Fatayer and Wild Spinach

by Sarah on December 17, 2009

Fatayer is a triangular stuffed pastry similar to sambusak and characteristically stuffed with spinach, although there are versions with cheese or fresh za’atar filling. It is well known in the Eastern Levant, such as Lebanon, Syria and by Arabs of Israel and Palestine. Although it is more typically seen as an Arab pastry, Jews coming from these areas have also adapted this dish and continue to make it where they have settled throughout the world.

This recipe is most often made with spinach but for a few weeks in spring it can be made with what is known in Israel as wild or Turkish spinach or Sbanech in Arabic and can be purchased in Arab markets such as Ramla or Lod. Apparently during this time it is possible to hike in Israel and the Palestinian territories and collect this plant from the wild. However, it was not listed in Flora Palestina, an unabridged plant identification book which meant that the colloquial name, wild spinach referred to a completely different plant.  Spinach, Spinacia oleracea, is from the beet family but does not grow wild in Israel although other closely related species do, most notably, wild beets, Beta vulgaris and lamb quarters, Chenopodium alba (which in some areas is called wild spinach). I decided to call Nissim Krispil, expert on edible and medicinal wild plants in Israel who has written several books on the subject as well as coauthored a Moroccan cookbook with Chef Guy Peretz. According to him wild spinach is actually from the lettuce family, Lactuca serriola, about 600 pages away from where I was looking for it. This surprised me because wild lettuce, in its mature state, looks nothing like the delicate plant I bought at the shuk. I think it should be called Confusipodium boredomensis, is anyone still here?

Spinach, originating from the area of Central Asia, is one of the many crops which the Arabs dispersed in their westward expansion into North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. It was not known in the Mediterranean area during ancient times but became common by the 11th century.

Fatayer

Although it is a rich source of iron and calcium but needs to be eaten with a food rich in vitamin C for optimal absorption. Like other plants in the beet family, it has a high level of oxalic acid which binds to the iron and calcium and other nutrients in the spinach reducing its bioavailability.

Dough

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dry yeast

1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil)

1/4 cup milk

3/4 cup water

Filling

2 onions, finely chopped

700 grams spinach or wild spinach (whatever that might be), chopped

1 tablespoon sumac (be careful of imitations, it should not be bright pink)

Juice from 1/2 a lemon

Salt

Combine all the ingredients for the dough and knead until soft pliable dough is formed. More or less water may have to be added according to the type of flour being used. Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place.

Combine the onions and the spinach in a colander and sprinkle salt over it (I used a few teaspoons) so that it releases moisture and loses volume, wait 45 minutes-1 hour.  Squeeze the excess liquid between two hands. Mix the onions and spinach with the rest of the ingredients.

Preheat oven to 200 C. When the dough has doubled, roll it out into a long rope and cut it up into about 25-30 uniform pieces. Take each piece and roll it out to form a thin circle.

Add a tablespoon of the spinach filling in the center and fold the sides over to form a triangle. It is quickest and easiest to lay the sides over each other and not pinch the sides closed.

Poke a few holes using a fork so that it doesn’t rise in the oven. Brush with olive oil or egg wash.

For more pictures of Fatayer see:

Tony Tahhan

Syrian Foodie in London

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

yael December 17, 2009 at 2:22 am

It looks so tasty! I’d love to have one of those right now.

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Miriam/The winter guest December 17, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Yum!!

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Megan December 18, 2009 at 9:27 am

Those look beautiful, Sarah! Have you tried making the dough with whole wheat or white whole wheat flour?

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Fiona December 18, 2009 at 10:21 am

Oh that seems so divine! Where might one night fatayer (not at my local safeway, I suppose :(

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Dana December 18, 2009 at 10:42 am

Those look absolutely delicious. Great how-to photos too. I love this kind of food so much.

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Kathleen December 18, 2009 at 11:25 am

You are my hero. Your pies look sooo beautiful! My mother in law taught me to use the pinch close method. Mine always pop open! I think I over fill them.

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Sarah December 18, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Thanks for your comments!
Megan, I never tried making fatayer with whole wheat flour, but why not, it would need to be rolled out thinly enough so it doesn’t come out heavy.
kathleen, last time mine popped open as well, perhaps I didn’t roll the dough thinly enough and it started to rise in the oven (oven temp too low?), also I think poking them so the steam can escape helps.

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Shirley December 21, 2009 at 2:35 am

Very well done! I would also prefer wholemeal flour.

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Margit December 21, 2009 at 7:54 am

I absolutely love Fatayer, used to eat them a lot in Lebanese restaurants in Germany. Your photography, Sarah, while always brilliant, seems to have gone up by another notch! New camera?

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IsraeliMom December 21, 2009 at 8:26 am

Is this what they call serendipity?

I tasted one of those in a Druze food stand a couple of weeks ago and didn’t know what it was called. Decided to try and improvise something like it at home with leaves of fresh Hubeiza. No idea what you would call Hubeiza in English (the proper name in Hebrew is halamit – חלמית).

Ordered the dough ingredients from the grocery store today, so I’ll probably make my own version of Fatayer here this week. I wonder what it’ll turn out like. Your recipe here is very helpful!

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Sarah December 21, 2009 at 9:18 am

hubeiza is mallow and I also collected some yesterday, grows all over the place. It’s a great idea to use it to stuff the fatayer, I will probably make an omelette w/ mine

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Zahavah December 21, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Yum and such gorgeous pictures. Looking forward to cooking with you!

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gokce December 22, 2009 at 3:02 am

these remind me of my childhood… Mom used to prepare the spinach and I used to take it to the closest bakery… I would wait there until they baked in the wood burning bread ovens… and used to eat them while walking home… I will definetely try this recipe…

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