Since I was young, there’s no dish I loathed than spinach. Even being a diehard fan of Popeye, who loved this nutrient-packed superfood, did not help. Many are the times my mum unsuccessfully wooed me into eating it.
However, my recent trip to Mahali Mzuri camp, and also spending some time with the head chef, John Edison Maina, went a long way in making me appreciate the vegetable more.
Spinach has plenty of health benefits such as preventing cancer, lowering blood glucose, easing constipation and for women, it assists in adding iron to the diet, required in the formation of blood.
We headed off to the camp’s eco garden, where we harvested some green leafy spinach. There are also other vegetables and herbs such as rosemary and mint, which John confesses are some of the ingredients he can’t do without in his kitchen.
At the moment, about five per cent of all vegetables prepared at the camp are sourced from the garden, but with continued planting and harvesting, the team plans to increase this to 15 per cent over the coming years.
The garden supplies the camp with herbs and vegetables, including homegrown rocket, coriander, parsley, mint and dill.
After picking some parsley and spinach, we got back to the kitchen and straight into whipping our Greek pastry over a chat. The chef tells me that he hails from the foothills of Mount Kenya, and began cooking at a tender age.
His uncle was his inspiration, as he was an excellent cook at the Norfolk Hotel. Apart from studying and doing research to be better in his skills, John enjoys working with a young team of chefs, who constantly provide him with ideas, and he’s always eager to learn about new techniques and different cuisines from them.
Although he enjoys drawing inspiration from different cultures and cuisines, John would like to see a bigger emphasis on promoting authentic Kenyan dishes in restaurants.
“Today, we’ll prepare spanakotiropita, a spinach and cheese pie that is popular with our guests at Mahali Mzuri. It is a great all-round dish and can be served as a small bite or starter, or even as a main course with sumac-rubbed potato wedges and a garden keeper’s salad,” says the chef, as he begins by gathering the ingredients on the worktop.
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp chopped garlic
- 500g fresh spinach, finely chopped and steamed
- 200g feta cheese
- 1 tsp parsley, finely chopped
- 1 packet of filo pastry
- 75g melted butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 180°C. On medium heat, fry the onions with olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Once the onions are translucent, add the chopped garlic and cook for a further three minutes.
Add the chopped spinach and stir vigorously for five minutes before adding salt and pepper. Next, add the chopped feta cheese and parsley and stir well. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
On a clean surface, lay out a sheet of filo pastry and generously spread with butter. Add a second sheet on top and once again, spread butter liberally on the top sheet.
Add a generous spoonful of the cooled filling in the centre of the pastry and fold into your favourite shape. Mahali Mzuri tends to go with triangular.
Brush the folded pastry with melted butter and bake in the pre-heated oven for five minutes, or until golden brown. Serve hot with tomato basil sauce, or your favourite dip.