My mother always used to say “if you can read, you can cook”, implying that being able to follow a recipe will invariably lead to something delicious, or at minimum edible, on your plate. I tend to agree with her and repeat this motto to those who vehemently argue that they “just can’t cook!”. I don’t believe anybody is incapable of cooking, but I do understand why things can go wrong in the kitchen. Inattention to detail, reading the instructions incorrectly, following bad recipes; all of these things can lead to beautiful ingredients being delivered in a charred, disgusting, and inedible heap.
Alternatively, cooking can go awry when creativity is brought into the mix. Given my various self-imposed food restrictions, I frequently replace key ingredients in a recipe. Generally, this is not a problem. But sometimes, I find that my zeal has backfired. For example, a few days ago I was trying to make my mother’s famous Pascualina (typical Uruguayan spinach pie) with alternate ingredients. I’ve made this Pascualina so many times in my gluten-friendly past that I know the recipe almost by heart; it is so easy to make and utterly delicious, a real crowd pleaser, if you will. But this time, I had replaced the 2 cups of white flour with half quinoa flour and half sprouted spelt flour. The dough was just not working! It was hard and crumbly and every time I tried to roll it out with the pin, the corners would break up. I couldn’t get it thinner than 2 inches without it falling apart. I started screaming and yelling, shaking my fists, pulling my hair, it was really not a pleasant sight. Having finished off all the flour I had in my kitchen, with the beautiful finished spinach stuffing sitting on the stovetop, I grabbed the doughy mass and made my way to throw it into the garbage can, thinking maybe I could salvage the spinach and make something else.
This was when my husband stepped in, grabbed the dough out of my hands, and took control. This man is amazing. His patience is nearly infinite, even though I have worn it down slightly over the years… He put the dough back into the bowl, splashed in some extra water, added in some more oil, and even added in some potato starch. Then he took the rolling pin and very slowly began to roll out the dough, working carefully, closing the gaps that formed on the edge of the dough, until it was large enough to put into the pan. Success!! My husband had saved the Pascualina! It was a miracle. A miracle born of patience- which is not a trait that runs in my family, unfortunately. My parents, sister and I always hated patience – we have no time for it! Instead, we are too busy running around like crazy headless chickens. But, as my husband has taught me, impatience will naturally lead to a garbage can full of uncooked dough. Patience, on the other hand, can result in a spectacular steaming spinach pie.
So, here is my mother’s amazing recipe. Use it with patience and you will be rewarded.
- Spinach (I used to make this with one very large bag of frozen spinach. However, this past time I used about 20 oz of fresh uncut baby spinach and it was great. If you go the frozen route, make sure you defrost it first and squeeze out the excess water so that the filling is not wet.)
- 1 large diced onion
- Several cloves of garlic
- 3 eggs (divided)
- 1/3 cup of nutritional yeast (the original recipe calls for parmesan. If using parm instead, add as much as you want and don’t add any salt)
- 2 cups of flour (I did half quinoa, half sprouted spelt- the original recipe calls for white flour)
- 1/3 cup of psyllium seed husk (not necessary if using gluten-based flour)
- 6 tbsp of vegetable or olive oil
- 1/3 cup of almond milk (you can also use regular milk here or kefir)
- 1/3 cup of water
- salt and pepper
- dried thyme and/or oregano
- some organic sugar (coconut sugar works fine here) optional
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Make the dough first: In a bowl, combine the flour and psyllium seed husk with a pinch of salt. Heat the water and milk until it is warm (about 130 degrees). Slowly add in the oil, mixing until incorporated. Then add the warm liquid mix into the flour until the dough has formed into a ball- it should be soft and slightly oily to the touch. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
In a pan, cook the diced onion and garlic until fragrant. Add in the spinach and stir. Once the spinach has been cooked, decrease the heat temperature to medium-low, break 2 eggs into the pan, and quickly stir until incorporated. Season with nutritional yeast, a dash of salt, some black pepper and spices. Set aside.
Cut the dough into two parts, one slightly larger than the other. With a rolling pin, roll out the larger piece of dough on the countertop until it is very thin but not breaking (remember that it may be more difficult to do with gluten-free flours; take your time and if it is crumbly, add in some extra water or oil until it holds together better); place in bottom of 9×13 inch glass cooking pan- the dough should come up the sides. Pour the spinach filling into the pan on top of the bottom dough layer. Roll out the smaller piece of dough and lay on top of the spinach. Fold the sides of the dough over onto the top sheet and crimp or flute the edge until sealed (see the link here for a video of how to seal a pie edge).
Take the last egg and beat it in a small bowl. Paint the top of the dough with the egg and sprinkle a little bit of sugar on top.
Cook for approximately 40-45 minutes until the dough is cooked through- the dough on the bottom should look brownish through the glass pan (don’t forget to check it around 30 minutes or so). Though the top will cook rather quickly, the browning of the bottom will let you know when it is ready to come out of the oven (since the filling is pre-cooked, just pull it out once the dough is ready).
My favorite part of the pascualina is the corner piece- the dough is so delicious, my sister and I would always fight over who would get this coveted portion. Fortunately, a square pan produces four corners- this is one solid reason not to use a circular pan!
The pascualina can be made ahead of time. It can go into the freezer prior to cooking- once you are ready to cook, just pop directly into the oven while still frozen. You can also pre-cook the spinach filling and leave in the fridge until ready to use.