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Arabic Style Savory Pies

Posted on September 30, 2012 by Sahar

Just about every cuisine in the world has it’s own version of savory pies.  The Latin World has empanadas; Austrailia has Meat Pies;  Great Britain has Pasties and Scotch Pies; India has Pakora.

And, in the Middle East, they have Fatayer (فطاير), Sfeeha (صفيحة), and Sambousek (سمبوسك).  They can be eaten as mezze or as part of a main meal (the way I like to do it).

 

A Primer:

Fatayer are baked triangle-shaped pies that are usually filled with cheese or spinach.

Sfeeha are open-faced pies usually with a meat topping, but other ingredients can be used as well.

Sambousek are essentially half-moon shaped pies that can either be baked or fried.  They usually have meat or cheese filling.

And they are all delicious.

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For my post, I’ve made the Fatayer and Sambousek.  I used spinach in the Fatayer and lamb in the Sambousek.  No frying, though.

And now, on to the recipes.

The Ingredients

The spices. (L – from top clockwise) Black Pepper, Allspice, Cinnamon, Salt;
(R) Sumac

 

The pies in these recipes use a yeast dough.  I generally don’t proof my yeast (although I probably should).  I just pay attention to the expiration date on the package and use my yeast quickly.  However, if you want to proof, here’s how you do it:

Fill a measuring cup with 1/4 cup of warm (95F – 105F) water.  Mix in 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, then 1 package of the yeast. (Yeast loves warm temperatures and food.  Hense the warm water and sugar. It’s basically a fermenting process.) Let the yeast dissolve in the water (you may have to do a little stirring to accomplish this).  Set the measuring cup aside in a warm place and let the yeast do its thing.  If it begins to bubble and rise, then it’s good.  If the yeast does nothing, then either your water wasn’t the correct temperature or your yeast was bad.

There is a spice I use for the spinach filling that you may not be familiar with: Sumac.  Sumac can generally be found growing wild throughout the Middle East.  It’s “berry” has a thin skin and flesh surrounding a very hard seed.  These “berries” are ground down to make a powder.  Sumac has a tart, slightly astringent, almost lemony flavor.  Look for sumac that is brick red to dark burgundy  in color and is an even grind.  You want it to have a bright scent.  If it smells like dirt, don’t buy it.  It’s old.

Don’t go and pick berries off a sumac plant if you see one.  It’s most likely “poison sumac”.  Just buy the dried ground in the store.

Sumac is used for Zaatar (a spice mix that also has thyme, sesame seeds, and salt), in kebabs as a seasoning, on vegetables, eggs, in meat dishes.  It’s a ubiquious spice in the Middle East.

Sumac.

 

Pastry Dough

6 c. all-purpose flour

1 package yeast

1 tbsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1/4 c. olive oil

2 c. warm water (95F – 105F), more if needed

 

I prefer to mix my pastry dough by hand.  However, if you like to use a mixer or a processor, by all means, do so.

1.  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar.

Dry pastry ingredients

Add the olive oil and mix it in.

Adding the olive oil

Add the water.

Adding the water.

 

Now, mix throroughly.  You want to have a dough that is slightly sticky.  I’ve found that it’s all right if it isn’t perfectly smooth.  However, you want to work the dough as much as possible without having to add any additional water or flour if you can.

Trust me, it will come together.

(Apologies for the following photos. I didn’t stop to “pose” while Husband was taking them, so they’re a little blurry. But, I think you’ll get the point.)

Mixing the dough.

Mixing the dough. In the beginning there will be a lot of dry compared to wet. Keep working the dough.

The dough is coming together. I haven’t added any additional flour or water.

The dough has come together and the bowl is fairly clean. Which is what you want.

2.  Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. You can do this in the bowl or turn the dough out onto a flat surface. Or, if you’re using a mixer, use the dough hook.

3.  Pour a little additional olive oil to grease the bowl.  Place the dough back in the bowl and rub a little olive oil over the top.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm placce to rise.  About 2 hours.

4.  Meanwhile, make the fillings:

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Spinach Filling for Fatayer

1 1/2 lbs. spinach (I like to use baby spinach.  I don’t have to trim the stems or chop it)

1/4 c. sumac, or to taste

1 tbsp. salt or to taste

1/4 c. lemon juice, or to taste

1/4 c. olive oil, more if needed

 

1.  In a very large bowl, mix all the ingredients together.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.

The spinach filling mixture.

2.  Pour the spinach mixture into a large colander and place the colander over the large bowl.  The spinach will basically (chemically) cook as it sits and release moisture.  The colander allows the excess moisture to drain away.

Toss the spinach occasionally.  Because it’s essentially cooking, it will wilt.

The colander sitting in the bowl. This will allow any moisture to drain off as the spinach sits.

The excess moisture from the spinach mixture after about 2 hours.

 

And you may ask the questions: Well, why do this in advance then? Why not wait until just before making the pies before mixing the spinach?

Because, wilting the spinach and allowing it to drain will get rid of any tannins in the spinach and will make it easier to fill the pies bacause you don’t have to contend with leaves flying all over the place.

 

Meat Filling for Sambousek

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (I like to use an 80/20 grind. I find it has more flavor)

1 sm. onion, minced

2 cl. garlic, minced

2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1 tsp. allspice, or to taste

1/2 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste

 

1.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion has softened, about 3 – 5 minutes.

