Spinach Pie, Take 3

I'm a sucker for spinach pie. I like it as a hand-held snack or portable lunch, along the lines of a Middle East fetayer and I like it as a larger entity, baked in a pie plate, kinda Greek-style with greens, onions and feta cheese, but without the greasy phyllo.

Spinach and chickpea pie. (Kim O'Donnel)

While working on an Easter Sunday brunch menu last week, I dreamed about spinach pie, but also wanted to try something a tad bit different, a little tweak to the routine, if you will. An intriguing variation on the theme emerged as I thumbed through Molly O'Neill's "A Well-Seasoned Appetite." In her version, the dough is made primarily from chickpea flour, which got me thinking about socca, a popular chickpea crepe sold on the street in the south of France (In Italy, it's called farinata.) This I gotta see, I decided.

In addition to the chickpea flour, O'Neill's recipe calls for the addition of chickpeas, which are seasoned with onions and balsamic vinegar. The end result was a sweet and sour effect, which Mister MA loved but I could have done without. As much as I love chickpeas with spinach, I found them a bit distracting here.

Below, the recipe details, for which I've added my own notes and thoughts on omitting the chickpeas. The best part of all is the chickpea crust -- this is my new favorite thing for savory pies. When summer comes, I'd like to try one with zucchini, tomatoes and peppers. Doesn't that sound good? Mushrooms would be nice in this as well.

In the original recipe, O'Neill suggests three layers of dough which I think is an extra step not worth doing; besides, the dough yield doesn't completely cover three layers, as I learned yesterday.

If you're a spinach pie hound like me, share your favorite variations in the comments area below. There is no such thing as too much food for thought.

Spinach and Chickpea Pie
Adapted from "A Well-Seasoned Appetite" by Molly O'Neill

2 cups chickpea flour (also sold as gram or besan flour in Indian groceries)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into dice (Earth Balance spread would work equally well here)
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
3/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 teaspoons salt
black pepper to taste
3 bunches spinach, thoroughly washed and stemmed
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 egg, lightly beaten
Oil spray


Make dough: Combine flours, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Rub in butter until flour mixture looks like peas. Add yogurt and milk and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Flour your hands and gather dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about one hour.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soften and slightly golden but not burned, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and stir to combine.

Add chickpeas, vinegar and pomegranate molasses, turn heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus pepper to taste. Set aside. (KOD note: The chickpea-vin-molasses step can be omitted, along with the salt, and you can proceed directly to spinach prep.)

Steam spinach until just wilted and drain in a colander, pressing out as much water as possible. Coarsely chop spinach, place in a bowl, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Add feta, half of beaten egg and toss.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a nine-inch pie plate or spring form pan with oil spray.

Remove dough from refrigerator and dust work surface with flour. NOTE: Dough is really sticky. Keep hands floured, too. Cut dough into half and work with each half one at a time. With your hands, press dough into a 10-inch circle, then fold in half and lift into prepared pan. Press dough into bottom and trim off excess if necessary.

Spread spinach mixture over dough. Top with chickpea-onion (or just onion) mixture. Roll out remaining dough and lift onto top and pinch crusts together to make a seal. Brush top of pie with remaining egg. Make small steam vents on top crust with the tip of a sharp knife.

Bake until crust is brown, about 30 minutes. Do not overbake, as results will be dry. Cut into wedges and serve.

Serves six as a main course.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 24, 2008; 10:42 AM ET Vegetarian/Vegan
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Um, this sounds delicious, except where the heck am I going to get pomegranate molasses?

I love trying new recipes like this, but I hate having to buy a strange ingredient that I will never use again. I have a very small kitchen and pantry, no room for more than the basic spices and condiments. Can I substitute something else?

Posted by: Laura | March 24, 2008 11:58 AM

Hey Laura,
The pom molasses was my addition. You can do without and use 4 tablespoons of balsamic, but that just seemed like too much to this vin-resistant gal, so that's why I added the pom. You can find it at Middle East groceries and now at places like Whole Foods, but no worries you can't find it. Improv as you see fit.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 24, 2008 12:02 PM

Maybe I am just reading this wrong, but what happens to the second half of the spinach? You put half on to start but it nevers says to add the second half. What did I miss?

Posted by: Catherine | March 24, 2008 1:27 PM

Catherine, it's not you, it's ME. In the heat of making recipe tweaks, I neglected to remove the word "half" out of the instructions. It should read properly now.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 24, 2008 1:34 PM

When I think of a spinach pie, I think of what you get in Rhode Island, which is more similar to a calzone minus the red sauce: pizza dough crust, folded over and filled with sauteed onions and garlic, chopped spinach, black olives, red pepper flakes, mozarella, and sausage (if you like). Yum!

Posted by: Arlington | March 24, 2008 2:02 PM

Kim - can I use skim milk and low fat yogurt in the crust, or will this affect the outcome?

Posted by: Tenleytown | March 24, 2008 2:22 PM

Tenleytown, I used whole milk (it's what I had in the house) and lowfat plain yogurt. I think you'll be fine using a lower fat milk.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 24, 2008 3:01 PM

I just had a spinach calzone over the weekend and love the idea of making a spinach pie at home. Plus my toddler son loved the calzone--and he loves chickpeas--so what's not to love??!

Plus, it's another recipe in which I can use the pom molasses that I got for your great lentil recipe earlier this year, Kim...so thanks!

Posted by: chrishpl | March 24, 2008 7:09 PM

this is awesome crust! i filled it with a modified spinach goo, adding paneer and indian spices to make a saag paneer pie. VERY yummy--lots of happy diners tonight here! thanks kim!

