Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lebanese Feast...Sorta

I am super excited about this post. My adventures in Lebanese food is a hit or miss kinda ordeal and this was no less, but still worthy of blogging about it.

This was a special dinner I was making for the hubs, because of his generous anniversary gift to me...a lovely, old mine cut, yellow diamond from the 1870's, set in a vintage style setting. Need I say that I love it?!!! And since he is incredibly difficult to buy for and rarely knows what he wants, the one thing I know he will always want for a gift is a great meal. So I set out to create for him a fantastic meal of his roots.

About a week and a half ago, we were watching a show on PBS called Globe Trekker. I've never seen it and actually thought it was going to be pretty dumb so I crawled into my girl-cave, aka my bedroom, and flipped on some rerun on Bravo. I hear him calling to me from the other room that I have to come see this show and I kinda ignore him because at this point I am cozy in my bed. He keeps nagging me and so I give in and come out to watch it with him. I am so glad I did! The best part of the show was where this Lebanese woman as teaching the host how to make spinach pies, hummus and tabbouleh. My husband was drooling because the food was authentic and his favorites. He was salivating to the point where I was concerned I may need to grab one of the kid's catch-all bibs.

The wheels started turning in my head for a special thank you meal for him. I was excited by the idea of making something I've never made before and surprising him with it.

Here's the official menu:

Traditional Salad, thinly sliced romaine lettuce with a very tangy lemon, garlic and olive oil dressing

Hummus, traditional chickpea puree, with lemon, tahini, garlic, olive oil and salt

Spinach Pies, unleavened bread filled with a tangy, spinach and onion filling and baked

Beef Kebab, ground beef mixed with spices and garlic and grilled to juicy perfection

Yogurt Sauce, plain yogurt mixed with cucumbers, lemon, dill or mint to serve with kebab

Pita Bread...of course.

Here's what made it to the table:

Spinach Pies
Yogurt Sauce
Beef Kebab

Right. The menu got shaved down just a bit. Mama got in over her head as she tends to do, but usually I can pull it off. Not this time, sister. I got slapped in the face with the spinach pies, they kicked my butt. Let me elaborate.

Firstly, I'm a bit thrown off by the metrics system measurements. But no biggie, I just google it. Find out that 300gr. of flour is 2 cups and 125ml of water is like 1/2 cup. Fine. For whatever reason, while I was making the dough (recipe below) I forgot what I learned and put in 1/4 cup water instead of the above portion. Remember how baking is an exact science? I was struggling with that dough. It was like trying to knead an over-chewed piece of bubblegum, but in an un-sticky way. Out of breath, I ask my mom to add more water, because it just wasn't coming together no matter how hard I tried. I finally got it into a ball shape, threw the bowl over it and let it rest, along with myself.

I went on to prepare the filling, easy and fun compared to Tar Ball over there.  I came back to it and started breaking it down into smaller pieces to roll out. Let me preface this whole thing by saying, a menopausal woman and a PMS-ing woman, have no place being in a kitchen when difficult tasks are required of them. The most you will get out of them is a grunt, maybe high-pitched squeal (both frustration oriented) and a tossing of the unleavened bread. I think Jesus was laughing at us.

Evil dough balls.

My  mom leaves to run an errand. I am left with my rubbery dough. The only thing keeping me going was the look of happiness on the hubs face as he took a bite of my homemade spinach triangles. I set that in my mind as my goal and I got up off my tukus and addressed the upside-down bowl with pain lurking underneath.

I thought kneading this stuff was hard, but little did I know how hard it would be to roll it out. I needed a steam roller. I'm not generally known for my upper body strength, other than toting small children, so my biceps are pretty wienie. They let me down in this dough rolling task. I was straining so hard I just threw down the rolling pin and said in less than savory words, "Forget this, I'm getting the wine!" I stomp to the pantry where I grab my last bottle of Plow and Stars and crack it open. Had I been a sailor, I would have just used my teeth to open that bottle. No time for chilling this Riesling, I take a swig and get back to rolling.

It could have been the wine, it could have been the pressure to get this thing done, or the ensuing fact that I had to get all three kids up from nap in 30 minutes but I started getting the giggles. I would roll out the dough super thin, cut it with a circular cookie cutter, then set it aside. Two seconds later, I glance over at it and it's shrunk to the size of a Barbie pancake. "BAD WORDS, BAD WORDS, CURSE WORDS!!!!" More wine? Yes, please. More giggling.

I had discs of dough flying off the counter top and me swiftly pinning them up against the cabinets with my knee caps as they slid down. I don't know where I got the agility. That too, caused more laughter.


Notice my "helper" in the background.


One down! Eleven to go.

I call him Frankenstein.

I finally rolled out twelve. Twelve was my limit. As long as I could do that, I was happy. I stuffed them and threw them on the cookie sheet to bake. I'm not using this bread anymore. I'm using leavening next time, for sure. I'm giving you the recipe anyways, because it is probably a great one for the unleavened bread. I just didn't follow directions.

