Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fatayer with Cheese and Spinach

If I’d been asked a few weeks ago what I knew about Lebanese food, I would have said that I didn’t really know anything. It turns out, I’ve been enjoying the flavors of Lebanese cooking for years without even realizing it. I received a review copy of the new book Comptoir Libanais: A Feast of Lebanese-Style Home Cooking by Tony Kitous and Dan Lepard and started learning a thing or two about this wonderful food. Kitous opened the London restaurants Comptoir Libanais to share Lebanese culture through the food, the look and feel of the dining rooms, and the design of every item seen throughout. He set out to create “something that wasn’t pretentious but inviting, simple, and that had something for everyone.” I’d love to visit one or several of the locations. A mix of mezze dishes like Tabbouleh, Fattoush, Labneh with Black Olives and Mint, Sambusak turnovers, and Falafel might be found on the tables. Some of my favorite ingredients like halloumi and feta cheeses, pomegranate seeds and pomegranate molasses, and sumac and za’atar figure prominently in many of the recipes. I can’t wait for ripe, summer tomatoes to use in the Comptoir Tomato and Halloumi Salad and zucchini to turn into crispy fritters. So far, I’ve tried the Bulgur Salad with Peas and Mint which is a good choice for winter since it’s topped with pomegranate seeds and can be made with frozen peas. Like classic tabbouleh, this salad is as much or more so about the mint and parsley as it is the bulgur. Next, I tried the Fatayer with Cheese and Spinach which are filled, savory pastries. They’re made with Sambusak Pastry that’s like pizza dough minus the yeast. The dough is very easy to work with, and it’s used for a few different recipes in the book. 

To start, water, flour, olive oil, honey, and salt were stirred together in a bowl. It was set aside to rest for about 10 minutes, and then it was kneaded until smooth. The dough easily goes from ragged to smooth while kneading. At this point, the dough can be refrigerated until you’re ready to make the pastries, or it needs to be set aside for an hour to rest before using. Next, spinach was cooked in olive oil until wilted and then drained, cooled, and squeezed to remove excess moisture. The cooked spinach was chopped and then combined with toasted chopped walnuts and pomegranate molasses. The dough was divided into small pieces, and I aimed for 20 pieces which was the number this recipe was intended to make. The dough pieces were rolled into balls and left on an oiled plate. One piece of dough at a time was rolled into a circle, and a spoonful of spinach filling was placed in the center. The edges of the dough circle were rubbed with water, and the dough was pinched up around the filling forming three points with the center left open. Once all the dough circles were filled and crimped, the cheese was added on top. I used a mix of grated halloumi and crumbled feta. The cheese mixture was spooned into the opening of each pastry, and then they were topped with black onion, or nigella, seeds. The pastries baked for about 30 minutes until golden and crisp on the edges. 

As an option, mozzarella can be used in place of the halloumi. That would have made the filling more melty and gooey in a delicious way, but I can never resist the salty flavor of halloumi. These little savory pastries were crunchy with crisp edges on the outside and the nuts in the filling. The pomegranate molasses added just the right amount of tanginess and interest. Like all of the dishes in the book, this was perfect for sharing with a group or serving at a party. And, since the Breakfast chapter has caught my eye, it might be time to plan a brunch party.

Fatayer with Cheese and Spinach 
Recipes reprinted with publisher’s permission from Comptoir Libanais: A Feast of Lebanese-Style Home Cooking by Tony Kitous and Dan Lepard. Copyright © Tony Kitous and Dan Lepard, 2013. Published on November 19, 2014 by The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. 

Fatayer are usually triangular-shaped pastries, either sealed at the top or left open. Sealing the edges of the pastry at the top protects the filling so it’s perfect or you can leave the top open the way we do at Comptoir and pinch the edges of the filled fatayer to form a triangular shape as in the photo here. If you sprinkle a deep layer of cheese on top before baking, any filling underneath is protected from the heat of the oven, allowing the pastry to be crisp but the filling soft. 

Makes about 20 small fatayer 

1 recipe Sambusak Pastry 
flour or oil, for rolling the dough 

for the filling: 
2 tbsp olive oil 
1 pound (500g) baby spinach 
1/2 cup (50g) walnuts, chopped 
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses 
5 ounces (150g) halloumi or mozzarella, drained and grated or finely chopped 
5 ounces (150g) feta cheese, crumbled 
small bunch fresh mint, leaves only, chopped 
black onion (nigella) seeds or za’atar, to finish 

Start by preparing and resting your dough (see p. 82). Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/160°C fan/gas 4). Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Make the filling by heating the olive oil in a large frying pan until smoking hot, then add the spinach and fry quickly until it just begins to wilt. Tip the spinach into a colander and set aside to cool, then squeeze the cooked spinach as hard as you can to remove the liquid. Chop the spinach, then place it in a bowl with the walnuts and pomegranate molasses, and mix well. 

Chop the dough into small pieces, about the size of an unshelled walnut, then shape these into balls and set aside to rest on an oiled plate, covered, for 15 minutes (this makes rolling easier). Roll out each dough ball on a lightly floured or oiled surface to about 3 inches (8cm) wide. Place a heaping teaspoon of the spinach filling in the center of one, then with the tips of your fingers rub a little water around the bare edges of the dough. At 3 equal points, pull the dough up 1/2 to 3/4 inch (1 to 2cm) and pinch the dough together to seal — you should have created a protruding edge around the filling. 

