Kalitsounia - Cretan Cheese Pies
Kalitsounia Cretan Cheese Pies, have been made by our family for since I can remember. There are many different types of Cretan pies, which come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and flavours like sarikopites, marathopites, sfakianopites. The name of the pie is often derived from the town or region that it is produced in.
The pie filling will vary depending on the part of Crete that you find yourself in and of course the season and the availability of wild herbs and greens. Fillings include a ricotta like fresh cheese made out of goats milk, known as myzithra.
Sometimes the pies are made more on the savoury side, the different flavours may include the addition of wild greens or herbs such as mint and fennel.
Pies can also be made using the plain goat’s cheese variety and made more on the sweet side and drizzled with local aromatic thyme honey. The fillo dough itself is made with the addition of raki or tsikoudia (the local spirit). In this recipe we will use vinegar instead.
Types of pies
Some of the most common pies include sarikopites, shaped like a sariki, the traditional headwear attire worn by the Cretans, which is coiled around their head essentially, marathopites, filled with marathi (fennel) or in the town of Sfakia in southern Crete, you will find flat pita pies which are called Sfakianopites, filled with cheese and drizzled with honey.
The recipe below is for Cretan kalitsounia often confused with Irakliotika kalitsounia/Lihnarakia from the town of Iraklio in Crete, which are open parcels with a thicker pastry enclosed in a sweet cheese and cinnamon mixture.
500g firm ricotta, crumbled
250g feta, crumbled
¼ cup mint, chopped
500g plain flour sifted, plus extra for dusting
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1 cup lukewarm water (approx.)
1 teaspoon salt
Oil for frying
Honey to serve
Variation: (plain ricotta cheese served with honey or feta & ricotta cheese with spinach & mint)
- For the pastry, combine the flour, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and water in a bowl. Mix well to form a soft dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it comes together. This will take about 7-10 minutes of kneading. Cover and set aside to rest for 30 minutes in a bowl brushed with oil.
- Combine the cheeses, mint, and beaten egg in a bowl, season and mix until you have a smooth consistency. If you are using another variation, simply mix all the ingredients together until well combined. The egg is not required with the plain version. Set aside mixture in the fridge until needed.
- To prepare the pastry, lightly flour the surface of the bench and prepare to roll small balls of the dough through a pasta machine. Starting on the widest setting, number 8. Keep repeating this process several times on the sixth setting and then the fourth setting. The final passing through the machine should be on setting 3.
- Place the pastry on the bench, use a round cutter to make large circles, and put a level tablespoon of the mixture in the centre of the pastry. Repeat along each of the pastry circles. Use a little bit of water on one edge of the pastry to seal. Then, carefully, fold the other half over the filling to end up with half-moon shaped cheese pies. Alternatively, cut the dough into squares using a knife or pastry cutter and shape it into rectangles. To make into square parcels, fold the two opposite corners of the pastry in and then do the same with the two remaining corners and press at the center of the pastry lightly with a little water to seal. Try not to leave air bubbles inside the pastry or any cheese close to the edges.
Rolling Pin Method
- If you have used a rolling pin, your dough is likely not going to be in a long strip. In this case, it is easier to cut out circles of dough, either by using a glass or a round cookie cutter. Place a level tablespoon of the mixture into the center of your pastry and fold it over. Press along the edges with a little water to seal properly.
- Heat oil in a deep saucepan to medium-high heat. Deep-fry kalitsounia in batches, turning occasionally, until crisp and golden (about 1 minute each side) and drain on a paper towel.
- Serve while still warm. If you like, you can drizzle the plain variety with some honey. Freeze uncooked pies. Simply thaw out prior to frying.