Kale Spanakopita with Harissa Sauce and Mint Oil

By Annie Wu
Annie Wu
Annie Wu
Annie Wu joined the full-time staff at the Epoch Times in July 2014. That year, she won a first-place award from the New York Press Association for best spot news coverage. She is a graduate of Barnard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
May 26, 2016 Updated: October 8, 2018

Kale Spanakopita with Harissa Sauce and Mint Oil


Traditional Greek spanakopita consists of a flaky filo crust filled with spinach and feta cheese, flavored with garlic, onion, and herbs. But anything spinach can do, kale can do better. Its hearty texture and mildly sweet flavor take spanakopita to another level.

Spanakopita is usually formed into delicate little triangles. When I was growing up, my nanny used to make Moroccan “cigars,” with a spicy ground beef filling hand-rolled in crisp, flaky filo wrappers. I took that as my inspiration and form my spanakopita into fat cigars—which are better for dipping and hold together better anyway.

While I don’t recommend refrigerating the assembled spanakopita (it becomes soggy), it can be made ahead and frozen: Arrange the spanakopita in a single layer on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until solid. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag and store in the freezer for up to 2 months. You do not need to thaw the spanakopita before baking.

Number Serves

4 to 6

Amount Makes

36 pieces


  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pounds kale, washed, dried, tough center ribs removed, and leaves finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (about 14 ounces) crumbled Kite Hill almond ricotta
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh dill
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) Earth Balance butter stick, melted
  • Half of a 1-pound package filo dough, such as Athens (eighteen 9-by-14 inch sheets), thawed but kept refrigerated
  • Harissa Sauce (recipe follows)
  • ¼ cup Mint Oil (recipe follows)


Put a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the grapeseed oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and sauté until very soft, about 4 minutes. Add the kale in handfuls, folding the leaves over with a spoon until each batch is wilted before adding more. Once all the kale is in the pan, season with the red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper.

Transfer the kale mixture to a colander set over a bowl or in the sink. Using the back of a spoon, gently press out all of the excess liquid. Spread the kale out on a baking sheet and set aside to cool; the kale needs to be completely cool to prevent the dough from becoming soggy. (The kale can be prepared a couple of hours in advance, covered, and refrigerated.)

Transfer the cooled kale to a cutting board and coarsely chop. Then transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in the almond ricotta, dill, and mint until well combined. Season with salt and black pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush two baking sheets with some of the melted butter substitute.

Unroll the filo dough and lay one sheet on a work surface. (Keep the remaining filo covered with a damp—not wet—towel as you work to prevent it from drying out and becoming brittle.) Brush the sheet with melted butter substitute. Stack a second sheet of filo on top and brush with melted butter substitute, then repeat the process with another sheet of filo, so you have three buttered layers.

With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the sheets lengthwise into 3-inch-wide strips. Cut the pieces crosswise in half, so you end up with 6 pieces. Place a heaping tablespoon of the kale-ricotta filling near the bottom of one filo strip. Fold the sides over, then fold the bottom up to encase the filling. Tightly roll up the filo away from you, to form a cigar-shaped spanakopita. Place on one of the prepared baking sheets, seam side down, and cover with plastic wrap while you fill and roll the remaining strips. Repeat the process until all of the filo sheets are layered, cut, filled, and rolled.

Brush the tops of the spanakopita cigars with the remaining melted butter substitute. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until crisp and golden. Serve hot or warm, with the harissa sauce, dotted with the mint oil, on the side for dipping.

Harissa Sauce

Makes 1½ cups

Harissa gives this fresh tomato sauce a vibrant kick, without being overly hot or spicy.

  • 2 tablespoons Earth Balance butter stick
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, stemmed
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • 2½ tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes 
  • 2 tablespoons harissa spice mix

Put a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the butter substitute. When it has melted, add the tomatoes, shallot, and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes soften and collapse, 8 to 10 minutes.

Pour in the wine and cook until the liquid is almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in the nutritional yeast flakes and remove from the heat.

Working in batches, carefully ladle the mixture into a blender, filling it no more than halfway, and adding half the harissa spice mix and a pinch of salt and pepper to each batch. (If you have an immersion blender, this is a great time to use it.)

Puree the sauce for a few seconds, until completely smooth (be sure to hold down the lid with a kitchen towel for safety). Pour the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the solids.

The sauce keeps covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days; reheat gently before serving.

Mint Oil

Makes ½ cup

Herb-infused oils are a quick way to add flavor to a dish. Blanching and shocking the mint first helps it retain its vibrant color. This recipe also works well with fresh basil or parsley.

  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves with tender stems
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl halfway with water and adding a tray of ice cubes.

Blanch the mint in the boiling water for about 20 seconds and then, using a slotted spoon, transfer to the ice bath to cool quickly. Drain again, wrap the mint in cheesecloth or a dish towel, and twist it tightly to wring out the excess liquid.

Put the mint in a blender and pour in the oil. Puree until well blended and dark green, about 2 minutes. Pour the oil through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl or container, pressing down on the mint with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much flavor as possible; discard the leaves. Season the herb oil with the salt.

(Excerpted from Crossroads by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Lisa Romerein.)

Annie Wu
Annie Wu
Annie Wu joined the full-time staff at the Epoch Times in July 2014. That year, she won a first-place award from the New York Press Association for best spot news coverage. She is a graduate of Barnard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.