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Sfeeha - Mini Pizzas With an Arab Twist

posted on: Oct 27, 2021

By: Blanche Shaheen / Arab America Contributing Writer

Nothing made me happier as a child than to see a couple of sfeehas in my lunchbox. For Arabs, sfeehas reign supreme over traditional cheese pizza. Sfeeha, or Sfiha, is around miniature meat pie, made in a myriad of ways depending on the region. In the Bethlehem region of Palestine, where my mother grew up, they add tahini to the ground lamb, which adds a rich and nutty flavor. In parts of Syria, they add peppers and tomatoes to the meat for added sweetness. In the Balbaak region of Lebanon, where this dish is renowned, they add pomegranate molasses and spices like cinnamon and sumac. Many cooks top the sfeehas with chopped tomato and toasted pine nuts for added sweetness and crunch. 

Flatbreads like sfeeha have existed in the Fertile Crescent since prehistoric times. Traditionally they were baked on hot stones or a metal sajj plate, or in an underground oven called the taboon. Arabs in medieval times developed sfeeha, and its popularity spread across the Ottoman Empire. In the 20th century, Lebanese and Syrian immigrants introduced this delicacy all the way to Brazil, where today these pies are ubiquitous and popular fast food.  

Arab cooks tend to make massive batches of sfeefa, up to 5  dozen or more for appetizers at parties. But even if there is no special occasion, they make large batches to freeze, then toast portioned amounts throughout the week for quick meals. Popular accompaniments to sfeeha include hummus or labneh cheese for dipping. While the ground lamb is the traditional choice in this recipe, you can use beef or any meat substitute you wish. Arab cooks that have settled in the United States often use shortcuts like using a ready-made pizza or biscuit dough with excellent results in far less time. 

Sfeeha has become so popular that this meat-loaded flatbread is a staple in Brazilian cuisine. “Esfiha” as the Brazilians call it, was brought in by Arab immigrants in the 19th century. An unprecedented study commissioned by the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce found that the Arab community in Brazil numbers 11.61 million, about 6% of the Brazilian population. It is no wonder that this beloved snack food is an indelible part of Brazilian cuisine. 

To see the video technique of how to make this recipe, click on the video below:

  • 1 Pita bread recipe (below or you can use store bought pizza or biscuit dough as a shortcut) 
  • 1 pound ground lamb meat (or ground beef, chicken, or turkey if you wish)  
  • 2 Tbsp butter or ghee
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (optional) 
  •  ½ cup minced parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dash lemon pepper
  • Juice of ½  a lemon (or whole lemon if you prefer a more tart taste)
  • 3 Tbsp tahini paste
  • ½  cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped (optional)

Prepare the pita bread dough and set it aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine garlic, onions, parsley and ground meat. Add allspice, salt to taste, lemon pepper, and combine with hands until well incorporated.  Heat a skillet and add the 2 tbsp ghee–then add the meat and parley mixture to the pan. Sauté for about 10 minutes, until the meat is nicely separated and cooked. Combine the tahini and lemon juice, and add to the meat mixture. Add optional pomegranate molasses, and combine until well incorporated. Butter two large cookie sheets. Separate dough into about 14  3 inch balls. Flatten each one with oiled hands to a circle about 4 inches in diameter. Place about a tablespoon of the meat mixture on each disk, and spread around leaving about 1/4 inch of dough around the outer rim. As a variation, you can top the meat pies with seeded chopped tomatoes. Top each one with a sprinkle of pine nuts. Press the tomatoes and nuts firmly so they will stay in place while baking.  Bake in the oven for about 12 minutes or until the edges are browned. You can serve these with hummus for dipping.

HTAWB2 A Plate of Traditional Syrian Borak with Meat

Pita/ Sheeha dough

Video Technique for Pita Bread: 

3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour  

1   envelope yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water with 1 teaspoon sugar  

1   ½ tsp salt  

1/4  cup safflower or any other vegetable oil

1 cup warm water 

Dissolve the yeast with the sugar into the ¼ cup warm water (make sure the water is not too hot) and combine until dissolved. Mix the salt into the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the oil into the well, and using your fingers rub the oil into the flour to combine. Add the dissolved yeast, then the 1 cup of water and combine–knead to make a ball of dough. If you don’t like to get your hands doughy, you can combine the ingredients in a food processor or mixer and combine until a stiff dough results. Otherwise, knead the dough by hand for 3 minutes. Let the dough sit for 15 minutes, then knead some more. Let the dough rise in a covered bowl and in a warm place for about 2 hours. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Punch down dough and cut into 10 pieces and roll into balls. Place on a floured surface and let rise another 45 minutes. Roll out each ball of dough to 6-7 inches in diameter, adding flour to the work surface if it gets too sticky. Try to shape them into perfectly rounded disks. Place the dough rounds on an oiled pan and cover with a towel. Let the dough rest for another 15 minutes. Brush a cookie sheet with oil and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. 

Blanche Shaheen is the author of the cookbook called “Feast In the Middle East, a Journey of Family and Cuisine”  which you can order here:   She is also a journalist, and host of the popular cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond.  You can check out her cooking video tutorials at  Her recipes can also be found at 

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