Meat pies, Lebanese-style (Sfeeha)

May 19, 2011  •  Category: ,


If there is one pastry item that deserves a standing ovation from the Lebanese kitchen, it is sfeeha (pronounced s-f-ee-ha with the “a” like apple).

What is sfeeha? A little meat pie; made extraordinary by the folks in Baalbeck (the number one tourist destination in Lebanon, site of incredible Roman temples). In the photo above, we were savoring sfeeha at Lakkis Farms, a must-stopover in Baalbeck, where they not only make their own cheeses, bread, but also grow their own livestock. 

Why extraordinary? The meat mixture, first of all, is a combination of ground lamb (beef is good too), with onion, parsley, tomatoes, a dash of chili pepper, pomegranate molasses, labneh and (the key!) a bit of tahini. The meat mixture is uncooked and bakes with the dough.

When these little beauties bake, the fragrance that permeates the kitchen is something to experience.

If you make these for a party, wait to bake them when your guests arrive.

INGREDIENTS: Makes 40 sfeehas

For the dough:

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 2 teaspoons dry instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of powdered milk (buttermilk is fine)
  • Olive oil, as needed for stretching the dough
  • 1 cup of warm water (110F)

For the filling:

  • 3/4  pound of ground lamb @90% (or beef )
  • 1 large onion, chopped fine
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts (preferably toasted or fried previously)
  • 3 tablespoons of tahini
  • 3 tablespoons of labneh (or yogurt, drained for 4 hours)
  • 1/2 cup (packed)of  flat-leaved parsley (leaves only)
  • 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses
  • Spices: 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of allspice,1 teaspoon of sumac, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (can replace with chili flakes, or smoked paprika).
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste (or 1 cup diced tomatoes)
  • 1 tablespoon of red pepper paste (mild or spicy, to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of mashed garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • 2 cups yogurt (to serve)
  • 2 lemons, quartered (to serve)


  1. Prepare the dough first: In a small bowl, pour 2 ounces of warm (110F) water and add two teaspoons of dry yeast; add two teaspoons of sugar and mix well to combine; let the yeast bubble up in a warm and enclosed  place. Meanwhile, place the flour, baking powder, salt and powdered milk in the food processor bowl. Process to combine well; add 1/4 cup of olive oil and process for one or two minutes until the mixture looks very sandy. At this point, add the proofed yeast mixture along with another 3/4 cup of warm water (add the water gradually); when the dough leaves the sides of the bowl it is ready and you can transfer it to a greased bowl and turn it around to coat it with oil and let it sit in a warm enclosed place to rise for a couple of hours until doubled in size. (I like to place the dough in the oven).
  2. Prepare the meat mixture: Chop the onion as fine as possible and sprinkle with the salt, allspice, sumac and a dash of cinnamon. Place the chopped onion on a sieve and let its waters come out. In the meantime, place the meat in a bowl and add the salt, pepper and red pepper paste and tomato paste. Add to the meat the chopped parsley leaves, pomegranate molasses, tahini and then the drained onion, labneh (or use drained yogurt) and tahini. Adjust seasoning based on your personal preference. Fry the pine nuts in butter and add to the meat mixture. Cover the meat mixture and set it in the fridge till the dough is ready. Prepare two cookie sheets by lining them with parchment paper or greasing and flouring them. 
  3. Making the sfeehas: Roll out the dough and punch it to remove all the air pockets; roll into a large circle, about 1/8 inch (more or less) thick. Cut rounds with a cookie cutter and on each round place a generous amount of filling (about 2 tablespoons). Pinch the two opposing ends of the circle and then the two opposing other ends. Take the back of a spoon and press on the filling to enclose it within the pocket. Line up the pies on the baking sheets. Heat the oven to 500F and bake for about 10 minutes until the pies are golden and the meat is cooked. Serve warm or at room temperature with some yogurt or quartered lemons (to squeeze on the topping .


76 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Belinda @zomppa says:

    They LOOK extraordinary! Problem taste even better.

