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It’s all Greek to me: making phyllo at an Athens cooking class

Greece is the land of flowing olive oil, crispy phyllo dough, and honey-soaked sweets. Prior to my travels in Greece, though, my cooking skills could be classified as a Greek comedy on a good day and a tragedy on the others. I signed up for an Athens cooking class with Traveling Spoon in an attempt to elevate my skills, with hopes of creating something worthy of the Greek gods. 

I took a bento box class with Traveling Spoon in Japan and had an amazing time, so I was excited to partner with the company again for this experience. Traveling Spoon offers 14 cooking classes in Greece. After perusing the options of traditional Greek cooking classes, Mediterranean and island cuisine and family recipes, we booked a Greek phyllo class with Christina. 

Learn to make phyllo at a Traveling Spoon Athens cooking class

Have you ever met someone who just oozes cool? Christina is a tour guide/ pastry chef/ DJ whose apartment is an amalgamation of old school Nintendo, books in multiple languages, and nods to her Greek culture. She brewed Greek coffee over a mini propane tank as she introduced herself and explained why offering phyllo classes is so important to her.  

Greek coffee

Learn to make phyllo dough in Athens cooking class 

It is believed that the paper-thin phyllo was first made in Greece in the 3rd century BC as a food for nomads and impoverished people. Although not complicated, making phyllo is a time-consuming process. Each layer must be rolled until it’s so thin, you can read the newspaper through the layer. In today’s “I want it now” culture, those who still roll their own phyllo by hand are becoming rarer with each passing year. Christina started hosting tourists for phyllo pastry classes to ensure the ancient traditions are not lost to history and says she hopes each guest goes home and shows their friends how to make phyllo dough, too. 

Spanakotiropita

Although the country boasts 120 different types of pie, we made a traditional spanakotiropita (that’s spinach and cheese) pie. 

Feta

The recipe calls for feta, which accounts for 70% of the country’s cheese consumption. Did you know feta is like champagne? Much like the hummus war between Israel and Lebanon, Greece fought to be the one true home of feta cheese. They won the title when the European Court of Justice decided that the grasses eaten by resilient sheep and goats on the hillsides in Greece produce a flavor that’s unable to be reproduced elsewhere. Now, only feta made in Greece can be called ‘feta’ without a modifier in front (ie. Australian feta or Danish feta).

Feta is a salty cheese made with a minimum of 70% sheep milk— the remainder is goat milk. Depending on where the sheep graze, the flavor and density of the feta changes. Typically, feta from the north is mild and soft, while cheese from the south is hard and salty. No matter where it’s from, I’m a huge fan! 

Feta in spanakotiropita filling

Spanakotiropita filling

To complete the filling of our pie, we mixed spinach, leek, garlic, and dill with the feta and a whole lot of olive oil for our filling. 

Spanakotiropita filling

Next up: rolling the phyllo. Christina showed us how to use a large rolling pin to transform the dough ball into a flat disc. Then, we used a long, skinny dowel to flatten the disc. I couldn’t believe how thin the dough became… you really could read a newspaper through it!

Learning to make phyllo dough at a Greek cooking class Athens

First, we brushed the baking tin before layering the first two sheets of phyllo. Next, we added half the yummy filling and covered it with another sheet of phyllo. After that, we added the remainder of the filling and the final phyllo layer. After a generous brushing of olive oil, the pie went into the oven to get crispy and golden. 

Traveling Spoon Athens cooking class spanakotiropita

Enjoy a homemade Greek lunch

While the pie baked, Christina set the table with a mouthwatering spread of traditional Greek food. The eggplant plaki is a tasty combination of eggplant, onions, garlic, olive oil, grated tomatoes, salt, pepper and oregano, baked in the oven. Plaki is a term used for all Greek dishes in a red sauce.

Traveling Spoon Athens meal

Christina explained that the chicken with baby potatoes, garlic, olive oil and lemon is a typical Sunday dish. The meat and potatoes are baked in a ceramic Dutch oven made on the Greek island of Sifnos. If you already love cooking Greek food, Sifnos may sound familiar to you… it’s the birthplace of Nikolaos Tselementes, the man who influenced the way modern Greeks eat (think Greece’s Julia Child). In the early 1900s, he launched a cooking magazine, with recipes, cooking news and nutrition advice. He later published a cookbook, Odigos Mageirikis. Today, Tselementes is synonymous with cookbook, and Greeks often use his surname to refer to anyone who can cook well.

Greek spoon sweet

The meal ended with a spoon sweet, a piece of fruit preserved in a sweet sugar syrup. In Greece, it’s customary to offer a sweet as a symbol of hospitality. Most Greeks keep some spoon sweets on hand, since this is a treat that will never go bad! 

After a day with Christina, I’m a regular Tselementes! If you’re visiting Athens, book a cooking class with Christina and join the growing number of travelers keeping the ancient art of phyllo alive!

Note: Traveling Spoon hosted me for this cooking class. As always, all opinions are my own and I’ll never recommend anything to you that’s not awesome! 

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