As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate the fact that we almost never ever had take-outs or went out for lunch (the main meal of the day in the Arab world). I am now so grateful for all the hot meals and love my mom brought to our family, but also for growing up to know what real food tastes, smells and feels like. We always gathered around the table and had food together, and the best memories are the ones that revolve around food and gatherings.
Now pastries are without a doubt my mom’s specialty and when we were kids, she baked them quite often. They’re so versatile, taste amazing, everyone likes them, and she is a pastries’ master; she could make them with her eyes closed. Mom has a nickname “em al ajeen”, mother of dough, because by looking at the ingredients she can tell you if the dough is going to be good or not and how the texture is going to be like. For a very long time she used to make dough without measurements and only relying on her sense of touch, until we started insisting on wanting a recipe. She can rescue any failed dough and her pastries taste like heaven and lots and lots of love.
Middle eastern pastries in general have different dough types, shapes and fillings. They can be filled, or topped with literally anything, but traditionally, at least in my family, the fillings/toppings are, za’atar, white cheese, chili tomato paste, ground meat, labneh and spinach.
In later posts, I will introduce you to all my mom’s dough secrets and to other recipes, but today I am sharing the spinach recipe. When we were kids, more often than not, mama made those spinach pastries for lunch; these were some of the very few times she could get me to eat my veggies and I just loved them!
In my family, the spinach pastries are served with a parsley tahini dip. I have no idea why and I don’t see people serving it this way, but this is how we do it. I must say though, I really like it this way and I think they go really well together, plus tahini makes almost everything taste better. However, a person who might not be used to this might think of this as an unusual combination.
Let’s get cooking!
There are two components to the spinach pastries, dough and filling. The dough recipe is very traditional and one of the few dough recipes where mom uses olive oil. The filling ingredients are traditional, but the way mom prepares it is not. Yet, I personally think this is the reason why hers taste superior to other spinach fatayer.
We never squeeze the liquids out of the spinach like most people do and we do add a generous amount of lemon juice and olive oil to the filling. People usually avoid liquids to make sure the dough doesn’t become soggy. However, having had endless spinach pastries in my life in my mom’s kitchen, I can reassure you that this filling is so tasty and would not impact the dough.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ tbsp instant dry yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Water as needed (¾ – 1 cup)
- 400 g fresh spinach (leaves and stems) roughly chopped
- ½ cup olive oil
- ⅓ cup lemon juice
- 1 tbsp sumac
- ½ tbsp spicy pepper paste (optional or to taste)
- 1 onion finely chopped and liquids squeezed out by hand
- 1 ½ tsp salt.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, sugar and yeast and stir to combine. Add the oil and water and kneed until dough comes together. Knead by hand on a lightly greased surface until smooth and elastic for about 10 minutes.
- Transfer to a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rest for 45 minutes – 1 hour.
- Meanwhile start preparing the filling, add all ingredients under filling to a large bowl and mix to combine. Taste and adjust salt if needed.
- Preheat oven to 220 °C and lightly grease 2 baking sheets with olive oil.
- Divide dough into small balls, (18 – 21) and cover with a kitchen towel so that dough doesn’t dry out. Flatten each ball with your hand into a large circle, almost ½ cm thick. Add filling to the center of the dough. It is very important to leave the edges of the dough dry, otherwise you won’t be able to close the dough. Fold 3 edge of the dough over the filling and pinch to close the 3 sides together to form a triangular shape.
- Bake in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.
- Serve warm with a tahini parsley dip.
- Add salt to taste. Salt tastes very differently depending on the type you’re using.
- The weight of the spinach is the weight after it being washed and dried completely.
- When adding the filling to the dough, use your hand to avoid adding liquids.
- The pastries freeze really well up to 3 months.