  2. Claudia says:

    Oh my – tahini – pomegranate molases – yogurt – how delectable. This is sweetly-spiced, enticing meats! Imagining the aroma. Happy.

  3. Devaki says:

    I xould barely get through the recipe without salivating. Dear Joumana, how do you manage to do this each and every time! I wish I could eat the screen 🙂

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandlfavors

  4. Tom @ Tall Clover says:

    Joumana, you just made my favorite Lebanese dish. My Grandmother and Mother’s version had fewer filling ingredients, so I’m eager to try your version for a different twist on the familiar for me. And you can never have too many recipes for Sfeeha.

  5. Rosa says:

    Oh, I love these! A scrumptious speciality.



  6. Priya says:

    Succulent meat pies, looks delicious and addictive..

  7. Angel of the North says:

    This is about the best recipe I have seen for sfiha. When I am allowed a touch of pastry again these will be first on the list. Your food rocks.

  8. Kavey says:

    We had these at a tiny place near Baalbeck, they were so very good!

  9. samir says:

    These truly are exquisite savory pastries/pies.. ..I didnt not know garlic and the red pepper paste were used in their this an innovation?

    • Joumana says:

      @Samir: the addition of mashed garlic and red pepper paste is one I decided to try and (thankfully) it worked!

      @Tom: My grandmother’s sfeeha was with fewer ingredients as well, a more restrained version with only meat, pine nuts, onions and labneh; this version is richer but the taste is way more flavorful

  10. tigerfish says:

    These must be super duper delicious meat pies…I know that from the ingredients list. Packed punch of flavors – yum!

  11. Caffettiera says:

    I have made similar little treats before but this version is nothing short of stunning. I cannot wait to try it. It is beautiful and it must taste divine.

  12. meriem says:

    merci Joumana pour la recette, j’adoooore ces sefiha libanaises que je mange toujours avec grand plaisir!!

  13. Banana Wonder says:

    YUM! I love the lamb filling you got going on there.. with some labneh. These look so perfect.

  14. Carol says:

    The pies look fantastic, so many great flavors packed in there. I’d never be able to stop at just one!

  15. Krista says:

    I just love visiting your blog, Joumana. Every single day you make something wonderful. 🙂 I think I was born in the wrong country!!

  16. kankana says:

    Oh that is how you get that shape ?! I have seen it so many times but could never figure out … dumb me !! 😛
    Looks so delicious and perfectly baked to that golden color …

  17. domi says:

    Délicieusement gourmands ces petites étoiles….

  18. Gula welat says:

    Merci pour la recette jadore ces petits chaussons j’en prend souvent au resto!
    Les tiens ont l’air délicieux!!

  19. Sylvia says:

    I love sfeeha , and I have my own recipe, well, in fact was gave to me by my friend´s mom, A Lebanese who lived in Sao Paulo, she had fairy hands.

  20. 5 Star Foodie says:

    These little pies look absolutely scrumptious, so flavorful with all the spices you use in the filling!

  21. Margaret says:

    Seems that every culture has some sort of meat pie. Love the shape of those.

  22. Cynthia says:

    These look divine!

  23. Cara says:

    I love what you’ve used in the filling here – pomegranate molasses, tahini – talk about flavor!

  24. sana says:

    Mouth watering delicious!!

  25. elly says:

    I made these the other night, and they were a big hit. My husband ate 12 in one sitting. Hah. Mine didn’t look as pretty as yours because the dough kept shrinking up as I was moving/filling the circles (any idea why?) but we loved them. Definitely going to try your idea for the sfeeha pita next!

    • Joumana says:

      @elly: the flour may be the reason; if you can get a hold of a flour called flour 00, try it; it is used a lot in Lebanon and it is very soft and good for these types of pastries. Otherwise, try mixing some cake flour with the all-purpose or bread flour as it has less gluten.

  26. elly says:

    Thanks! I’ll give it a try next time around.

