Monday, June 6, 2011

Greek snacking

I like to snack. No, I love to snack. I'd probably say that there are many times when I prefer it to regular sitting-at-the-table-and-eating-out-of-a-plate kind of thing. Anyone with me on this?

Of course when most people hear the word snack, their minds immediately jump to unhealthy food. Packaged, processed foods like potato chips and cheese puffs. That's not the kind of snacks I'm talking about even though just between you and me, I can't say no to these Greek potato chips with oregano or these chips that I found here in Holland, ever.

A bag of fresh baby carrots, baby roma tomatoes or mini cucumbers, various fruit like cherries and grapes, homemade sandwiches, kritharokouloures and nuts have always been my go-to snacks but nothing, absolutely nothing, beats good homemade Greek pies.

Greek pies come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and they are the quintessence of Greek food. They can have a number of different fillings and the dough can be made with various ingredients and in different ways thus giving each pie a distinctive texture and taste.

Meat, cheese, greens, olives; these are the preferred pie fillings. The main ingredient is usually mixed with herbs like dried oregano, mint, fresh dill or parsley and the amount of filling is always subject to personal preference. The dough that is most used for pies is phyllo but us Greeks also love puff pastry as well as kourou, which is a type of short crust pastry.

Feta cheese is the most popular ingredient for filling any kind of pie and I have to admit, it is one of my personal favorites. Cheese pie or tyropita is sold in every bakery across Greece and it's only rival is another classic pie, spanakopita (spinach pie).

There are as many recipes for pies as there are Greek cooks. Everyone has their own recipe that they swear by and this is mine. Well, my grandmother's to be exact but I don't think she'll mind me sharing it with you. These individual cheese pies (tyropitakia) and meat pies (kreatopitakia) are the taste of home for me. I literally grew up on these.

The melt-in-your-mouth dough is made with Greek strained yoghurt and a generous amount of butter and once baked in the oven, it becomes puffy, flaky and crispy on the edges. The filling of the cheese pie is the glorious Greek feta which is combined with just one egg that allows the tangy, creamy flavor of the cheese to shine through, whereas the filling of the meat pies is lean minced beef that is sautéed in a skillet with onions and finished off with a good sprinkling of chopped fresh dill.

Eaten while sitting in front of the computer, trying to work, write a post or getting lost in pinning inspirations on this site, munched while watching Roland Garros on tv (I'm a huge Nadal fan by the way), nibbled while riding the train back home from work or shared among fellow protesters/indignados in every large city in Greece, these pies are the portable dream snack.

Tyropitakia & Kreatopitakia (Greek Individual Cheese Pies & Meat Pies)

I like making my individual pies rather substantial. I like a lot of filling. Feel free to make them smaller if you want.

The dough for these pies is a version of the Greek kourou dough, made with yoghurt and butter which is the best version in my opinion. There are other versions that contain margarine, olive oil (like this one) and are made with or without yoghurt.

I always grate the onion in a large box grater for the meat pie filling. This way the onion is less crunchy and gives a different overall texture to the filling. If you can't bother grating the onions, you can whiz them in the food processor until they are almost puréed.

Greeks always choose veal over beef, we don’t particularly enjoy the mature flavor of beef, but you can use either.

If you don't like the flavor of nigella seeds use white instead or skip them altogether. I usually sprinkle with seeds just the cheese pies.

Yield: 35 individual pies (17 cheese & 18 meat pies) about 14 cm long and 4 cm wide each


for the dough
800 g self-rising flour
½ tsp sea salt
380 g unsalted butter, softened
480 g Greek strained yoghurt, preferably 2% fat (Total brand is the one I use)

for the cheese filling
300 g feta cheese
1 large egg

for the beef filling
2 large onions, around 370 g total
260 g lean veal or beef, minced
40 ml (a little less than 3 Tbsp) olive oil
20 g (a small bunch) dill, finely chopped
50 ml water
Black pepper, freshly ground

1 small egg, beaten, for brushing over the pies
3-4 Tbsp nigella seeds, for sprinkling over the pies

Special equipment: grater with coarse grating surface, stand mixer (optional), large baking trays, baking paper


for the dough
In a large bowl, add the flour and salt and stir with a spoon. Add the rest of the ingredients for the dough and knead with your hands until you have a smooth dough that is pliable and somewhat soft but doesn't stick to your hands. Don't overwork the dough because it will tighten up and be tough when you bake the pies.
Note: Alternatively, you can make the dough in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment.