Spread the cheese over the filling, then top with a pinch of mint, sprinkle with the black onion seeds or za’atar, and place on the lined baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, then bake for about 30 minutes, until crisp and golden, rotating the baking sheets if one batch looks like it is browning more quickly.

Sambusak or fatayer pastry 
Little pastries filled with a variety of ingredients, from chopped herbs and soft cheese to meat, walnuts, or chicken, can be found throughout the Arab world, under different names. These cheeky little savory parcels have a delicious filling tucked inside and can be served either hot or cold. They freeze well, and because they’re so small they can be reheated easily. You want a flour that produces a dough that stretches easily, and bread flour will do that. However, this can make the pastries a little tough and not as tender as the ones we have at Comptoir. If you want to experiment, use half bread flour and half all-purpose flour or half Italian pasta flour, as this will give a more tender result. 

Makes 12 ounces (350g) dough 

1/2 cup (125ml) warm water 
1 1/2 cups (200g) bread flour, plus extra for kneading 
1 1/2 tbsp (25ml) olive oil 
1 tbsp superfine sugar or clear honey 
1 tsp salt 

Pour the water into a bowl, then add the flour, olive oil, sugar or honey, and salt and mix everything together well. Aim for a firm-ish dough, adding more water or flour to get the texture you want. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, set aside for 10 minutes, and then lightly knead the dough. Return it to the bowl, cover again, then set aside for about 1 hour at room temperature and it’s ready to use. If you want to make the dough ahead of time, you chill it at this point, then leave it at room temperature for 1 hour before shaping. 

Some basic tips for making the best pastries: roll the dough very thin, otherwise you end up with too much pastry surrounding the filling. I use a little flour, as oil sometimes stops the edges from sealing firmly, but figure out what works best for you. The dough will keep well in the fridge for a few days, and gets easier to roll, but it will change color and go slightly gray. This is just the flour oxidizing and it won’t affect the flavor. You can also freeze the dough. Simply thaw it and return it to room temperature before using.

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  1. This is a Lebanese speciality I really love. Your fattier look really beautiful and mouthwatering.



  2. I've just fallen in love with Middle Eastern food. I think I'd love this cookbook!

  3. Hi Lisa, I love food like this, your fatayer look delicious. Hope you had a great week-end!

  4. These fatayer parcels look mouthwatering. They are my kind of food.

  5. I don't know anything really about Lebanese cooking either, but these look delicious!

  6. Middle Eastern food is truly my love, Lisa. It is true I have never tasted anything like these bundles of goodness but there is no doubt in my mind that I would love them.

    I actualy got nervous thinking you weren't sharing the dough recipe. Thankfully you have. I bookmarked this recipe under my "to try" list. I really would love to try it and yes, check out that book too.

    Thank you so much for sharing, Lisa...

    P.S. If you have any meatball recipes you would like to share, check out today's post:)

  7. I've eaten Lebanese food before but mostly in restaurants. I need to start making it myself. I do love the sound of the ingredients in these - I'm a fan of pomegranate molasses and haloumi so I'm sure I'd love these xx

  8. Lisa, I love Lebanese food and really need to bring that sort of cooking into my kitchen. Once again, your recipe looks absolutely delish!
    Hope you're well, my friend,

  9. The Fatayer are as adorable as they are scrumptious! I would never have thought to give Comptoir Libanais: A Feast of Lebanese-Style Home Cooking, a second glance. Your cookbook reviews always broaden the scope of my cooking.

  10. though i've seen pomegranate molasses in lots of recipes, i've never purchased any (or seen any to purchase, for that matter!). i want to try it, and i want to try these!

  11. Beautiful! What a great appetizer this would be...

    I love Lebanese food, back in Sao Paulo we have a huge presence of Lebanese immigrants and a nice share of fantastic restaurants - I miss that.... wish I could go out to eat more often when we go to Brazil, but usually we just go from dinner invitation to dinner invitation, home cooking 90% of the time. It's still great though...

  12. Food from the Middle East is so interesting, isn't it? I don't know much about Lebanese food either, but I've had something similar to this in the past. Glad to know how to make it! Thanks so much.

  13. These are so cute...I love its shape and yes, delicious filling of cheese and spinach...
    Thanks for the recipe Lisa...enjoy the rest of your week :)

  14. These look wonderful. I've never tried these. They actually remind me of a Chinese dumpling but with entirely different flavours :D

  15. Those are divine mouthfuls, Lisa. Like Lorraine, I thought oriental when I glimpsed your photo, but the flavors are entirely different. I'd love to try them. I've made very little Lebanese food for my family and the blog, but have always enjoyed reading Joumana's Taste of Beirut...lots of Lebanese recipes there.

  16. WOW! They look terrific, Lisa! I have never tried fatayer! Their shape is so great!

  17. Beautiful little nibbles! Interesting idea of using mozzarella, although halloumi has such a wonderfully distinct flavor.

  18. These are certainly unlike any pastries I have ever seen! That filling sounds lovely. I adore the flavors of Lebanese cooking as well...and I didn't even know it!


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