One father’s spankopita synthesis crossed three continents: NPR

Constantine Tsioulcas is holding her daughter Anastasia as a child.

Thanks to Anastasia Tsioulcas


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Thanks to Anastasia Tsioulcas

Constantine Tsioulcas is holding her daughter Anastasia as a child.

Thanks to Anastasia Tsioulcas

My father gave me strict instructions: Your sole purpose should be to code a thin, almost transparent file of flour. To use as a blanket for a mood fellow, you need melted butter and some clean, wet kitchen towels that are hidden with you. Prepare your fillings in advance and make sure you are not mistaken. All Drain the spinach with another towel, or two, or three. (There will be more water than you can think of in terms of vegetables. You will use lots of kitchen towels.) Work as fast as you can, but don’t be afraid.

That’s how my father, Constantine Seoulkas, taught me to make spanakopitaThe spinach pie he grew up eating in Alexandria, Egypt, the city in which he was born and raised.

Our family version, from generation to generation, demands from Greece to Egypt and then back, individually wrapped triangles that represent the many layers of crisp, flaky pastry. We have no green mud bricks. On the contrary, the filling is very simple: spinach, some nice sharp feta cheese, a touch of freshly chopped nutmeg, some lightly boiled garlic, a little salt and some healthy grind, as well as those delicate flour leaves and they are unclean. Quantity That’s what butter is. (Technically, this dish should be called spanakotiropita – Spinach And Cheese pie – but that’s a lot of words for Americans, as my dad would boldly admit.)

Papa guided me through laying a large, rectangular sheet of file, brushing it with butter, and then quickly laying another sheet on top. “Hurry up, cover the rest of the fellow with a towel,” he would remind me, as the dough would dry out and break almost immediately if not covered again.

We will cut the sheet into three long strips, and brush each ribbon of the flour with melted butter before filling a little in the bottom corner of the dough. We then attach the pie to ourselves and repeatedly to the tightly wound triangle, as we formally attach the military flag.

Whenever Papa matched the spankopita filling consignment, he would always say to me, “No eggs! This is not a catch.” But I could hear how he liked the word. quiche Even as he mocked its unparalleled, ground-breaking height. French was their third language. English, its fourth. He loved French. He called himself mine Dad Following the French approach, no. Dad As we will do in Greek or Arabic.

My mother, an American, happened to meet him in Athens. She was a tourist in her thirties. He had barely passed his teenage years, an aspiring painter working as a waiter to help his struggling family. They, like many minority communities in Egypt, were forcibly evicted and recently settled in the Greek capital, a place that belonged to them and not to them.

The convenience of my father’s language became his destiny: the day he met my mother, Papa was the only waiter on duty who spoke English and so he was placed on his desk. He was immediately beaten, and told, “You think I’m just a waiter, but I’m an artist.” Somehow – really, incomprehensibly – this pick-up line worked. She agreed to a quick coffee date before leaving town. After that, they corresponded with postcards and letters. After a while my mother moved to Athens again, this time to marry him.

Immediately after their marriage, they separated for months. She returned to the United States without him. During his association with the postal mail, a military dictatorship seized power in Greece, and he could not leave the country without permission – once again at the mercy of major political currents in such a country. Found on Karam what he thought he could safely claim. He finally managed to get behind it to the icy, broken Boston, where the cold, gray ocean was nothing like the magnificent beaches he had just left twice.

Her real idea was to stay in the United States for a while, wait for the people to land in Greece a few months before their wedding, and then return to Athens. That did not happen. I was born as their only child a few months before the end of Colonel Raj, and he decided to stay in the country for now. It was a temporary decision that haunted him for the rest of his life.

Papa never cried with most Greek-Americans, the community with which he was ideologically very close. They were not alone. Egyptian Like: Cosmopolitan, fluent in many languages ​​and well-read, more formal and a little more than a snowman. (“These are goats and villagers,” he would say to the trash.) He was a foreigner who had trouble returning to a house that no longer existed. He tried to hide his loneliness. While waiting for the paint to dry on his canvas, he went for a long walk along the rocky, monochromatic coastline, which was different from the Mediterranean blues of the Cornish of Alexandria.

