During the fasting period of Great Lent, eating a variety of dishes, especially those featuring legumes, can help with the daily requirements of protein often lacking in vegan diets and among those fasting very strictly. Whole grains will also fill you up more than simple carbohydrates like white rice, pasta, and bread. A more balanced diet all year round will also prepare you for the fasting season since animal products are just a portion of any given meal. Adding nuts and beans for protein, and including variations on the spices, fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruits you normally consume will ensure a healthier and more flavorful fasting period. Those with health concerns or medical conditions should consult their physician before making any drastic changes to their diet. The following recipe is a Greek classic, a vegan spinach pie, nistisimi spanakopita. Add a mixture of chopped greens, like Swiss chard, collards, and kale plus some carefully washed and chopped leeks in addition to the onions for a tasty hortopita (greens pie).
For the dough:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional as needed and for rolling out
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt
6 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for brushing
Sesame seeds (optional)
For the filling:
3 pounds fresh spinach, triple washed
1/2 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 cup green onions, finely chopped
2 small onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
To make the dough, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the water one tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition, then add the olive oil and knead until the dough is elastic and smooth. You may need to add a little flour if the dough is too wet. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
To make the filling, chop the spinach roughly. Add about two tablespoons of the olive oil to a sauté pan and heat over medium high heat. Sauté the spinach until it wilts down and releases its liquid. Transfer to a strainer and press out any excess liquid with a spatula or wooden spoon, set aside. Heat another two tablespoons of olive oil in the pan and sauté the onions until translucent. Return the spinach to the pan and add the dill, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir together and remove from heat. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of additional olive oil, if preferred. Set aside.
Divide the rested dough into four. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the four pieces of dough to a thin rectangle, long enough to cover the bottom and sides of a 13 by 9-inch baking pan. Brush the baking pan lightly with olive oil and transfer the rolled out dough to the pan. Roll out a second piece of dough and add to the baking pan for the second layer. Brush lightly with olive oil and add the filling, spreading it evenly with a spatula or spoon. Roll out the third piece of dough to cover the filling, brush lightly with olive oil and cover with the fourth piece of rolled out dough. Brush the top with a little olive oil and tuck the edges underneath or crimp for a decorative edge. Sprinkle the top with sesame seeds, if desired. Score the top of the spanakopita with a sharp knife to release the steam and delineate the pieces. If preferred, use a fork to prick holes in the top. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour or until golden brown. Serve warm. For a shortcut, use store-bought phyllo dough and brush with olive oil.