Lebanese Syrian Spinach Pie Recipe (Fatayer simsum)
There are few things I identify with more than being Lebanese – Syrian. I don’t know why: I am a third generation American girl, who is only half-Middle Eastern, and I have never set foot in Lebanon. To look at me or my sister someone may think…Italian? French? So why the strong connection? I attribute it to the fact that my whole family identifies with it as well. We keep our heritage alive and pass it along from generation to generation. We may not all look the part, but we know it and keep it alive. Even my farm raised, fair skinned, blonde, also half-Lebanese cousin will tell you how Christmas, Easter, and many other family gatherings are vitally made up of impeccably traditional Lebanese food and very loud talking.
I remember rolling grape leaves as a young child. Carefully plucking them out of the brine, spreading one leaf out on the counter, placing the proper amount of rice filling, then firmly folding and rolling the leaf into its secure cigar-like form. You learned the exact amount of delicate touch and taut manipulation you needed for the leaf to not rip in the process or fall apart when you boiled them later on the stove. It can be a great time to spend with family, and it can also be a peaceful solitary activity. I’ve woken up at 5 am to roll grape leaves to share with co-workers, and I’ve spent long afternoons making them for friends.
There is such peace in knowing that the activity you are doing has been done the same way for hundreds of years. There are many cultures that can identify with the same feeling. Simple ingredients coming together with distinctive spices to become something many people find extraordinary. In some ways this type of food preparation is so simplistic, but it takes an act of love to make great food. If anyone ever brings you culturally based homemade food, chances are it was made with love and passion. Cooking like this is an uncommon art.
Like most Mediterranean food, Lebanese-Syrian diets can be so healthy and nutritious. High protein, good fats, complex carbs, and lots of good fiber. Chickpeas alone are high in fiber, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphate, and selenium, but low in saturated fat. These little guys are nutritional powerhouses! A Mediterranean diet has been touted as ideal for a long time. Even though many dishes use oil, extra virgin olive oil has been shown to lower many forms of heart disease when used in proper moderation. It’s not a high heat oil, meaning it is best used for sautéing, roasting, and at room temperature but not great for frying. It’s versatility comes from its very non-offensive flavor. Olive oil is best in ‘cold-pressed’ form (a form of expelling the oil from the source). Also, most Lebanese and Mediterranean dishes involve vegetables; kusa, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber, and onions are of few of the most common. These vegetables are commonly served lightly cooked or raw, frequently paired with lemon juice (from a real lemon, not ReaLemon) and healthy fats creating a food that is great for body and soul.
It is actually pretty easy to buy local and cook Lebanese food. Most of the vegetables are commonly grown in the Northwest-Ohio and Mid-West region. What isn’t grown locally can be easily found at one of the many Middle Eastern small businesses in the area; for me it’s always a good excuse to go to Tiger Bakery but The Anderson’s stores and most grocery stores have everything you need as well. I can’t tell you how awesome Spinach Pies (or Fatayer simsum) turn out using locally grown, late-winter spinach; the flavor was no-comparison to what I have bought at the grocery store, but if that’s what you have, it works. I make the dough from scratch (just flour, water, salt, yeast and a little olive oil – not so scary) and use sweet onions, it’s fantastic!
Most people are familiar with hummus and it’s a simple, yet not so simple thing to get just right, but there are hundreds of recipes out there. Today I’m going to share the fairly simple Syrian Spinach Pie Recipe; let me know how it goes!
*Adapted from The Art of Syrian Cookery by Helen Corey
Lebanese Syrian Spinach Pies (Fatayer simsum)
Makes 3 dozen hand pies
Active Prep Time: 60 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 ½ Hours
2 lbs all purpose flour
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 packet active dry yeast
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups lukewarm water
2 lbs fresh spinach
Salt to taste
3 onions, chopped fine
Juice of 3 lemons
1 tsp pepper (approximately) to taste
½ tablespoon ground coriander (more or less to taste)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more for baking)
*Optional: large disposable aluminum baking/roasting trays
To make the dough:
Dissolve yeast in 1 cup of lukewarm water (not too hot or will kill yeast)
Mix flour and salt in large mixing bowl
Pour in dissolved yeast water plus the additional two cups of lukewarm water, knead well
Add oil and continue to knead until one large sticky ball forms
Cover and let rest at room temp about 1 ½ hours [**Go to The Spinach Filling**]
When dough rises, cut into small sections 3” in diameter (I like to roll them into a ball) place on a floured pan or tray keeping far enough apart they don’t merge together during second rise
Cover again for 30 minutes
Go to Assembly
The Spinach Filling:
Wash spinach thoroughly and cut into small pieces
Sprinkle with salt
Squeeze until water is removed
Add chopped onions, lemon juice, and pepper and coriander, mix well
Add oil and mix (I use my bare hands and massage it all together)
Heat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit
On a clean floured working surface flatten dough with hands into thin dough circles no more than ¼” thick
Place about ¼ – ⅓ cup spinach mixture in center of a piece flattened dough
Imagine the circle of dough as three even sections: fold the outside edges of the dough over the spinach pile, and pinch dough together forming triangular pies.
Brush oil on baking tray (I like to use large disposable aluminum ones), arrange pies in rows about 2” apart
Brush modest oil on top of triangular pies
Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes until bottoms are slightly browned
Place under broiler until tops of pies are lightly browned