Freeze-Ahead Horta Phyllo Pockets

published Dec 28, 2021
christmas
Freeze-Ahead Horta Phyllo Pockets Recipe

These two-bite appetizers are filled with garlicky greens, dill, feta, and just a bit of rice to hold all the good stuff together.

Serves10 to 14

Makes24 to 32

Prep1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes

Cook25 minutes to 30 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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phyllo pockets on a plate
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

As a cookbook author, I pride myself on being able to feed friends at the drop of a hat. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are particularly busy, so I always have a few back-pocket nibbles stashed in the freezer for instant party fare.

These crispy, buttery phyllo triangles stuffed with mixed greens and feta cheese are a favorite with guests. They’re impressive-looking, and the combination of crispy phyllo pastry and savory salty filling is the perfect nibble to serve with cocktails. Best of all, I can make and freeze them in advance; on the day of the party, they go straight from the freezer to the toaster oven or oven.

Although they’re a staple for entertaining, I dip into my freezer stash now and then — three triangles plus a Greek salad make a lovely impromptu WFH lunch!

Don’t Stop at Spinach 

While phyllo pies in the United States are usually made with frozen spinach, I go with a mixture of fresh greens (a trick I learned from my Greek friend Despina). Mixed greens, called horta in Greek, make all the difference in the flavor and texture of these pockets. Despina uses wild, leafy greens unique to Greece, but Stateside, I use a mix of whatever looks good: chard, kale, chicory, arugula, collards, or watercress with a bit of baby spinach to round it out. Use whatever you like, and think outside the box. I’ve made these with everything from turnip greens to broccoli rabe! The mix of flavors and more substantial texture make the pies infinitely better.

In the interest of reducing food waste, I finely chop any tough stems and center ribs (kale and Swiss chard, for instance) and sauté them with onion until tender before adding the greens. Then, I add the sturdiest leaves. It will look like too many at first, but as you cook and stir, they will collapse and easily fit in the pan. Tender greens and the garlic are added at the end and cooked until the leaves just wilt; this two-step process ensures everything is cooked evenly. 

Drain the Greens for the Crispiest Phyllo Pockets

Because leafy greens are about 90% water, and water is the enemy of crispy phyllo, you must drain the greens. When I say “drain,” I mean squeeze every last drop of moisture out of them that you can. Dump them into a fine-mesh colander in the sink and press on them with a rubber spatula, stir, and press again — do this over and over until you’ve extracted as much moisture as possible. You should be able to get about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of bright green juice out of the mixture.  

To finish the filling, I add feta cheese, fresh dill (although dried will work in a pinch), a few eggs, and a cup of cooked rice. The rice is another trick I learned from Despina. The rice not only bulks up the triangles, but it absorbs any excess moisture, so the triangles stay plump and crispy. You can substitute cooked quinoa, barley, bulgur, or another cooked grain you happen to have on hand, but don’t skip the grains altogether, as they make for generous pockets.  

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Folding and Freezing

Forming the triangles isn’t rocket science — it just takes a bit of patience. Roll up your sleeves, put on some good music, and consider the time you’ll be saving yourself when you need finger food on the fly. Follow the defrosting instructions on the phyllo dough package. (Read more on handling phyllo dough here.) If the first few sheets stick together or if they’re slightly torn, don’t worry — you can still use them. If they’re a total mess, toss them aside and move on to the rest of the dough. If you’re too rough with the sheets, they will sense your anger and tear even more, so slow down and stay calm.  

A common mistake when buttering and stacking is using too much butter. Drizzle the butter sparingly over the first sheet, then use a basting or pastry brush to lightly and evenly coat the sheet. Gently place another sheet on top and smooth and press together. By cutting this stack of two sheets into four strips with the long end facing you, you’re creating four separate appetizers. Dab a bit of the filling in the lower left corner of each strip, then flag-fold the strips to create four triangular pockets. The folding creates multiple layers of crispy, buttery dough. I explain the flag fold method in detail in the recipe, but if you’re a visual learner, Google “flag fold” and you’ll be greeted with ample how-to illustrations. 