2.  Add the meat and continue cooking until it is cooked through and there is no pink left.

3.  Add the spices and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Cooking the meat filling.

4.  Put the meat filling into a large strainer or colander and allow any fat to drain off.  Set aside and allow to cool.

The fat after the meat has been drained. Gross, but, there it is.

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5.  Prepare several large baking sheets (I usually do 4) for prepping and baking.  Line the baking sheets with heavy duty foil (saves on clean-up later) and then line the bottom with parchment paper.  Set the pans aside.

The prepared baking pans

6.  After 2 hours, the dough should be ready for forming.

The dough after the first rising.

Punch down the dough and knead it until it forms a smooth ball.

Punching down the dough to start releasing the excess air. Plus, it’s fun.

Folding the dough over on itself. I’m kneading and releasing the excess air.

The dough after kneading. Almost back down to its original size.

 

Now, take the dough and pinch off roughly golf ball -sized pieces and shape them into balls.

Pinching off the dough to form smaller balls for the pies.

Take each piece of dough and begin tucking under the edges to form a smooth ball of dough.  Well, as smooth as you can make it.

Forming a ball of dough.

Tucking under the ends.

 

Lay the balls of dough on one of the baking sheets as you finish them.  I generally keep them about 1″ apart.

Laying the dough on the tray.

Cover the try with plastic wrap and set aside to let the dough rise again.  About 30 minutes.

A finished tray of dough.

The dough 30 minutes later. This is the reason you keep them 1″ apart.

7.  Preheat your oven to 400F.  Have a rack in the center of the oven.

8.  Now, to form the pies.  Lightly flour a flat surface and a rolling pin. (Don’t over-flour.  It will make the dough harder to work with when you form the pies.) Take one of the balls of dough and place it on the board.  Roll out the dough into a roughly 4″ – 5″ circle.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough.

Not exactly round. More like an amoeba shape. But, you get the point.

Fun tip:  I have also used my tortilla press to make the dough circles.  Just line your press with plastic wrap first.

 

9.  Fill the pies.  For the fatayer, place roughly 2 – 3 tablespoons of the spinach filling in the center of the dough (you’ll basically need to eyeball this measurement).

Placing the spinach on the dough.

The spinach on the dough. I like to spread it out a bit. Make it into, normally, a rough triangle shape.

Now, to form the pies:

Begin by taking the left side of the circle and folding it over at an angle towards the center, forming a partial peak at the top.

Folding over the dough to form the pies.

Take the right side and repeat the process.

Folding over the right side

Fold the bottom side over towards the center, forming the triangle.

The final side folded over.

Now, pinch the seams closed.

Pinching the seams closed.

The finished pie.

Lay your finished pies on a baking sheet.

Many finished pies.

Note:  As you get further down into the colander, you’ll want to squeeze some of the excess moisture out of the spinach.  While the spinach on top may not have as much moisture, gravity is doing its work and drawing the moisture down and, of course, the bottom will have more than the top.

 

To fill the Sambousek:  Roll the dough out as you would for the Fatayer.

Spoon roughly 2 tablespoons of the meat filling over 1 side of the dough.  Be sure to leave about 1/4″ of dough uncovered on that side for sealing.

Filling the Sambousek.

The meat filling for the Sambousek.

Fold the empty side over the top and cover the filling.

Folding over the dough.

Press and then pinch the seam closed.

Pressing the seam closed.

Pinching the seam closed.

The finished pie.

Lay the finished pie on the baking sheet and continue with the rest of the dough and filling.

Many finished pies.

10.  To bake the pies:  Bake the pies for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.  I like to bake mine for 10 minutes, turn the baking sheet, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Now, especially with the Fatayer, some of the pies may come open during baking.  It happens to me all the time.  Don’t despair. Consider them a cook’s treat.  Also, even though you have do doubt worked diligently to remove as much moisture as possible from the spinach, some will remain.  Occasionally, the moisture will cause the spinach to break through the bottom of the Fatayer.

To remedy this,  either make larger balls of dough when you form them after the first rising (roughly somewhere between golf ball and baseball-sized; the dough for the pies will be thicker, but you will have fewer pies); or, simply roll the dough thicker to make smaller pies.

Otherwise, don’t worry about it. It’ll still taste great.

Hey, it’s homemade.

The finished Fatayer.

The finished Sambousek.

 

The pies can be eaten either warm or at room temperature.

 

Enjoy! Sahtein!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 to “Arabic Style Savory Pies”

  1. Thank you, Tart Queen, for the beautiful recipes which I can’t wait to try. I have always been convinced I’ve lived another life somewhere in the Middle East (maybe as a courtesan or somebody’s 4th wife, of course) and I have always loved Middle Eastern food from all regions. I’ll be looking forward to more posts in future!

  2. kelli says:

    Can you make the dough ahead of time and freeze or cool until ready to use?

    • Sahar says:

      Yes, you can. However, if you are going to make the dough ahead to refrigerate, make it no more than 2-3 days in advance, otherwise, it may begin to ferment. Let it come to room temperature before using. If you are going to freeze the dough, I would recommend dividing the dough first and freezing in vacuum bags. Barring that, place the dough in a large container layered with either parchment or wax paper. Don’t freeze it for more than 2 months. When you get ready to thaw the dough, place it in the refrigerator to thaw. Once it’s thawed, take the dough out of the bag(s) or container(s), place them on a floured flat surface and let come to room temperature and allow to rise.

  3. Cory says:

    How many will this recipe make?



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