  27. Eli says:

    Hi Joumana,
    These look just fantastic. I have just given it a try, they are in the oven right now, and the smell is delicious. I have had kind of a hard time making them because the dough kept shrinking… and only now while writing this do I see that elly has had exactly the same problem. So I note down your comment on the type of flour and will for sure give it another try!

  28. Eli says:

    I forgot another question: Why do you use both yeast and baking powder in the dough? (Trying to learn a bit about bread and baking, hence the question)

    • Joumana says:

      @Eli: to make the dough fluffier. I will investigate the ins and outs of this and give you a thorough explanation soon! (there is another type of mini-turnover, spinach fatayers, in which the dough simply does not have ANY YEAST; the dough without yeast is made with a flour called 00 and does not shrink at all! (guess it is very low in gluten and protein, it is the flour used here for all turnovers and bread rolls)

  29. Dania says:

    I followed your recipe, except didnt do all the fancy stuff with the food processor for the dough but simply kneaded it by hand. While the meat mixture was delish (I loved the tahini and red pepper paste) the dough did not keep shape in the oven. It all spread out and my pies completley lost shape and turned into flat thin pizzas with a small mound of meat in the middle. I tried different shapes and techniques (less meat more meat, thinner “walls” etc…) but nothing helped please let me know if you have any tips. Thanks so much, and I love your blog!!!

    • Joumana says:

      @Dania: Can you tell me what type of flour you used? I admit I always use the food processor for kneading the dough because it saves me so much time. If the dough turned into flat thin pizzas it sounds to me like the flour does not have much gluten to give the pies the elasticity. Also, how long did you knead the dough by hand? Did you let it rise and how long?

  30. Dania says:

    Yes, I used all purpose flour, and I let it rise about 1 1/2 hours (it had doubled by that time). I kneaded for about 10 minutes until it had formed into a dough. Also my sfiha did puff up so they did not get flat in the oven, but they did not keep shape the dough kept falling flat back into an oval shape. Only a few kept shape. I would appreciate any tips you may have.

    • Joumana says:

      @Dania: I would try without baking powder and just one teaspoon of yeast and see if that helps; also try rolling the dough real thin and pinching the two ends real tight to enclose the meat filling; observe the sfeehas, are they falling apart before they go into the oven to bake? that’s my two cent. Another option is to not use any yeast, like the dough I use on fatayer, and use flour 00 or some all-purpose and 1/4 cake flour. the goal is to reduce the gluten.

  31. amina says:


    I must say they look amazing! Is it possible to do the sfeeha but with minced beef instead of lamb?

  32. annie says:

    do u think i can try this with Chicken?? my family’s not too fond of Lamb. too greasy for them, grrr.

  33. manganika says:

    Thanks a lot for this delicious recipe 🙂
    I tried it and I wonder whether I can make the sfeehas a day a head , then freeze them and bake them on the next day ?
    Thanks again !

  34. Joyce says:

    Thank you for your recipe. I have made meat pies many times but not like this. Thank you! Please tell me how to hold off putting meat pies in the oven until company arrives. They are amazing fresh out of the oven but it never seems to work when I try to make ahead. Should I make them up and par bake? Or wait and put the assembled pies in the frig until I’m ready to bake? Please help, I can never get it correct but I know that I cannot prepare these when company is here, too messy. thank you.

  35. Amina Andrews says:

    I love this receipe. I add 1 cup Basmati or Jasmine Rice to the meat mixture. yummy!

  36. elizabeth says:

    hello! i’m so grateful to find your site! I grew up with a step-grandfather from Syria, and I recall fondly days we’d spend making stuffed cabbage rolls and ground lamb baked in bread dough. I’ve always recalled the name of the dish to be pronounced ‘fa tie ahs’. Now seeing your pronunciation guide, I believe this was the dish! i’m going to use your recipe to make these to surprise my family on Christmas Eve 🙂

    • Joumana says:

      @Elizabeth: if your relative was from Syria he probably added some pomegranate molasses to the meat mixture; I’d say one teaspoon per cup of filling. Hope it turns out well and happy holidays!