Then Pirazai“he said.” It doesn’t matter.

Dad died of a heart attack in his sleep shortly after I was 14 years old. He was only 41 years old. My mother, who had always struggled with her mental health, was completely separated after her death and largely retreated into her own world.

After Papa’s death, I remembered him very little, but some of his recipes were in my memory and fingers. Years later, when I got married, I gave my spankopita recipe to caterers so that it could be served as part of our wedding meal. It was one of the many memories of my father that I used during the day in the almost secret language of family love.

I skipped the garlic when I gave them our recipe, thinking that the wedding guests would probably prefer not to sweat or stink, which is predicted to be a hot and gloomy night in June. ۔ Caterers told me they were a little worried about working with Fellows, a component they hadn’t yet mastered. That was before the Fellows became such a Horse Divorce Clutch.

No problem, I told them. All you need is a little confidence, a few tricks and some extra butter on hand, just in case. I taught them how to save flour. I carefully wrote detailed instructions on how to fold each small spinach and cheese packet into an exact triangle, which was the ideal size to pass around – individual belts that, when baked, flaky, bronze and Scattered will become crisp, thanks to their generosity of melted butter. On our wedding day, the spankopita turned out beautiful, although I did not remember the garlic. I heard guests praise the caterers for the dish.

Several months later, I noticed that our Spinkopita recipe had just been published. Glutton Every element of the magazine was there, in the proportions I would go through: phyllo, butter, spinach, feta, nutmeg, salt, pepper. No garlic. Really, lots of butter, but if you have a Fellow Emergency, you’ll have plenty of extra. And I had the exact instructions on how to wrap the spankopita in a pretty little parcel, neatly wrapped like a flag. Papa’s recipe was now in the world but uprooted, just like my father.

You can still find this Spinkopita recipe online, with a beautiful picture of these bronze, flaky triangles and a completely charming picture, with a cut open in which the spinach and cheese are cashed in. Tasteful filling is shown.

Who knows what happened Maybe someone gave or sold the magazine, or maybe one of the caterers worked there. Maybe someone made it for a friend or for a party, and this recipe will reach someone else, just like the cute recipes do. I will never know

Online, this recipe has received dozens of reviews, although many chefs have written that they have added eggs or lemon juice or pulses or parsley or onions or almost any other ingredients that are delicious and culturally appropriate, but Purity and light. This special, elemental spankopita with the strongest, no catch.

Others mention that they have included all kinds of innovations, such as, Panagia mou, Cheddar cheese or raisins. raisin! When Americans were only discovering Mediterranean food, Papa would often spit, “What happens to these aliens and make them aliens by putting raisins in every dish?”

He liked to mix multiple languages ​​in one sentence, expecting me to act like a proper Alexandrian. When he would give me an opinion about such “foreigners” about his American-born daughter, he would sometimes use the Greek language: Frank Sometimes he would say instead ifrang – Arabic, and almost the same word: literally, “Franks”, whose natural westernity made them a complete mystery. In any language, he could have used a more appealing and general word for “foreign”, but he liked the medieval wordplay and the high-drama of his choice of words, which made our squat in the small kitchen. Re-enacted an ancient East-West war. And for him, Greek and Arabic were twin languages, although one of them was a playmate who had to leave him at the sudden end of his childhood.

Then Pirazi. His Alexandria disappeared decades ago, and my father has been around for a long time now, much longer than I knew him alive. The copy I received as a rare and valuable legacy is just another of millions. Anyone who passes by can’t hear Papa complaining about Frank and his raisins. Nor will such a cook necessarily care. People will do whatever they want.

One of my wishes is that those who try this recipe enjoy the process of brushing the butter on the flour, adding the fellows over and over again. I hope that when they cut into one piece, they enjoy the crumbling crisp layers of phyllo and the simple interplay of spinach and feta. Papa’s spankopita will never mean the same thing to them as it does to me, but it will still be delicious.

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