During the winter months, the beautiful Istanbul suburb of Bebek sits quietly on the European shore of the Bosphorus as if waiting for an errant lover. It was once the favourite resort of Ottoman aristocrats who built their grand summer houses here, dozens of beautiful white jewels glittering against a backdrop of verdant jade. Not many remain today save for the deeply romantic white art nouveau mansion that was commissioned by Abbas Hilmi II, the last Khedive of Egypt, but it is still universally regarded as one of the few places that one can completely shrug off the increasingly frenetic pace of the city. As the mercury rises, the waterfront cafes throw open their shutters and move their tables outside to provide a place in which to sit, to share lunch with friends, to catch up on news and to discuss pressing matters (there are always pressing matters). Early last spring, we were two faces in that crowd, marvelling – as we always do – at the easy elegance of the people and their ability to live in the moment. We ate creamy cheese and spinach filo pies still warm from the oven alongside bowls of hummus, a fresh herb salad and pickled beets and, of course, tall thin glasses of Raki in which a single ice cube rattled. I am happiest at times like this, when there’s no plan but there are endless possibilities.
7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
A generous pinch of salt
400g of baby spinach leaves
200g good feta cheese
Zest of one lemon (optional)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
75ml whole milk (you can also use a good quality natural yoghurt)
1 large free range egg, beaten
20g fresh dill, finally chopped (optional)
x4 large sheets of filo pastry
Black and white sesame seeds, for garnishing
How I make it
Heat an oven to 180C.
In a large frying pan, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil. Add the onion, the garlic and a pinch of salt, cover and leave to sweat over a medium heat for around 15 minutes until they are sweet and translucent. Then add the spinach leaves in batches, allowing each batch to wilt before adding the next. Turn the mixture out into a large mixing bowl, crumble in the feta cheese, the lemon zest (if using) and add a generous grating of nutmeg.
In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk (or yoghurt), the egg and the remaining olive oil. Add the chopped dill (if using) and season to your taste.
Take a large pie dish and arrange the filo sheets over it, allowing each sheet to overhang the dish. Tumble in the spinach and cheese mixture and cover with the egg mixture. Gently fold over the overhanging filo sheets to cover the pie (check out this recipe for my Greek Spanakopita to see how it should look).
Brush with olive oil or melted butter and scatter with sesame seeds.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is softly set. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.