Rona Economou has been serving up her version of favorite Greek dishes for the past four years at Boubouki, her tiny stall in the Essex Street Market in New York.
She grew up in Queens, sampling many of the traditional meals and taking frequent visits to Greece with her parents, who are both from the country. But Rona say cooking Greek wasn't necessarily in her genes. "The first time I tried it, it was a disaster," she recalls.
The learning curve was likely due to the fact her background is in law, not gastronomy. After graduating college, Rona went straight to law school, and worked as a lawyer for years before she eventually lost her job. "I had done everything my parents wanted me to, I had gone their traditional route. And then when I lost that job, it gave me an out. That was very freeing," she says.
Unsure of where to go next, Rona turned to some of her best childhood memories — her grandmother's spanakopita, or spinach pie. "My grandmother made it from scratch when we were kids. If I could copy the way hers tasted, I would. It was the best ever. She's 101 now, and a small part of me just wants to ask her, you know, one last time, 'Please make me spanich pie,'" she says, with a laugh. "'I know you're over a hundred years old.'"
Unemployed in the city, with Greek food on her mind, Rona stepped out for a cup of coffee. Then, after seeing an empty stall in Essex Street Market, she knew she'd figured out her future. "I just immediatley knew that I could do something," she remembers.
After brushing up on traditional Greek recipies, she opened Boubouki, a tiny stall offering hand-made spinach pie and traditional Greek cookies. Today, it's still going strong.
As for her career in law? Rona says she's never looked back.
If you can't make it to New York to try Rona's cuisine, try making a Spanakopita of your own.
Spinach Pie Recipe Courtesy of Rona Economou:
5 sheet of thick filo dough
1 small onion
1/3 cup fresh dill
1 heaping cup of coarsely chopped feta
15 oz fresh spinach
Salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 410°
Chop and sauté the onion and dill. Let cool while preparing the phyllo.
Brush an 18 x 13-inch roasting pan with olive oil. Unroll the phyllo, laying the first sheet in pan. Brush or use your hands to cover the phyllo with olive oil, lay the second layer of phyllo and cover with more olive oil.
Once the onion and dill have cooled to touch, add the beaten egg, feta, spinach, and salt and pepper to taste to the same pot. Mix with your hands until spinach is sufficiently covered. Lay out evenly in the pan over the phyllo. Add three more sheets of phyllo on top, oiling each one with your hand or brush. Cut into about 12 squares and half those to make triangles. Sprinkle top with water and olive oil and put in the oven. After 15 minutes turn pan in opposite direction and cook for another 15 minutes. By carefully tipping the pan, pour off excess olive oil.