For this post, we’re travelling to the Middle East – or, more accurately, to refugees from the Middle East. It turns out that when you’ve been exiled from your war-ravaged home, the one thing they can’t take from you is your food memories. Food writers Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi have done the rounds of Syrians in exile and produced a lovely book called “Syria – recipes from home”: this recipe comes from the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut – yes, that Shatila, the site of the appalling massacre in 1982.
The recipe is for “fatayer”, which are small pasties made of yeasted dough which is rolled thinly and then shaped and pinched around a filling of your choice. There seem to be two popular shapes: I went for a simple half-moon, which gets you something like a miniature version of an Italian calzone. You’ll also see lots of images of fatayer where a hexagon of dough has been folded into a characteristic triangular pyramid: this looks complicated, so I thought I’d leave it for a second time round.
A bit of reading shows that you can fill your fatayer with pretty much anything: I tried two of the three fillings that Itab and Dina list in the recipe: a spinach-based one and a labneh-and-cherry-tomato one.
If you can imagine miniature folded pizzas filled with your favourite yummy Middle Eastern flavours, piping hot out of the oven, you’ve pretty much got it. What’s not to like?
In what follows, by the way, the recipe in the book has been tweaked mildly to adjust seasoning, follow my usual baking drills, etc.
First, make your dough
- 200ml milk
- 300g plain flour, plus some for rolling
- ½ tsp dried yeast
- ½ tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbs sunflower oil (or any other fairly neutral oil)
Put the milk into a saucepan and warm it to around 45℃, add the sugar and yeast, and wait for 5-10 minutes for it to go frothy. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.
When the yeast mix is frothy, pour it into your bowl with the flour, add the oil and mix it well. You should get a soft dough: knead this reasonably vigorously until it goes nicely springy. Brush some oil around a bowl big enough to hold the dough when it’s risen, and put in a warm place. My favourite method is to heat an oven to 50℃ and turn if off just before putting the dough in to rise – it should take 60-90 minutes.
Now make the spinach filling…
- One onion
- 300g spinach
- 4 tsp sumak
- Juice of half a lemon
- Pomegranate seeds
- Salt and pepper to taste
Chop the onion very finely, fry very slowly in a wok or other large pan bit of olive oil until it caramelises. (The pan has to be large enough to take the spinach before it’s wilted).
Add the spinach and keep frying until it’s wilted right down. Add the sumak, lemon juice and pomegranate seeds, season, and keep reducing gently until virtually all the liquid has gone. You don’t want the spinach to burn, but you don’t want any surplus liquid either.
…and the labneh filling
This is even simpler and, if I’m honest, the better of the two…
- 12 cherry tomatoes
- 2-3 baby cucumbers (or perhaps ¼of a large cucumber)
- 5g fresh mint
- 4 tbs labneh
- 2 tbs olive oil
Chop the three dry ingredients as small as you can manage (or can be bothered). Mix everything together thoroughly.
Put it all together
Preheat your oven to 200℃ fan
Flour your board and roll your dough out as evenly as you can. Itab and Dina say 3mm – I’d go thinner if you can do it without breakages.
Cut out circles of dough to a size of your choice: 8cm is about the minimum. Spoon a dollop of filling into the middle of your circle, then fold the dough in half to enclose the filling. You then need to pinch it closed, taking care (a) not to let any filling seep out and (b) that you haven’t left any gaps.
The tricky part is to do this without letting liquid from the filling making it impossible for you to pinch the dough properly so that it stays closed, so two pieces of advice: (1) use a couple of teaspoons for the filling so you don’t dirty your hands and (2) don’t overfill. I ended up giving each circle a little extra roll to thin it out and give myself more margin.
Once you’ve done your first batch, you’ll have a lot of left over scraps of dough. I rolled them all into a ball, re-kneaded them somewhat and then did a second batch.
When each fatayer is made, place it on an oven tray. When they’re all made, bake them until nicely brown – everyone’s oven is different, so keep an eye on them (opening the oven won’t hurt). They took around 15 minutes in my fan oven.