Friday, December 27, 2013

Lebanese Spinach Pies (Fatayir)



Spinach fatayir are a family favorite. My husband's grandmother made legendary fatayir, and while her recipe may be lost forever, my father-in-law claims these are as close as he has ever tasted. There are a few tricks to know before getting started, but the most important is tasting the filling before assembly. Adjust salt and lemon to taste, remembering that the acidity of lemon juice dissipates with heat, so some of the tartness is lost through baking; we like our spinach pies with a kick of tart so I often add more lemon juice to compensate. Salt is the other component of note, once that filling is wrapped in dough, it is too late to add anything, so taste before filling and adjust as desired.


There are a few other tricks as well, noted in the how-to method with pictures below. The basic recipe is as follows:


Spinach Fatayir


Basic 5-cup Bread Dough (use only half the sugar for a more savory dough, the dough should be slightly sticky/wet so it is easier to roll and fold)
2 lbs fresh or frozen whole leaf spinach
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1-2 leeks, chopped (can substitute shallot or onion)
1 bunch parsley, minced
5-6 green onions, white and some green stem, minced
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
juice of 1 lemon (or more to taste)

1/2 cup oil (half margarine/butter, half olive oil) melted

If using fresh spinach, it should be chopped and sauteed lightly in a pan with a bit of olive oil to release the water, just until it wilts. Remove to plate and allow to cool before squeezing any remaining water out by hand. Frozen spinach should be thawed and then squeezed by hand to extract as much water as possible, chop lightly. Place spinach in a large bowl.

Heat oil in a large fry pan and add onion and leek/shallot and saute until translucent. Remove to bowl with spinach and proceed to add all remaining ingredients, with the exception of the melted oil. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

See folding methods below. Brush with melted oil. Bake 18-20 minutes at 400-degrees

Fatayir made by dividing the dough into balls, flattening to circle shape and then filling each.


Fatayir made by rolling the dough thin and cutting the shape with a cookie cutter before filling.
I have experimented with both methods of folding fatayir and I prefer a less traditional way of rolling the dough as thin as possible, which means I depend on the stickiness of the dough to the counter to pull the dough until it 'window panes' at which point I can see the counter top through the dough, not all over, just in some places. This method may not be ideal for the beginner, so I made a second batch (see the sacrifices I put my family through to make a recipe as comprehensive as possible?) just to test the filling to dough ratio if dividing the dough, and it is documented here as well.

The recipe as written will make 24-30 fatayir using the rolling dough method with a 4 1/4-inch circle cookie cutter and 1/4 cup spinach filling in each.
OR
Two dozen fatayir with the method of dividing the dough into 24 equal dough balls, rolling, flattening, or stretching the balls flat to at least 5-inch circles and then filling them with 1/3 cup filling. 
The method for folding is the same and since I prefer the more nontraditional method, most of the pictures below illustrate the rolling dough method unless otherwise indicated.

Here is the dough ball method, divide dough into four equal portions, then divide each quarter of dough into six equal sections. Roll each (some stealing of little bits from bigger pieces to give to the smaller is done) into a ball and cover the bunch with plastic wrap as you work so the dough does not dry out. 
Alternatively, if rolling the dough, start by dividing the dough into four equal sections, cover the other three as you work to keep them from drying out and roll the dough as thin as possible. Lift and pull the dough gently to stretch it thin. This requires a somewhat sticky work space, so do not over flour before rolling the dough.
Place 1/4 cup of filling on each circle, but move quickly so the dough does not dry out. If it does, simply dampen the edge of the circle with your finger to encourage it to stick as you fold the triangles. 
To fold the fatayir, grab the opposite sides of the circle and bring them together over the filling, pinching one edge to seal it. Be careful to keep the filling out of the joint or the oil will keep the folds from joining and they will break apart when baked. 

Take the remaining flap and pull the middle section toward the folded dough, again being careful as to not let the spinach filling come in contact with the edges that are being folded and pinched together.
Finish the triangle shape by pinching the open corners to enclose the filling completely. Sometimes the middles pull open a bit no matter how careful you are to keep the filling from touching the dough, a small opening in the middle is perfectly acceptable, even desired by some grandmothers (or so I am told.)
A perfectly folded fatayir takes some practice. Even after 15+ years of making them, I rarely get them all folded as perfectly as the one in the picture. Tell your loved ones to eat the ugly ones first (I bet they don't complain.)
Remove the dough around the circles that are cut so it doesn't dry out as you work; roll it again after it has had time to rest with all the remaining cut edges. There is no discernible difference in texture between the dough only rolled once and those rolled a second time and made from the cut edges. 
Brush the fatayir generously with melted oil, both now before the baking and again just before they are done to give them a more beautiful golden brown color and to enhance the flavor.
Place the pies on the pan as shown here with enough space for some expansion as they bake. They do not need to rise very long before baking, I often put them right into the oven as soon as they are folded. They should be baked soon after assembly though since the dough is thin and the filling is wet, they can break down if allowed to sit too long. 
Brush each fatayir a second time, the saltiness of the margarine/butter is essential to great flavor, but the oil also lets the dough 'fry' just a bit to enhance the crust further. Bake them approximately 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven until they develop a beautiful golden brown color. Remove from pan to cool on rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a wedge of lemon if desired. Store leftovers in a sealed container. Fatayir can be reheated in a 425-degree oven for 5-7 minutes with excellent results. 

Enjoy! 

2 comments:

  1. I think it is so kind that you worked so hard to perfect your father-in-laws favorite recipe. Family heirloom recipes are treasures that are meant for generations & you are lovely to work to create it just so. XO

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  2. Fatayir is one of my favorite Arabic food and I really adore them. Thanks for you recipe. A small suggestion: you can add sumac instead of lemon to get that tarty touch and your filling will not that wet.

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