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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