Fatayer is a classic example. These popular spinach pastries are a staple within the sea of mezze at the Middle Eastern table, every family adding the thumbprint that makes theirs, theirs.
This recipe is my Teta’s – my grandmother’s – so to me, it is perfect in every way. The dough is crisp on the outside and springy between the teeth. The spinach is lemony but not lip-pursing, punctuated by soft pine and walnuts. Nostalgia swells with every bite.
Fatayer are made using olive oil dough very similar to that of the sfeeha and mana’eesh. It’s a low maintenance dough that needs only one rising. It yields a crispy pastry with the faintly fruity aroma of the olives, and contrary to what we might imagine, they emerge from the oven dry and soft, not oily at all.
Daunting at first, the folding into triangles is actually quite easy after the first few tries. Put on a bit of music and the time will fly by. Or, if you’re going for authenticity, a few soap operas fussing in the background will do.
For the dough
3 cups plain flour
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup water
For the filling
1/2 kg (1 lb) fresh baby spinach
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
Generous pinch each: salt, black pepper, cinnamon
Optional: 1/4 cup raisins
Dissolve the yeast in the 1/4 cup wam water and set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, add the oil, and mix well with your fingertips. Add the yeast and remaining 1/2 cup water, and mix well again, until a sticky dough forms.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead well, adding a sprinkle of flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, make the spinach filling. Finely chop the spinach leaves and add to a bowl with the salt. “Knead” the spinach and salt together until the spinach is well coated. Place in a colander and rinse well. Squeeze excess moisture from the spinach with paper towels or wrapped tightly in cheesecloth.
Saute the onions in a drop of olive oil over medium-low heat until translucent (not brown). Add to the spinach, along with the remaining ingredients: pine nuts, walnuts, olive oil, lemon juice, and spices. Mix well.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/2 centimeter thickness. Using a biscuit cutter or a drinking glass (what I use), cut as many even circles out as possible. Re-roll the remaining dough and repeat.
Place a full spoon of spinach and nut mixture in the centre of each pastry round. Using your thumbs and index fingers, raise 3 “edges” of the circle to meet in the middle. Pinch the center meeting point, and then down each crease to seal. Voila! Triangle shape.
Brush each triangle lightly with a egg wash (or omit for vegan version), and bake 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with extra lemon wedges.