M’hencha are traditional Moroccan pastries, sweet or savoury, and so called because of their spiral shape (the term “m’hencha” means “coiled like a snake” in Arabic). There seems to also be a tradition of coiled pies in Greece and elsewhere in and beyond the Mediterranean, so I’m unclear about where these things first came from. What I do know, however, is that these pies are immense fun to make and infinitely customisable. Any number of savoury or sweet fillings can work here, but at the moment I’m a huge fan of this spinach, herb, and feta version, which I suppose is a version of spanakopita too.
The overall preparation time for this recipe is long, but it’s not as bad as it seems (and really, the wait is worth it IMO); most of the wait comes from the process of preparing, baking, and cooling the almond feta. In any case, there are plenty of chances to stagger the prep, so there’s no need to feel overwhelmed by it; I often make the cheese a day or two in advance, and the spinach filling can be kept for up to a day too. You’ll need a powerful blender to process the almonds, although it’s not such a disaster here if they don’t go super-smooth; you could also choose to use ground almonds (AKA almond meal/ almond flour) if you’d rather, which would also mean you wouldn’t have to soak the almonds in advance.
Spinach, herb, and almond feta m’hencha (coiled pies)
Makes: three pies (each around 15cm in diameter)
Preparation time: 26 hours 30 minutes (less than 1 hour active)
6 sheets of vegan filo pastry
For the feta…
200g blanched almonds (soak in water and refrigerate for 24 hours prior to making the feta)
120ml lemon juice
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 1/2 tsp ground sea salt
For the spinach filling…
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra for brushing)
5 cloves of garlic, minced
4 white or brown onions, finely sliced
450g spinach, roughly chopped
70ml vegan cream
2 handfuls of fresh dill, finely chopped
2 handfuls of fresh parsley, finely chopped
A few grates of fresh nutmeg (to taste)
Ground sea salt and cracked black pepper
For the feta…
1./ Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a small springform tin or oven dish with greaseproof paper (mine measures 12cm in diameter).
2./ Drain the soaked almonds, then add to a food processor with all the other ingredients. Process everything together till smooth, scraping the sides periodically if necessary.
3./ Transfer the mixture to the lined tin and bake in the oven for around 40 minutes, or till golden brown. Leave to cool completely before using.
For the spinach filling…
1./ Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add to this the garlic and the onion and fry till golden-brown, about 5 minutes.
2./ Add the spinach to the pan and continue cooking till the leaves are well-wilted.
3./ Remove the pan from the heat and stir through the fresh herbs, the vegan cream, the nutmeg, and half of the almond feta. Season to taste, combine well, then set aside to cool before filling the pies.
To make the pies…
1./ Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
2./ Lay out two sheets of the filo pastry, one on top of the other, with the longer edge facing you. Cover the other filo sheets with a damp tea towel to prevent them from drying out while you make the first pie.
3./ Spoon a third of the filling onto the pastry; make an even strip of about 3 or 4 centimetres at around the same distance from the edges of the pastry. Dot a few blobs of the remaining feta on top.
4./ Carefully lift the edge of the pastry over the filling and roll under into a sausage shape. If you find it’s thicker in parts you can squeeze it gently to distribute the filling more evenly. When you’ve got a nice, even shape, start rolling it in on itself to form a coil. Tuck the end underneath the coil and place onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper (or a nonstick one). Repeat the same process for each of the pies, using 2 sheets of filo and a third of the filling with each one.
5./ Once all the coils are on the baking sheet, brush them with a little olive oil and place in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or till the pastry is golden-brown and crisp throughout.
6./ Serve hot or leave to cool. I like these best with a lemony beetroot salad and some fresh greens, but you can add whatever accompaniment you please.