by Isha Karim | October 5, 2020
I hate nothing more than pies. Apple pies, sweet potato pies, pumpkin pies, pies galore are the quintessential American dishes. And yet, even to a sworn pie-hater like me, there is nothing more picturesque and heartwarming than a family gathered around a perfect piece of puff pastry and filling, especially in a time where we may not be around our loved ones.
Recently, when I posted a picture of a homely, spinach, potato, and chermoula pie on my Instagram, it received a lot of love. It was interesting, then, to think about why this rustic pie, albeit amateur made, struck a “Yes, please!” chord.
There are many words I could reach for to explain this pie’s appeal, and they’d all be true. It ticks many boxes. Versatile—a filling that can be easily adjusted to what may already be in your fridge. Kale or Swiss chard works well instead of the spinach; cilantro and parsley for the dill. Cheddar instead of the feta, if you prefer, or even cubes of firm tofu for a vegan substitute.
“Rustic,” a word often used euphemistically to mean “it may not look all that pretty or neat, but I promise it’s great,” is quite fitting. “Frugal” is a nod to its convenience: no fancy skills needed, no ingredients to run to the supermarket for. You can dress it up with chermoula or keep it simple with just a squeeze of lemon. The puff-pastry pie shell filled with spinach and feta is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, perfect for an autumnal dinner or two. But what is missing from this list of words is the very thing that makes it so utterly delectable in the first place: good food makes us smile, but great food hugs us. And that’s exactly what we all need right now.
After months of distancing from those we love, I believe we look more and more to food to provide the comfort denied to us in our day-to-day lives. It was this—the hug, the comfort—that people connected with the picture of my pie. Hugs-from-the-kitchen come in many forms, I know, but so often they come in the form of a potato. Yes, the rustic, unpretentious, hearty potato is what makes this pie truly one-of-a-kind. The thinly sliced layer that sits top of the filling says “comfort.” Now, more than ever— when we have, for months, been denied so much of the hugging we were used to— this is what we need and want.
When autumn has set in, and the odd TV-dinner is indulged, it’s this pie you will reach for: an amalgamation of Mediterannean flavors, spinach, and feta. For now, though, while we’re still riding out the summer and beginning to wonder where our throw blankets are, a hot cup of chamomile tea afterward is enough to give this dish its “right here, right now, hold me” feel. Until better times, stick to hugging those in your bubble, and try to recreate this dish with recipes that can be easily found online. Did I forget to mention that this pie is shareable? But I doubt you’ll want to split it with anyone after a taste.
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