The Verdict – Baking is Hard!

So, last week I decided I wanted to make homemade fatayer bi sabanekh and sfeeha (spinach and meat pies).  When I say homemade, I more specifically mean that I wanted to make the dough from scratch. I knew baking bread wouldn’t be easy, but I wanted to give it a go anyway.

The act of making  the bread itself isn’t what’s  hard. What’s hard is making sure you have precisely the right amount of this to that in order to yield optimal results – in other words, learning to read and follow directions. I didn’t have a bread recipe from my mama, so I had to use the one in my Sahtein cookbook. Well, after carefully following the recipe, covering up the soon to be baked bread and waiting patiently for it to rise, I realized that I apparently don’t know how to read because I  followed the wrong damn recipe.

My dad, once again, was awesome and promised up and down that the recipe that we used was just fine. To be honest, the two recipes weren’t that far off. The only real difference was the absence of butter/shortening. Now, personally, I think this would have made a huge difference in the texture but my father and one of my aunts said butter wasn’t used in the dough. Who knows.

I have every intention of trying the recipe I planned on using to see if it better resembles my memory of these pies. And once I discover the difference, I’m going to forgo making the bread from scratch and use already-made dough like everyone else does. I just want to be able to know I can make a decent batch of bread if ever there was a need for it.

As far as the fillings go, the meat filling for the sfeeha turned out pretty yummy. I added more tahini than the recipe called for and I personally think it made it a bit more rich. We also added a generous tablespoon of sumac and probably not enough pine nuts for my taste. Overall though, I give my mama’s recipe a big bear hug.

The spinach filling still needs some work. I used two pounds of frozen, chopped spinach and something about it just wasn’t working for me. I don’t think using fresh spinach would have made much of a difference. I do think using a better quality brand and rinsing it several times would improve the taste. It also wasn’t tart enough for me. We used two lemons and a lot of sumac, but I just wasn’t getting that zing. I’m not really sure what I could do to improve that, so if y’all have suggestions – bring ’em!

We also used some of the leftover dough to make this “egg bread” that my paternal grandmother used to make. I have been trying to find someone, anyone, who had any clue how to make this bread. I guess it must have been a tata thing, because none of my cousins have any clue what I’m talking about. My dad loves it though and I remember really liking it as well. Basically, you flatten out the dough and create an edge of sorts  to hold the eggs. Use as many eggs as you think the bread can hold and then sprinkle with salt, pepper, zaatar and a little oil and then bake for 15-20 minutes. Make sure the eggs are fully cooked and the dough is evenly browned.  It’s like a more complicated variation of  egg in the basket.

I’m not unhappy with the results.  For a first try,  I suppose I it went better than expected. As much work as it is to complete the recipes – everything from the grocery shopping to the preparation – I’ve consistently found fulfillment and joy in the process. Yes, I’ve also found stress and anxiety, but, amazingly, the stress hasn’t been so overwhelming that I’ve ever considered not moving forward with this project.

I also really love how learning to cook has afforded me the opportunity to relate to my family in different ways. I like getting helpful tips from my aunts and uncles. I like being able to sit and discuss all the different tricks and tips for making a pickle taste better or where to get the freshest, most affordable produce. I imagine that was a lot of  what my mama’s day-to-day was like and it’s been nice getting a little glimpse into that world.

I really wonder if I’d be this interested in cooking if  my mama was still around.  Interestingly, she didn’t like people in her kitchen when she cooked.  Or, maybe she just didn’t like my dad adding his little twist to the food she’d spent hours preparing. : )

Pictures to come!

Recipe of the Week – Fatayer bi Sabanekh & Sfeeha

Don’t let these phonetically spelled titles for this week’s recipe overwhelm you.  It’ll be okay. They are just fancy Arabic words for spinach (sabanekh) and meat pies (sfeeha).  I am actually used to a different term for the spinach pies, I just have no clue how to spell it out phonetically.  It’s something along the lines of khrawseb sabanekh – but Google isn’t loving that term, so I’m just going to let my OCD fester for a bit and move on!

My mama used to make these pies in bulk and store them in big Tupperware containers that lived in our freezer for months. It’s just easier to make a bunch of them and take a few out whenever the mood strikes. The hardest part of this recipe really is getting the dough right. I’ve never, ever made bread or dough of any sort, so I think I’m going to have some frozen dough on reserve just in case.  I know – way to set myself up for failure, right? I’m actually excited about trying to make dough and making these pies because there is just something so comforting about a good spinach pie. We have plenty of Middle Eastern bakeries and restaurants that make pretty yummy versions of this recipe, but I want to be able to do this on my own.

Basic Dough For Pies

(This is from Sahtein since I couldn’t find my mom’s dough recipe – only the recipe for the fillings)

2 lbs. flour

2 tbsp. butter or shortening

1 envelope of dry yeast

1 tbsp. salt

2 cups lukewarm water (approx.)

1/2 tsp. sugar

Dissolve yeast into 1/4 cup of warm water. Sprinkle with sugar. Cover and let rise.

In a large pan, mix flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture and butter/shortening.

Gradually add the lukewarm water, mixing and kneading until the dough is smooth and tender.

Cover with a blanket and put in a warm place for 2 hours or until dough rises.  ( I remember my mom used to use heavy duty white table covers or big pieces of felt that my dad would bring home from his store.)

Cut dough into pieces 2″ to 2 1/2″ in diameter. Form into balls by tucking the dough underneath the balls to make them round and smooth. Let rest for 30 minutes between the blankets.

Spinach Stuffing

2 lbs. spinach ( you can use fresh, I’m going to use frozen)

1. Thaw the spinach and then cut up and wash it and make sure to drain it very well

2. Add chopped onion (since I’m not a huge onion fan, we’ll go with 1 large onion, maybe a little more)

3. Add lemon to taste ( I prefer it tart, so aim for 1 large lemon per lb. of spinach = 2 lemons for this)

4. Add about 1/2 cup vegetable oil to the mix

5. Add salt, pepper and a little bit of sumac

Meat Filling

2 lbs. meat ( you can use coarse ground lamb or ground beef – I’m going to use beef)

1/2 to 1 large onion finely chopped

1/2- 3/4 cup pine nuts that have been lightly browned in a pan

salt, pepper, allspice

Juice of 2 lemons

Tahineh

Cook meat until done and then add onions and seasoning. Lower the heat and let the meat brown a little and then add maybe a tbsp. of tahineh with a little water. Then add lemon juice ( 1 lemon per lb. of meat) and then the pine nuts.  Mix together and let cook for a few minutes more before using.

For Spinach Pies:

Pinch off about 2 1/2″ balls of dough and roll out into a 4″ circle.

Put a heaping tablespoon of the spinach filling in the middle of each circle. Fold up from the bottom to the middle and bring in sides to the center to form a triangle. Press down on the seams firmly and pinch ends together. ( From Sahtein)

Place the pies on a cookie sheet that has been brushed with butter or olive oil and place the pies on the tray. Brush the tops with oil and put in a preheated 500 degree oven for 15 minutes or until a little brown.

For Meat Pies:

Instead of making into triangles, the meat pies remain in circular shapes. Just add a tablespoon of the mixture to the middle of the circle of dough and make a little bit of an edge to hold the meat. Put on a greased cookie sheet and bake on 500 for 15 minutes.

I can’t wait!!