Byrek Me Spinaq is a popular Albanian food made with a creamy spinach, feta and ricotta filling which is layered with filo pastry and baked till golden. This spinach pie/ pite makes for a seriously delicious lunch or snack!
An Brief Overview of Albania
Albania has been on my list of countries I want to visit for a while now. From what I have heard, it is one of Southeastern Europe’s most overlooked destinations. Located along the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea, it’s home to some of the best beaches in Europe (minus the crowds you find in places like Greece or Croatia).
Not only does the scenery look stunning, but Albanian food also looks delicious. The cuisine is based around the Mediterranean diet, with olive oil, fruit, vegetables and fish being at the centre of many Albanian dishes. There is also still a strong rural culture where everyone grows their own food, so the produce is as fresh as it gets.
Some Albanian dishes root all the way back to the ancient Ottoman Empire. Nowadays the influence of Greece, Italy and Turkey is evident in much of the country’s cuisine. Albanian food can be further divided into various regional cuisines, with each of these based around the produce that grows in the area.
Popular Albanian Dishes:
- Fergese– a summer stew made of red peppers, feta, tomato, onions and yogurt
- Qifqi– Rice balls that are filled with spinach and herbs
- Flija– A type of crepe that is brushed with cream and served with sour cream
- Tarator– A Cold soup made of cucumber, garlic, walnut and fennel
- Byrek/ Pite– Albanian pie made with filo pastry that is stuffed with filling such as cheese, spinach or pumpkin
What is Albanian Byrek?
Byrek (also known as Burek or Börek depending on which country you are in) is a typical dish across many countries in the Balkans. It is is an Albanian pie made with filo pastry and filled with various things such as cheese, vegetables or meat.
Byrek is often baked in large pie dishes and cut into slices or squares. Byrek can also be shaped individually into rolls or triangles. This style of byrek is often sold on the streets in Albania.
What is the difference between Lakror, Pite and Byrek in Albania?
There are three different names given to Albanian pies:
- Lakror– an Albanian pie that is made batter instead of a pastry.
- Pite– made with filo pastry layered above and below the filling. In many parts of Albania, pite and byrek are the same things and the terms used interchangeably.
- Byrek– made up of the same layered filo pastry as Albanian pite, however often refers to the smaller, shaped version of the dish.
Types of Byrek in Albania
You’ll find many different types of byrek in Albania. Here are a few of the common types you will find:
- Byrek me spinaq (spinach pie)
- Byrek me djathë (cheese pie)
- Byrek me kungall (pumpkin pie)
- Byrek me mish (meat pie)
- Byrek me kos (yogurt pie)
You can also find byrek with many different combinations of the above fillings sold through Albania .
Making Byrek/ Albanian Pite
The first time Floss and I made byrek, we made a version of byrek me kungall (Albanian pumpkin pie). Despite our best efforts, the filling turned out to be a little bland. This time around, I decided to try a different filling. I went for a combination of byrek me spinaq (spinach) and byrek me djathë (cheese).
There is something about the combination of spinach and feta cheese works so wonderfully. Growing up, I always would get spinach and feta rolls from the bakery, so these flavours bring back a happy wave of nostalgia for me. I’m pleased to report that the filling combination was a success and the pie had the punch of flavour I was hoping for!
Ingredients for Byrek Me Spinaq (Spinach & Feta Pie)
Here’s what you need to make this delectable Albanian pie:
- Filo pastry– You can normally find filo (or phyllo) pastry in the frozen or chilled section of the supermarket. If you are using frozen filo pastry, make sure you allow time for it to thaw before using it for the recipe!
- Spinach- I would recommend using fresh spinach for this recipe, however you can substitute for frozen spinach. If you use frozen spinach, make sure you thaw and squeeze all the moisture from it before using.
- Spring Onion– Spring onion imparts a really great punch of flavour into the spinach feta filling so I would recommend using it. However, many recipes for byrek me spinaq using white onion or no onion at all, so feel free to leave it out.
- Feta Cheese– Use a high-quality feta or other hard white cheese (bonus points if you can get hold of Albania’s version of feta, kaçkavall!)
- Ricotta– You can sub the ricotta for cottage cheese, yogurt, cream cheese or sour cream. Any thick creamy dairy product will do the trick.
- Butter– You will need butter for brushing the layers of filo pastry, however you can subsistute for olive oil if needed.
Steps to making Byrek Me Spinaq
1. Preheat-oven and prepare spinach- Preheat oven 175˚C (350˚F) and grease a 23cm round springform tin with butter. Add a tablespoon of oil to a frying pan over medium heat. Add in chopped spinach leaves. Saute for 5 minutes or until wilted down. Place into colander and strain out any leftover liquid, then place spinach into a large mixing bowl.
2. Make spinach feta mixture- To the bowl of wilted spinach, add spring onion, garlic, lemon zest, feta, ricotta, eggs, salt and pepper. Mix until well-comined.
3. Compile byrek– Brush one sheet of filo pastry at a time with melted butter. Place into the bottom of the baking tin. Some of pastry will hang over edge. Repeat with five more sheets of filo, changing the direction in which you put the sheet in the tin each time to ensure even edges. Pour in spinach feta filling. Top with six more sheets of filo pastry, spreading with melted butter each time.
4. Cook byrek– Tightly fold in the overhanging filo pastry to seal up the pie. Brush top with another layer of melted butter. Place in the oven and bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven, leave to cool for 5 minutes before slicing up and serving.
Serving Suggestions for Spinach & Feta Filo Pie
In Albania, byrek is typically eaten as breakfast, as an appetizer or as a snack. However, everytime I make it, I have ended up serving it as a main meal with a big side salad. If you want to have it alongside some otherAlbanian dishes, you can serve it with sallatë të thjeshtë (a simple Albanaian salad), dolma (stuffed vine leaves) and tarator (cucumber yogurt).
Try these other street food recipes:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 300g fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
- 3 spring onions, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 150g feta, crumbled
- 150g ricotta
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/3 cup butter, melted
- 12 sheets fresh phyllo dough
- Preheat oven 175˚C (350˚F) and grease a 23cm round springform tin with butter.
- Add a tablespoon of oil to a frying pan over medium heat. Add in chopped spinach leaves. Saute for 5 minutes or until wilted down. Place into a colander and strain out any leftover liquid, then place spinach into a large mixing bowl.
To the bowl of wilted spinach, add spring onion, garlic, lemon zest, feta, ricotta, eggs, salt and pepper. Mix until well-combined.
- Brush one sheet of filo pastry at a time with melted butter. Place into the bottom of the baking tin, allowing some of the pastry to hang over the edge. Repeat with five more sheets of filo, changing the direction in which you put the sheet in the tin each time to ensure even edges. Pour in spinach feta filling. Top with six more sheets of filo pastry, spreading with melted butter each time.
- Tightly fold in the overhanging filo pastry to seal up the pie. Brush top with another layer of melted butter. Place in the oven and bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven, leave to cool for 5 minutes before slicing up and serving.
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