This is sumac. A salty, tangy flavored spice. I found it at Whole Foods for about $2.

Planet Food Lebanon Recipe: Lebanese Spinach Triangles (Fatayer Bil-Sbanegh)
by Anissa Helou

This pie is my take on the traditional Fatayer Bil-Sbanegh, individual triangles filled with the same filling as below and baked. It is much quicker to make one large pie, to cut in slices, instead of individual triangles and the taste is the same. You can vary on the filling below by using purslane (leaves only), sorrel, Swiss chard, dandelion or wild thyme. Whichever greens you choose, the quantities and instructions will be the same as below.

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

For the dough

300 g organic plain flour, plus extra for kneading and shaping
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup extra virgin oil

For the filling:

1 medium onion, very finely chopped
Fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sumac
400 g spinach, cut in very thin strips
2 tablespoons pine nuts
juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Mix the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the oil to the well and with the tip of your fingers, work into the flour until well incorporated.
Gradually add 125 ml warm water and mix until you have a rough dough. Remove the dough onto your lightly floured work surface. Knead for 2-3 minutes, then roll into a ball. Invert the bowl over the dough and let sit for 15 minutes. Knead for a few more minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Divide in two equal pieces. Shape into balls. Cover with a damp kitchen towel. Let rest while you make the filling.
Put the chopped onion in a small mixing bowl. Add a little salt, the pepper and sumac and, with your fingers, rub the seasonings into the onion to soften it.
Put the chopped spinach in a mixing bowl, sprinkle with a little salt and rub the salt in with your fingers until the spinach is wilted. Squeeze the spinach very dry. Transfer to a clean mixing bowl. Separate the leaves.
Add the onion to the spinach, together with the pine nuts, lemon juice and olive oil. Mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary -- the filling should be quite strongly flavoured to offset the rather bland dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Roll out one ball of dough as thinly as you can, just under 1/10 inch thin. With a pastry cutter, cut out 3 inch disks. Place 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons filling in the middle of each disk. Lift 2 sides of the disk, each about one third of the diameter and pinch together to start forming a triangle. Lift the bottom third and pinch with the loose ends to form an inverted Y. Transfer to an oiled baking sheet and brush the triangles with oil. Knead the cut-outs together and let rest while you roll out the other ball of dough and make more triangles. Transfer to the baking sheet and brush with oil. Use the cut-outs to make the remaining triangles. Brush with oil.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 15-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*What I did to the above: I used two 10 oz. packages of frozen spinach and I didn't use pine nuts. Other than that, I stayed pretty true to the recipe. The filling is excellent!

On with the kebabs. One word: Meat-cicles. So incredibly good! These were my masterpiece and it was the one thing I didn't have a recipe for. I made it up as I went, not without a call to the mother-in-law for the absolute must-have ingredients for a kebab and squished it together.

Ground Beef Kebab- Foodie House Style

1 1/2 pounds 85/15 ground beef
1/4 of a large sweet onion, minced
1 clove garlic, smashed into oblivion, using some salt and the side of your knife
1 tbls. ground allspice
2 tbls. fresh parsley minced
1/4 tsp. sumac
Salt and pepper

6 bamboo or metal skewers, just soak the bamboo for thirty minutes in water before grilling

Mix all ingredients together, making sure everything is well incorporated. Take handfuls of the meat mixture and squeeze it onto each skewer, distribute evenly and firmly. Heat up your grill nice and hot, and cook until nicely charred and just cooked through.

"Obedient" would be the word for these little soldiers. Unlike their rogue dinner partner, Unleavened Bread Dough.

Serve with pita bread and yogurt sauce. Click here for yogurt sauce recipe.

I think, overall, the hubs was excited with his meal (even though he had to grill it) and even though the spinach pies weren't just like his Auntie's, I know he felt the love. I am determined to perfect the spinach pie now. It's lit a fire that isn't just for kebabs.

I would say "Cheers!" in Arabic, but I'm not good at saying it or spelling it. I think it's pronounced "Sah-ten!" Means "two healths". So double the health and hopefully not double the trouble if you try out this mini feast.


  1. I just want to congratulate you! That's a huge accomplishment. I am sooo used to my mother-in-law or my mom making these type of dishes that I don't make much attempt. Everything in your menu looks salivating worth and I am sure your hubby is going to get you diamond earrings to match your beautiful ring.

  2. Wow Lauren, you earned that ring! Happy Anniversary

  3. thank you girls! It was worth the frustration. Tasted good and I learned a lot. Cheers!

  4. Wow, you did quite a bit! I recently had my own Middle Eastern feast, but you put me to shame.

    Love the looks of those kebabs...

  5. Did you tempt us with a pretty ring and not show us? Yes you did.

  6. This Lebanese feast looks delightfully delicious. I'm kinda starting to drool over those kebabs. :D

    Oh, I also wanted to let you know that I gave you a Versatile Blogger award!


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