Shape the dough into a ball and let it rest in the bowl at room temperature for 15 minutes, covered with a clean kitchen towel. If the temperature in your kitchen is very hot, put the dough in the fridge for 10 minutes instead.

for the beef filling
In the meantime, grate the onions using a box grater (coarse grating surface) and add them to a large skillet/frying pan. Add the olive oil and cook over medium heat until the liquid from the onions has evaporated, for about 8 minutes. The onions shouldn't be browned. Add the minced beef and sauté lightly stirring often. Add the freshly ground pepper, chopped dill and water and let beef cook for 10-12 minutes over low heat. Don't put the lid on and make sure to stir regularly. Add salt and take pan off the heat.
The filling should not be very wet otherwise the pies will be soggy.
Allow the filling to cool.

for the cheese filling
Grate the feta cheese using a box grater (coarse grating surface) and put it in a medium-sized bowl. Break the egg inside the bowl and stir with a spoon until you have a homogenous mixture.

Roll out the dough
Divide the dough into 35 pieces and shape them into balls the size of a small mandarin. Working on a clean surface, take each ball and roll it into a croquette shape (see photographs above).

Note: as far as the dough is prepared and kneaded properly, you will not need to flour it in order to shape it and roll it out. Also, you will not need a rolling pin but just your hands since the dough is pliable.

Take each croquette-shaped dough piece and using your fingertips, press the dough outwards in order to spread it open and create 17 x 9 cm rectangles with a thickness of around 0,4 cm.

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius.

Prepare the cheese & meat pies
Place the filling along the center of each rectangle lengthwise.
For the cheese pies place 3/4-1 Tbsp of filling and for the meat pies 1-1½ Tbsp of filling on each piece of dough. Don't spread the filling towards the edges of the dough because you'll not be able to seal them properly.
Fold the dough over the filling and pinch the edges together, pressing down to form rolls and tuck the two far edges inwards (see these photographs). Place the pies, seam side down and spacing them well apart because they will puff up during baking, on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
Brush the pies with the beaten egg and sprinkle some with all of them with the nigella seeds.

Place them on the middle rack of the oven and bake them for about 40 minutes, until they take on a golden-brown color.
Take them out of the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool.
Continue baking the rest of the pies.

Eat them the same day, warm or at room temperature. They are equally delicious the next day without the dough becoming soggy and losing its crispy and buttery texture.

Keep them at room temperature, lightly covered with aluminum foil, for a day or two although I highly doubt they'll last that long.


  1. These are simply delightful! Beautiful.

  2. lovely post and explanation. the story is familiar in middle eastern families - so many pies, so many recipes. your dough looks absolutely fantastic!

  3. You guys know how to snack right in Greece. These look simply fab!!

  4. You're killing me with this post because now I can't think of anything else than these rolls with feta cheese. So good! I love to snack too but not junk food so these look perfect. Have to try and find some good Greek yoghurt here though as I only found some already flavoured stuff which I don't like. Ah, watching tennis is heaven (although I'm a Federer fan myself) and I'm already thinking of Wimbledon, my favourite tournament.

    Didn't get around to commenting on your wonderful last post but I'm with you on hating iphones and I'd never have one.

  5. I usually make big savoury pies. I may steal you dough the next time, it looks so flavourful and flaky. With snacks like this one, who'd bother with a 'proper' meal?