Once all the filling is used up, you’ll have 24 to 30 elegant little appetizers to bank in the freezer until you need them. Your number of appetizers will vary based on the size of the phyllo sheets you purchased; I use one roll of Athens 14×18-inch rectangular sheets to make 28 triangles. Figure two to three triangles per person as an appetizer or party nibble. I usually serve them piping-hot all by themselves, but this amazing Greek yogurt dip is great with them, too. Either way, they’re a salty, crunchy, tasty party (and lunch) win!

Freeze-Ahead Horta Phyllo Pockets Recipe

These two-bite appetizers are filled with garlicky greens, dill, feta, and just a bit of rice to hold all the good stuff together.

Prep time 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes to 30 minutes

Makes 24 to 32

Serves 10 to 14

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces

    Athens phyllo dough or 1 pound Fillo Factory phyllo dough

  • 2

    medium bunches sturdy greens, such as Swiss chard, kale, collards

  • 1

    small yellow onion

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 5 ounces

    baby spinach or other tender greens, such as beet, radish, or carrot tops (about 5 cups)

  • 1/4 cup

    chopped fresh dill, or 2 tablespoons dried dill

  • 6 ounces

    feta cheese

  • 1 cup

    cold cooked white or brown rice, or other cooked grain

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly grated nutmeg

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter

Instructions

  1. Twenty four hours before you plan to make the triangles, thaw 8 ounces or 1 pound phyllo dough (depending on the brand) in the refrigerator, wrapped in the plastic it came in. Cook the rice or grain if needed and refrigerate.

  2. The next day, take the phyllo out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature in its wrapping while you make the filling.

  3. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  4. Strip the leaves from 2 bunches sturdy greens (reserve the stems) and coarsely chop until you have 7 packed cups. Finely chop the stems until you have 2 cups. Finely chop 1 small yellow onion (about 1 cup).

  5. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the stems and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the leaves and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until wilted and tender, 5 minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop 2 garlic cloves.

  6. When the greens are tender, add the garlic and 5 ounces baby spinach or other tender greens (about 5 cups) to the pan a few handfuls at a time, stirring constantly, until the spinach is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.

  7. Transfer the mixture to a colander set in the sink. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, press the greens mixture against the sides of the colander to extract as much liquid as possible, stirring occasionally to make sure you get most of the moisture out. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

  8. Finely chop fresh dill until you have 1/4 cup (or use 2 tablespoons dried dill) and crumble 6 ounces feta cheese (about 1 cup). Add the dill, feta, 1 cup cold cooked rice or other grain, 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper to the greens and mix until combined. Taste and season with more kosher salt and black pepper as needed. Add 2 large eggs and stir until combined.

  9. Melt 1 stick unsalted butter in the microwave or on the stovetop. Carefully unroll the phyllo dough. Pick up 1 sheet of dough and lay it out on a large cutting board with a long side closer to you. Cover the remaining stack of dough with a clean dish towel to keep it from drying out. Drizzle the phyllo sparingly with melted butter and brush it evenly over the phyllo.

  10. Place a second sheet of phyllo directly on top of the buttered sheet and press gently to glue the sheets together. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough vertically into 4 strips, each about 3 1/2 inches wide.

  11. Place about 2 tablespoons of the greens mixture on the bottom left corner of one of the phyllo strips. Bring the lower left-hand corner of the strip up and to the right diagonally so the bottom edge of the strip lines up with the right side of the strip, creating a triangle. Fold the pocket upwards and then to the left and so on, as you would fold a flag.

  12. Before making the last fold, brush the dough with butter, then fold over the triangle. Brush the triangle lightly with butter and place on the baking sheet. Working quickly so the dough doesn’t dry out, fill and fold the remaining 3 layered phyllo strips to make 4 triangles.

  13. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling to make 24 to 32 pockets. If you run out of butter (you’ll end up with a few tablespoons of milky liquid at the bottom of the cup), add just enough melted butter or olive oil to finish the job.

  14. Bake the pockets until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving. (Alternatively, freeze the unbaked pockets on the baking sheet until solid and then transfer them to a zip-top bag. The triangles can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. Bake the frozen triangles for 25 to 30 minutes.)

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The filling can be made up to 1 day ahead, cooled, and refrigerated in an airtight container.

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Reheat in a low oven until warmed through.