My beautiful mother has a big birthday this month (her 65th, but, shh, don’t tell her I told you!). Being the selfless giver-type that she is, she’s refused to let us rent out a restaurant for her, but my sister and I were able to get her to agree to allow us to throw her a homespun party at my parents’ place. The hardcore foodie that I am, I live for stuff like this. There is nothing more fun than planning a menu, cooking up a storm, and watching people devour my food. I’ve been holed up this weekend with a nasty cold, so used this as an opportunity to brainstorm menu ideas and test drive some recipes. I’ll be the only vegan at the party, so we’ll be serving some non-plant-based foods, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to sneak a few vegan treats into the mix.These spinach bites came out so rich and delicious that I’m fairly certain that no one will even notice there’s no dairy cheese.I have to confess that I get just a wee bit of guilty pleasure catching omnivores in the act of unknowingly enjoying vegan food. (I still chuckle thinking about the time a couple of years back when my father accidentally served himself my vegan twice-baked potato and then raved to me about how much dairy deliciousness I was missing out on, but I digress…) My vegan spanakopita uses a combination of tofu, vegan mayonnaise, nutritional yeast, olive oil and lemon juice to capture the creamy tanginess that traditionally comes from feta. (If you’re worried–as I might have been earlier in my vegan cooking career–that using tofu will make the filling taste “off,” I promise you that the tofu will be completely undetectable and is, in many ways, better suited for a filling like this than dairy cheese, as it will keep its shape and won’t start leaching oil.) The best thing about these delectable little guys is that they look fancy and complicated, but are surprisingly easy to throw together thanks to ready-made (and accidentally vegan) phyllo dough available at any moderately sized grocery store. They taste delicious hot out of the oven, or at room temperature.
Vegan Spanakopita-Style Spinach Phyllo Bundles
- 1 small onion, chopped finely
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 block firm tofu, pressed to remove extra moisture
- 1 lb frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove excess liquid
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
- juice of one lemon
- small pinch (about 1/8th teaspoon) nutmeg
- 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil, plus additional as needed with which to brush the phyllo dough
- 1 package phyllo sheets, THAWED OVERNIGHT IN THE FRIDGE (I’m bolding this because I always forget! Also, you actually only need 10 sheets, but I recommend having lots of extra on hand for peace of mind. See my comment below Step 5.)
- salt, to taste
1. In a large pan, saute onions in a splash of olive oil (about 1/2 tablespoon) over medium heat until translucent. Add garlic and cook until soft and fragrant. 2. Crumble tofu into pan, and stir with a wooden spoon. Continue mashing and breaking up the tofu chunks until they resemble crumbled soft cheese. Season with a pinch of salt. Continue to saute until there is no excess liquid visible in the pan. 3. Stir in thawed spinach, and continue to saute until any liquid has evaporated. 4. Stir in an additional pinch of salt, nutritional yeast, nutmeg, mayonaise, and lemon juice. Mix well to combine and distribute ingredients evenly. Taste to check flavor, and add additional salt if needed. Turn off heat and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. 5. Pour a generous glug of oil into a small bowl or ramekin. [SIDE NOTE: Before I go any further, I have to warn you that phyllo dough is really fickle. You can do everything right, and it still may crack and tear in places. It may feel like you are thisclose to a kitchen disaster, but don’t panic! Tricky as the dough is to work with, it’s incredibly forgiving once it’s baked. Just make sure to have some extra sheets on hand (this is why my recipe calls for a whole box when you actually only need a few sheets) in case you need to do some damage control. If one layer starts to fall apart, just use a few dabs of oil to try to stick it back together, and/or slap on another layer for added reinforcement, especially if the tear is at or towards the bottom. Once it’s baked, it’ll all just be one delicious bundle of crispy deliciousness.] 6. Working on a large, clean, smooth surface, unwrap and unroll the phyllo sheets. Pull one sheet out at a time, carefully lay it flat on the surface, and brush or dab it with olive oil. Cover with another sheet of phyllo and repeat process until you have 4 layers. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into roughly 3 inch by 3 inch squares. 7. Once the spinach mixture is lukewarm, press out any excess liquid. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling into the center of each pastry square. Gently pick up the four corners of each pastry square and pinch them closed, then place the little bundles on a baking sheet lined with tin foil or parchment paper. 8. Repeat the process of layering phyllo sheets, dividing, stuffing, and molding them until all filling has been used up. 9. Bake at 375F for about 17 minutes, until the dough is browned at the top, and crispy all over. 10. Serve straight out of the oven or at room temperature.
Readers, do you have any great vegan appetizers and finger foods that you love to make?