny kitchen of a hundred year old two-flat apartment building, the kitchen that belongs to my mother-in-law. For a tiny woman whom you might reasonably suspect lives solely on strong Greek coffee, she churns out an astounding array of hearty Greek dishes in quantities fit for an army. I’ve learned many things from her over the years, from how to make delicate honey-drenched sweets to how to throw a proper Greek barbecue (4 meats, minimum), but my favorite kitchen memory with her is the very first time she took me under her wing five years ago.
The first free day I had after moving in she scooped me up for an insider tour of the local produce markets. We crisscrossed the north side from Lawrence to Devon picking up feta, fresh greens, and fruit before returning to her house for the real adventure of the day – learning to make spanakopita. On a hot June afternoon we broke out the sauté pans, cranked up the oven and carefully unrolled the phyllo. With the windows wide and sweat pouring down our necks we chopped, stirred, and layered until our leafy, cheesy, masterpiece was ready for the oven. While it baked we nibbled the leftover feta with watermelon, and for the first time I felt at home in my new city. As the days have grown warm again, I encourage you to invite a friend or two over for the afternoon, roll up your sleeves together and make a mess (and memories) in the kitchen.
Mama Mina’s Spanakopita
2 bunches spinach
Half bunch swiss chard
Half bunch parsley, rough chopped
1 Leek, medium dice
Half bunch scallions, finely chopped
¾ c bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1 lb feta
1 box phyllo, thawed
- Place spinach in a large mixing bowl, salt liberally and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Squeeze to remove excess water.
- Saute scallions and leeks with olive oil until tender. Add chard sauté until thoroughly wilted. Transfer to bowl with the spinach.
- Add bread crumbs, eggs, parsley and feta.
- Layer 4 sheets of phyllo, brushing each with melted butter, on the bottom of a casserole dish. Add filling, and then repeat phyllo layering on the top.
- Bake at 400F for ~45 min or until golden brown.
I'm not the only employee at The Chopping Block who learned how to cook Spanikopita from a Greek family member. Check out Sarah Horn's recipe from her great-grandmother Aphrodite.
Have you learned how to cook a special dish from a family member? Share it with me in the comments.