Does it come in a meat version?
Ah, what could be better than a hot, crispy spanakopita (spinach & feta cheese pie) when hunger strikes? The day my father taught me to make this baked Greek wonder, I found a ready solution for my personal addiction. I love spanakopita so much that I’ll eat them cold!
Since learning the recipe I’ve baked spinach pies on several occasions for my friends, and while they loved them, I have heard this question a few times:
“Does it come in a meat version?”
I can’t blame my colleagues, as we are all carnivores at heart. Here in America, spinach pie and the cheese pie tiropita (“tee-roe-pee-tah”) are mainstays in most Greek restaurants and gyros shops. However, across the Atlantic in Greece, bakeries there will offer a large variety of savory pies beyond spinach and feta cheese. You'll find pies filled with different cheeses, vegetables, fruit, and of course meat.
The reality is the Greek savory pie is more about the technique, with the ingredients being really up to your imagination. I imagine the reason why spanakopita and tiropita only found love in the US was probably for how unique they were compared to the savory pies made in different cultures.
So to answer my friends...yes, there is a “meat version”, and I’m going to show it to you today. Kreatopita (“kree-ah-toe-pee-tah”) is a Greek meat pie, but it actually reminds me of a stuffed pepper, only in phyllo. I’m sure it was a rare treat for poor peasants in a post-WW2 Greece, but I think it’s a wonderful recipe to pull up for parties or a full dinner.
Here’s how you make it:
- 2 lbs of ground beef or ground lamb
- 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp of tomato paste
- 1 tbsp of oregano
- 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
- 1 cup of parmesan or kefalotyri cheese, grated
- 1 cup of flat Italian parsley, minced
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup of rice, cooked
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 box of #7 Phyllo
- Olive oil
Making the Filling
- In a small stock pot, heat up 4 tbsp of olive oil on medium-high heat.
- Place the ground meat into the oil and cook until browned, breaking it up as much as possible.
- Add in the onion and garlic and continue cooking until onion is soft and garlic is fragrant.
- Stir in the tomato paste, and season the mixture with oregano, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
- Continue cooking the mixture for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the pot from the stove and allow the mixture to cool for 20 minutes.
- Add in the cheese, parsley, eggs, and rice.
- Mix the filling together thoroughly with a spoon or your hands.
Folding the Pies
You’ll need to keep a small bowl of olive oil and a brush handy for this part.
When working with phyllo, its important to keep things slightly moist. You can’t let phyllo sit for too long because it will dry up and become brittle. The best way to keep it moist is to lay it on the table, then place a layer of plastic wrap over it, then a layer of damp cloth or damp paper towels. Keep the phyllo you’re not using covered until you need it.
As you’ll see in Variations, you’re not obligated to folding the pies like this, but this is how we do it at home:
- Lay out three sheets of phyllo stacked and brush them with olive oil. Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to add 1 full scoop of filling near the one end of the phyllo.
- Fold the end of the phyllo closest to the filling over to cover the filling. You may want to gently press down a bit to spread the filling around.
- Fold the two long sides over like saloon doors.
- Roll up the thicker end until you have a nice pie. Brush the finished pie with olive oil before placing it in the pan.
Baking the Pies
Bake the kreatopita at 375º for 45 minutes to an hour. You want the phyllo to become golden brown and flaky.
The reason why I call for cooked rice is that every time I've tried cooking the rice with the meat, it never fully cooks. If you can pull it off, then more power to you. I'd more suggest cooking the rice beforehand and adding it in later.
You might not have access to all kinds of phyllo, but if you can get it, use #7 phyllo. It’s thicker than what you would use for croissants or a strudel. For this dish you want a thicker phyllo. Best place to get phyllo are the local fruit markets and European-style delis.
The olive oil on the phyllo is very important. You need to brush it before and after simply because the oil soaked in the phyllo is how you end up with golden brown pies as opposed to dried up crumbling pies.
I've said it before. There are many variations to this dish. Outside of these bigger pies, most people will cut the sheets of phyllo in half lengthwise and make smaller triangles to serve as appetizers. Many restaurants and tavernas will simply place three layers of phyllo at the bottom of a large pan, place all the filling in, then top it all with three more layers of phyllo. Some use a full pie crust as opposed to phyllo.
Beyond how you fold the pies, I've seen some variants with mushrooms or even leeks added into the filling. It's really up to your palette how you want to make your pies.