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Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

posted on: Nov 25, 2015

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

spinach sambusik pie © linda dalal sawaya 2015

The Thanksgiving holiday is upon us and even my Lebanese mother provided our family with classic stuffed turkey (habash in Arabic), candied yams, mashed potatoes, cranberries, apple pie, and all the side dishes she learned as a homemaker in the United States that we all loved.

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, the aromas of pie-baking filling my home are not of pumpkin, but of a childhood favorite that I haven’t made in years: sfeeha and fatayir—Lebanese savory pies.

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style! Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style! Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

spinach pie ingredients © linda dalal sawaya 2015

It is cold outside, and a perfect time to light the oven. The fall greens in my garden are exactly right for making spinach pies, using a mixture of fresh spinach, chard, parsley, spearmint, green onions and a bit of kale. The finely chopped filling is seasoned with salt, black and cayenne peppers, lemon juice and olive oil. Some Middle Eastern cooks like to pre-cook the filling to make them easier to fill. Not my mama and sitto—they preferred to allow the greens to cook inside the dough, in spite of the fact that they’re harder to pinch closed for baking. In the oven, their aromas are wafting through my home, letting me know baking is just about complete.

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style! Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style! Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style! Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

filling and forming Lebanese spinach pies © linda dalal sawaya 2015

Ground lamb, onions, pine nuts, and labne are the prime ingredients in the savory meat pies left open at the top. Some Middle Eastern cooks use beef, but our mountain village tradition is to use lamb. The seasonings are salt, black and cayenne pepper, cinnamon, allspice, and lemon juice. Once they are baked and come out of the oven, a dollop of cold, tart labne (yogurt cheese) makes a sublime contrast to the hot, spicy, savory filling.

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style! Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style! Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

sfeehas or fatayir meat pies © linda dalal sawaya 2015

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style! Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

sfeehas or fatayir meat pies © linda dalal sawaya 2015

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

sfeehas or fatayir meat pies with gluten free dough © linda dalal sawaya 2015

Even though one may think of oneself as a great cook, sometimes, we become humbled by errors in the kitchen. The reason I haven’t baked these pies for years is because I have been “gluten free”. My error today was using gluten free flour to make the dough for this pastry. I have used gluten free flour quite successfully in cakes and pie bottoms, and even tilme b’zaatar, but realized much too late in the process that it does not work for these usually beautifully formed and closed triangular pies.

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

rustic lamb sfeehas with GF dough © linda dalal sawaya 2015

Although they seemed to be pinched closed before baking, the meat pies split wide open in baking. Beautiful they are not, however, following my beloved mother, Alice’s advice: If you make it with love it will be delicious, proved once again true. They taste delicious. And no matter how artsy my pictures are, or how much I attempt in Photoshop, I cannot hide their true homeliness! Let’s just call them rustic!

It would have been wise, knowing the lack of stretchiness in GF dough, where the stretchy quality comes from the gluten, to have made the meat pies open faced: lahm bi ajeen! Why didn’t I think of that when the struggle to pinch them closed began?

And then when the same struggle, if not worse, happened with the spinach pies, I could not make those open faced. Happily I remembered the technique of my long-time-ago Syrian boyfriend’s mother, Sitt Amine, who made her spinach pies like big sambousik! So after a few disasters with the little ones, I wisely rolled the dough big and wide, used an upside-down bowl to cut a circle out, and filled with my spinach filling. Even these were a bit challenging to pinch closed, as the juices had started to wet the dough, but the results were far better. This would be called an empanada in Spanish or a calzone in Italian, so it’s an international type of pastry.

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style! Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style! Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

big sambusik spinach pie with gluten free dough © linda dalal sawaya 2015

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style! Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

sambusik spinach pies © linda dalal sawaya 2015

In the end, if you have to be gluten free, make your meat pies open faced laham bi ajeen, and your spinach pies into big sambusik’s and that will be better than not enjoying these favorite Arabic savory pastries ever again!

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

fatayir bi sbanikh—baked spinach pies © linda dalal sawaya 2015

Something must be in the air about making these, for today on two other cool Lebanese Instagrams: Taste of Beirut, and Souk el Tayeb, what are they cooking: sfeehas and fatayir! It must be the season!

And what to do with that extra dough: fill it with apricot jam from the summer for a surprise night-before-Thanksgiving dessert!

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

mishmish apricot jam pie with leftover dough © linda dalal sawaya 2015

Just so you know, the dough recipe for these in Alice’s Kitchen uses traditional wheat flour, and the dough is easy to work with and makes beautiful pies! Enjoy!

Sahtein, happy cooking, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

Linda Dalal Sawaya is a Portland artist, cook, Master Gardener, daughter of Lebanese immigrants, and author of Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking 

Remember, as my mother Alice said, “If you make it with love, it will be delicious!”

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Thanksgiving pies—Lebanese style!

story and all photos © linda dalal sawaya 2015

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