Posted by: sava | March 24, 2008 10:06 PM

I've long used Anita Sheldon's recipe (NYT spring 1971) which has filling of 4 eggs, 2 lb spinach, 1 lb onion, 1c parmesan, 10 oz ricotta. 2-crust dough (modified from white flour) is from 2.25 to 2.5 c www flour, 1c butter, 1 yolk, cold water to bind. Dough leftovers make flower petals to surround steam hole. Great recipe to eat hot, warm or cold. Enjoy...

Posted by: imashalom | March 24, 2008 11:42 PM

What exactly constitutes three bunches of spinach? How much would this be if one used frozen spinach (always works as well as fresh spinach when I make spanikopita). Thanks Kim!

Posted by: Kristin | March 24, 2008 11:55 PM

I came up with the VEGAN spinach pie last summer and I think it's as good as any spanakopita. These are rough instructions. You all know how to cook, so... use your imagination to come up with exactly quantities.

Dice half an onion and sautee it in a little olive oil over a low heat until it's soft and beginning to brown. At that point add a bag of pre-washed baby spinach that you've chopped. Put a lid on the pan and let the spinach wilt completely. It won't take long!

While all this is happening, you should have had some puff pastry thawing. Oh... and pre-heat the oven to 375.

Take the spinach and onion mixture off the stove. Cut the puff pastry into four squares and roll each of them out a little with a rolling pin. (This is only to give you a little more space to add fillings.)

Shmear a healthy sized glop of roasted garlic or "supremely spicy" hummus (I like Sabra brand) on each puff pastry square. Do the same with the spinach onion mix, on top of the hummus. Grind some fresh pepper on top of that and add maybe a tiny bit of salt.

Paint the edge of each pastry square with some water using your finger tip. Fold the pastry over into a triangle shape and seal the edges. Cut a couple holes in the top of each triangle.

Stick 'em on a baking sheet and bake for...oh... I think it's about half an hour. Keep an eye on them. You want them golden brown and puffy.

You can also add roasted garlic to the spinach mix and that's pretty good.

Posted by: Rebecca in Fair Lakes | March 25, 2008 6:41 AM

Hey Kristin: The original recipe calls for 6 pounds, but I used more like 4-5 pounds, from three rather large fresh bunches. I think frozen work just fine here, yes indeed.
Rebecca, I have some puff in the freezer, and that sounds pretty darn good. You could also use silken tofu, beaten, as the binder, too.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 25, 2008 7:53 AM

Kim - You said frozen would work here too, would that be 2-10 oz packages of spinach or 3? Also, can I make the dough in a food processor? Thank you.

Posted by: Meg | March 25, 2008 9:07 AM

Meg: I would do at least three packages of frozen spinach. Yes, you can do the dough in the food processor as long as you promise to use the "pulse" button. One note of caution, though: dough will be sticky.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 25, 2008 9:11 AM

the food processor worked well for it-- i used pulse, scraped all the dough into waxed paper, and shoved it in the freezer for 45 minutes before rolling. no problems.

Posted by: sava | March 25, 2008 11:41 AM

Laura: You can get pomegranate molasses at Shopper's in the international food aisle. I have also gotten it at Mediterranean Deli in Alexandria. I use it in salad dressings and for bread/oil dipping. It's quite good and something you will use more often once you've tried it.

Posted by: michele | March 25, 2008 11:49 AM

This sounds yummy! One question: can I get chickpea flour at Whole Foods? Or do I have to find an Indian grocer (if so, is there one in the Capitol Hill neighborhood)?

Posted by: kh | March 25, 2008 1:17 PM

KH: I know that chickpea flour is part of the Bob's Red Mill line, which is sold at WF, so it's worth a shot. You could also try Yes! Organic Market in Capitol Hill, right in your neighborhood.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 25, 2008 1:51 PM

This is a tried and true family favorite, Cheese-Spinach-Sausage Pie, from "The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook", Hearst Books, NY,NY, 1980, p.156 (Hope I'm not violating copyright...oh, what the heck!)

1 lb. sweet Italian sausage links, chopped

6 eggs

2 - 10-oz. packages of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained

16 oz. package of shredded mozzarella cheese

2/3 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

1/8 tsp. garlic powder or 1 clove mashed

2 - 9" pastry crusts

9" pie plate

Put one crust in the plate; set the other aside. Pan-fry sausages until well-browned. Put them, minus the pan fat, in a large bowl and mix with remaining ingredients. (Optionally, you can reserve one egg yolk to blend with 1 tbsp of water to brush on the top crust, before baking, to give a nice sheen.) Pour mixture in the bottom crust. Place top crust over; cut steam slits. Bake at 375 F for 1 1/4 hours or until golden. Cool 10 minutes. Serve warm OR chill and serve cold.

What I've always loved, besides its ease and delicious taste, is it's as good cold the next day as warm out of the oven. Perfect for a make-ahead brunch dish.

Posted by: jhbyer | March 25, 2008 6:13 PM

oh jezus maria this sounds so good but just toooo much work!

Posted by: william kraal | March 25, 2008 9:05 PM

I can't wait to try this, but I have to think that the pom molasses and the balsamic vinegar will make it way too sweet (I Do Not Do the Sweet+Savory Thing). I'm going to try it with a bit of fresh lemon juice instead of those two ingredients. Will let you know how it turns out.

Posted by: Spinach-Chickpea Pie | March 26, 2008 8:17 PM

this sounds so delish!! would it be possible to freeze the pie and thaw/reheat? (if so, how?). a non-cooking friend is pregnant, and i'd like to fill her freezer with tasty, healthy meals as a gift...this might do the trick, but if you have other suggestions, i'd love to hear them! thanks!!

Posted by: Sue | April 15, 2008 4:34 PM

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