  6. These look so delicious. This phyllo is one of the tastiest and is called "kourou". I have used this phyllo many times and in fact last week I made a kotopita with kourou phyllo.

  7. What delicious looking pies you made! I am dying to try your dough recipe out - I love eating these kinds of pies in Greece and would never dream o finding something like them here in Oregon and most likely not in CA either. I would be noshing these with some vino whilst blogging, no doubt! Pure inspiration.

  8. I have to admit, now that it is almost lunchtime, that I am partial to that meat pie. And, now you got me hooked on pinterest...

  9. Yum!!! These look so good and fairly straightforward! They would be perfect for picnics and taking on hikes. One question - do they freeze well? Thanks again for a beautiful post, Magda! David

  10. Oh yes, now these little numbers are truly spectacular. Thanks so much for the awesome tutorial too. I'm so inspired to have a go at these. I love a good snack - I think I'm one of those grazing people, I'd rather graze all day & night picking bits & pieces that take my fancy rather than sit down meals too. Now, that would be bliss :)

  11. I am going to try this dough; I really like how your little pies turned out. Can't wait!

  12. Belinda, Yasmeen, Nisrine — thank you!

    Emily Vanessa — I can't believe you can't find Greek yoghurt in Berlin. That's impossible!
    Federer fan huh? Well, he's ok ;)

    cafettierarossa — you have to try the dough, it is amazing!

    Ivy — yes. I've mentioned that it's kourou, well, a version of kourou actually. Kotopita sounds great.

    Anna — thanks! Do try them, with some vino... perfect!

    Nuts about food — it's a lunchtime (day)dream these pies :)

    David — hmmm, I have no idea :) I've never frozen these but I don't think that should be a problem.

    Anna Johnston — glad not be alone in this ;)

    Joumana — if you give it a try let me know how you liked it.

  13. It's the dough that has grabbed my attention---just 4 ingredients, and it comes together so beautifully--pliable, and full of flavor, before you add your filling. a perfect snack for sure.

  14. Wow! These look really amazing!

  15. Yes, I'm with you. These look like the type of snack I would love to bit into right now.

  16. They look so cute! And I admit I really like using feta as a filling as it's so full of flavour :D

  17. omg! these look amazing:) wow! you are so talented. thank you for sharing this.

  18. I've never seen these before, but they look amazing! I can't wait to try making them myself - the look like the ideal snack :)

  19. The meat or the cheese ones? I can't decide which look more tempting.

  20. Both look amazing and I'm so with you on the snacking =). And these pies can be eaten one-handed which is a must when my little guy loves to nap on me during the day...

  21. I love the look of the dough....and portable snacks are a must-have - welcome every day/time of the week!!!!!!!!!!

  22. this is what i call snacking, thank you for sharing a wonderful greek snack. I appreciate the step by step and background info!


  23. These look and sound amazing! I'm a snacker too. What a treat!!

  24. these look amazing! They are a bit similar to the Turkish pides, I think? But I like these shapes better - snack time! :)

  25. Anh — thanks! These are nothing like pide actually. Pide is sort of a Turkish pizza, made with a yeasted dough.

  26. I tried them and as it was expected, the step by step explanations and photos, worked so nicely!!! Delicious!!!
    Next time I will try to replace a third of the feta cheese with Parmesan, just to give it a bit of a twist!
    Magda, thank you again! This is now my only favorite recipe website!

    1. Hi Antony! Thank you so much for trying my recipes and I'm so glad you enjoy them. Replacing some of the feta for Parmesan sounds like a great idea.

  27. These look great! Can i substitute ricotta for feta? Do these freeze well after baking?

    1. Hi there. You can substitute for ricotta but you will have to add more salt as ricotta is a bit bland, unlike feta. Or you can mix a bit of grated parmesan or pecorino (or the Greek graviera or kefalotyri if you can find them) with the ricotta to give it more flavor. I have never tried freezing them so can't really tell you.