One time, my grandmother Teta Nabiha came to visit us in France. She marvelled at the flowers growing by the side of the streets and how clean everything was. She went into the kitchen and in no time at all fixed some sfeeha for us. I watched her stretch the little balls of dough with a dab of olive oil, then when the little pies were the size she wanted fill them up oh so delicately with the meat, onion and pine nuts.
When I moved to the States this was the first thing I attempted in our tiny kitchen in San Luis Obispo, California. A few years later, going back to Lebanon, I found out about a new version of sfeeha that was called baalbakyeh, from Baalbeck , the first tourist destination because of the amazing Roman temples and amphitheater and the site of the biggest festival in Lebanon.
Folks in Baalbeck add pomegranate molasses and a dab of tahini with some yogurt and this combination is a killer! If you don’t have time to make the dough, no problem, get a frozen pizza dough or use some frozen biscuits. The filling can be whipped up in minutes and you will have a fabulous dish to serve at a party or to snack on when you feel the urge. In addition, you can make them in advance and either freeze them for a month or reheat them. So convenient, so delicious.
This recipe is from Al-Tabkh Al-Arabi, Khatwa Khatwa, by Lina Bassam Shbaro
INGREDIENTS: Quantity will serve a crowd of up to 12 people. Extras can be frozen.
1 lb of ground lamb, including fat
1 lb of tomatoes, not too ripe (firm), chopped up in small dice, juice and seeds discarded (or use for a soup later)
1/2 lb of onions, chopped fine
2 Tablespoons of plain yoghurt (preferably full fat)
1 Tablespoon of tahineh
1 Tablespoon of pomegranate molasses
1/3 cup of pine nuts, sauteed in 2 tablespoons of butter or oil
1 teaspoon (or more) sea salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper, ground cinnamon, ground allspice
For the dough:
5 cups of all-purpose flour or 3 cups all-purpose, 2 cups whole wheat
1 Tablespoon of dry yeast, proofed with 1 teaspoon of sugar in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water
1 Tablespoon of salt, 1 Tablespoon of sugar
- Start with the dough: Proof the yeast for a few minutes in a warm place (outside if it is sunny and warm). Then add the yeast to the flour (if using both mix them up first). Add about 3/4 cup of lukewarm water to the flour and mix until the water is incorporated. Start kneading by hand or in a mixer till the dough is shiny and smooth, adding more water or flour to get to that result. Place the ball of dough on a floured surface, cover it with a dish towel and let it rise for one hour till doubled in size. You can cut the dough in 2 or 3 portions also, if your work surface is narrow. Keep the dough in a warm place to let it rise quickly.
- Prepare the filling. In a large bowl, add the tomatoes and onions to the meat. Add all the spices and mix well. Add the yoghurt, tahineh, pomegranate molasses and mix well. Add the pine nuts and mix well throughout.
- When the dough has risen, start spreading it thin with a rolling pin. If the dough is too elastic, lift it up with your hands and rotate it gently, it will stretch more easily. Now, try to get it as thin as 1/4 inch (or more). Cut the dough with a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass (about 3 in. in diameter), or cut into little balls and stretch them one at a time using a dab of olive oil to smooth over each one. Place one tablespoon of filling on each round. Pinch 4 corners of the dough with the tip of your fingers to “seal” the sfeeha. Let them rest while you heat the oven.
- Heat the oven to 400F and grease a baking sheet. Bake the sfeehas for about 12 minutes or until the meat is browned and cooked thoroughly and the sfeehas are golden. Place in a serving bowl and serve hot or at room temperature accompanied by a bowl of plain yoghurt.
NOTE: If your meat is very lean, add 2 tablespoons of softened butter to the stuffing and mix well. It will help make it moist and delicious!
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