Though it’s still more than a week till summer officially starts, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the thermometer. The days are hot interrupted by a few storms, a walk through the garden yields a handful of assorted ripe berries and the sweet smell of the profusely flowering honeysuckle at our back door lures me out to spend evenings lying in the hammock. But as far as the weather is concerned there are no guarantees around here and this might very well be all the summer we’ll get this year. We’re trying to make the most of it, no pressure.
We’re harvesting a lot of lettuce from the garden now and this abundance combined with the summer-like conditions, means that salad for dinner is the name of the game. But not having four stomachs, we can’t live on lettuce alone which means it’s usually salad + something. The something can be anything from a humble hard boiled egg to almost-fancy filo parcels filled with a mixture of chickpeas, spinach and feta.
The recipe is from Jamie Oliver’s book 15-Minute Meals and the first time I made it, I followed it to the letter. It was fast (though not 15-minute-fast) and easy, but I was not impressed with the flavor. Presumably because the book includes information on calories and fat, some misguided attempts are made to keep the calorie count down, such as omitting the customary brushing of the filo with melted butter or olive oil (in other recipes it is the use of fat free dairy which I consider equally misguided). It’s true that if you do not do that, there will be less calories, but you also end up with unpleasantly dry baked dough. Food that is in some way lacking and unsatisfying, is more likely to result in raiding the fridge later on which nullifies the effect of leaving out a bit of oil.
Also, the recipe assumes that one parcel per person is enough, but when you’re feeding a teenager, a runner, an almost-teenager and, uhm, me, it is definitely not. So I made a few changes, e.g. cooking the spinach first, adding mint, garlic and chili powder, brushing the dough with olive oil and baking the parcels in the oven, instead of frying first and then baking (that is actually a simplification!). The parcels take a little more time to make now, but the extra minutes are well worth it!
Chickpeas, spinach and feta parcels
Adapted from Jamie Oliver: 15-Minute Meals
100 g (3 ounces) fresh spinach
400 g (2 ½ cups) cooked chickpeas, drained (tinned chickpeas are fine)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried chili powder
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
120 g (4 ounces) feta cheese
filo dough (8 large rectangular sheets or 16 smaller square sheets – depending on the brand you buy)
3 tbsp olive oil
Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 F)
Wash spinach well and let it wilt in a covered pot over medium heat. You want it to be tender but not overcooked. Put the cooked spinach in a colander and squeeze out excess water. Chop the spinach.
Pulse the chickpeas in a food processor a few times, to make them fine but do not turn them into a paste. In a medium bowl, combine the chickpeas, spinach, garlic, chili and fresh mint. Crumble the feta over the bowl, mix and season the filling with salt and pepper to taste.
Take out the sheets of filo and cover them with a damp towel or they’ll become brittle in no time. Depending on the size of your sheets, either brush half with oil and fold over (if they are large rectangles) or stack two on top of each other if they are squares (as mine were). Basically, you want a double layer square of about 20 cm (8 inches). Put about three tablespoons of the filling in the middle of the square, bring the sides up and pinch into a parcel. Because my parcels kept opening even after I brushed the dough with a bit of water, I used string to tie them together. Whether you need to do that depends on your dough, but the string does look cute. Repeat 7 more times and place the finished parcels on an oiled baking sheet. Brush the outside of the parcels with oil and bake until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with a big salad.