This month I am a part of a team that promotes a cookbook written by one of our own, Faith Gorsky of An Edible Mosaic. Middle-Eastern food is like a trip home to me, and I felt a connection to Faith as she wrote about her culinary experiences after she married a Syrian man and embarked on a trip to learn how to cook his favorite dishes from Sahar, her mother-in-law (as a linguist, I could not pass this one – sahar translates into sugar:)
The culinary world is sometimes like a game of Telephone that we used to play at grade school, before the birthday parties moved forward to embrace slow-dancing. A dish travels along the meridians and changes slightly with each turn, only to become something different every hundred or so kilometers. Every region adds its own flair, adopts it, and claims it with passion; and each incarnation is a story in itself, of the people, the land, the culture, and the history that brought it all together.
When I opened Faith’s book An Edible Mosaic, I felt as if I were visiting distant relatives. I felt comfortable, at home, but still minding my manners and observing keenly from a side table. Most dishes were like beacons that pulled me back to my childhood and foods I enjoyed in Mother’s and Njanja’s kitchen. But there were variables thrown in the mix that intrigued me and made me shift focus for a bit.
We have many dishes featuring dough and spinach in the Balkans. But instead of farmers’ cheese, eggs, and phyllo dough, this recipe asks for yeasted dough, sumac, sauteed onions, lemon juice, and cumin/coriander spice mix. I am lucky to have two Persian stores a few blocks away and cumin and coriander are a staple in my house. I tasted sumac for the first time when I visited my oldest daughter in Berkeley and ate at an Afghani restaurant. I could not wait to try a recipe that asked for it. And I was not disappointed.
Here is what Faith has to say about Spinach Turnovers:
During my time in Damascus, one of my favorite meals was my mother-in-law’s Spinach Turnovers. She and I would go to the market to pick up fresh spinach along with any other ingredients that were needed, and then she’d make the filling when we got home. After that, one of her sons was sent to the communal oven where the baker stuffed the family’s filling into his dough, and then baked the turnovers. Done this way, the family pays for the baker’s dough and goes home with freshly made treats.
The communal ovens were such a novel idea to me; they are remnants leftover from a time when very few homes had ovens of their own. Despite the fact that this is no longer the case in Damascus, the tradition has endured.
I really love the pleasantly tart flavor of these turnovers, which comes from both sumac and lemon juice. Paired with plain yogurt, they are a completely satisfying vegetarian meal.
Faith Gorsky, Author of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair
This virtual potluck is like a mix-and-match menu, a prix fixe if you want, letting you sample appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Just say Open, Sesame, and the world of culinary wonders will be yours. Thank you, Casey from Kitchen Play for getting this group together and opening our horizons!
SPINACH TURNOVERS (Fatayer Bil Sabanekh):
Preparation Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
Yields about: 25-35 turnovers
- 1 batch Savory Flat Pie Dough (recipe to follow)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more as necessary for the spinach
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon sumac
- 1 lb (500 g) spinach
- 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Olive oil to oil the baking sheets, countertop, and tops of the turnovers
- Fresh lemon wedges (optional, for serving)
- Prepare Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough
- 2. Heat both the oils in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onion and saute until softened but not browned, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the sumac.
- 3. Chop the spinach and remove any large stems; add it to a large pot with 2 cups (500ml) of water. Cover the pot and cook over high heat until just wilted, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a cheesecloth-lined colander and let it sit until the spinach is cool enough to handle, and then wring the cheesecloth to remove the excess water.
- Combine the onion/sumac mixture, drained spinach, lemon juice, salt, coriander, cumin, and black pepper in a large bowl. The spinach should look slightly glossy; if it doesn’t, stir in more canola oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it does. Be careful not to add too much. Taste the spinach; it should taste like a well-seasoned salad; if it doesn’t, adjust seasonings (such as lemon juice, salt, pepper, and other spices accordingly).
- Preheat oven to 400F (200C) and lightly brush 2 large baking sheets with olive oil (alternatively, you can line them with parchment paper or silpat liners).
- Gently deflate the dough, then divide into 2 equal pieces and shape the pieces into balls; put the balls back into the bowl, cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel, and let sit 5 to 10 minutes. Lightly brush olive oil onto your countertop (or whatever surface you want to use to roll out the dough).
- Work with 1 piece of dough at a time and use your hands to gently stretch it out, then use the rolling pin to roll it out to a circle about 12 inches (30cm) in diameter. Stamp out circles 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter with a round cookie cutter. Scoop about ½ tablespoon of spinach filling onto the center of each piece of dough. Repeat this process with the remaining ball of dough. Gather the dough scraps into a ball, roll it out, and fill only re-roll the scraps once to prevent the dough from toughening).
- To form the turnovers, fold the dough along line 1-2 up and over onto the center, then do the same for the dough along line 2-3, and finally for line 1-3; pinch the dough together at the seams to seal it. (Alternatively, you can shape them into little pyramids: pull up lines 1-3 and 2-3 and pinch them together to form a seam, then pull up line 1-2 and pinch it together along the sides of the seam you just made to form the two remaining sides.)
- Line up the turnovers (seam side up) about 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets and brush a little oil on top of each. Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets once halfway through cooking. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
- 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons warm water
- 3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
- 11/4 teaspoons of fine salt
- ¾ cups (185ml) milk at room temperature
- Brush ½ tablespoons of oil on the inside of a large bowl and set aside.
- Mix together the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved.
- Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients, and then stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Gradually stir in enough milk to form shaggy dough (you may not need all the milk).
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes; the dough is done being kneaded when you press your finger into it and the indentation remains.
- Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl and roll it gently to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel and let sit until doubled in size, about 1 ½ hours.
Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are my own. I have received a free review copy of the book from the publisher.
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