  37. Salma says:

    I live in the uk ,I was wondering what’s the best flour to use to make the sfeehah pies.

  38. Suhad says:

    Hi! Today was my first time making sfeeha. I usually make the regular meat pies. I have been searching for a good sfeeha filling recipe to achieve that yummy perfect taste ! This recipe was it! Perfection. Thank you so so much ! Im going to be making sfeeha a lot more now.

  39. John Thabet says:

    Have made these for many years. Like others I’ve used fewer ingredients. Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix works well for me. Guess I’m old school, but make golf ball size dough balls, cover & let rise then pat out with finger tips, about 6inch circle. Believe I’ll try your recipe next time.with the extra ingrediants. Made 4 batches this yr. eat most myself. Lol.

  40. Amal says:

    Please don’t hate me for mentioning this but could you recommend a ready made dough that I could use instead of making the dough please x pretty please?

  41. Marion Sansing says:

    I was wondering what kind of pepper paste? Spicy or mild? Thank you

  42. joumana says:

    @Marion: It is entirely up to you; in Lebanon, most people prefer mild pepper paste; in the Armenian community in Lebanon, they like it a bit spicier; personally I like it a bit spicy. The Lebanese version is not spicy, just flavorful.

  43. Jennyfair Flynn says:

    Had these at a food truck venue….If you can believe it in New Zealand. That was 5 years ago and I still remember them, but have not once seen that Food Truck again. Really happy to find a recipe that seems close to the ones I had 5 years ago. Thank you! A Foodie Freak from America( Who is actually Pacific Islander) living in New Zealand.

    Jennyfair Flynn

  44. Alisha Nguyen says:

    These are little parcels of delightfulness! They fill the house with a tantalizing aroma of exotic spice. As someone who experiments with dumplings of all kinds, like dim sum, the dough shrinkage during shaping isn’t a big issue. Simply lay the dough round on your work surface and use your fingers to press/pull/stretch it back out to the size you want. Can’t wait to make these again for a party. Fabulous recipe.

  45. Liz says:

    I wanted to make some savoury pastries for a boat trip. In England the natural choice would be Cornish pasties, which are delicious, but I fancied doing something a bit different. As I love Lebanese cuisine, I looked for a Lebanese recipe and came across this one. I was a bit nervous about making pastry with yeast, as I’d never done this before, but it all turned out well. I am now the most popular guest amongst all my friends. Everyone loves these Sfeeha – they simply can’t get enough of them. Even my Lebanese friends said that they are the best they’ve ever tasted. Thank you so much for a great additional to my culinary repertoire!

  46. Joumana says:

    So happy to hear! Glad you and your friends liked the sfeehas and letting you know you can make them in advance and freeze them., although they always taste better fresh! Take care.

  47. Aiesha says:

    Turned out perfect, delicious thank you!

  48. Nia says:

    Can you please post a pic or link to what red pepper paste you use? Also, can I forget about the sumac or just sub with something else, because I keep buying bags of this and barely use it for just a couple of recipes, before it becomes tasteless and I end up throwing it away?

  49. Nia says:

    One more question. You said you use 00 flour. What brand did you use? Thanks!

  50. Louie Sabarini says:

    The spices where on par, I added more allspice and sumac, it added more sour taste. The only thing I had to partily cook the meat and drain the access liquid.

  51. Meat tenderizer says:

    First, I love the name; Second, the look and presentation are impressive. I recently made it, and it tasted amazing. Please share more delicious baking recipes like dumplings, etc. Thank you!

  52. Jason says:

    Do you think the dough is similar enough to fatayer that I could make a large batch of dough and use it for both?

  53. joumana says:

    Sure, although the falafel dough is just flour, salt, olive oil and water, with no yeast. but it will work for both.

  54. Affan Kapoor says:

    Beautifull and delicious recipe thanks for uploading

  55. Recipes Ideas says:

    I love this receipe. I add 1 cup Basmati or Jasmine Rice to the meat mixture. yummy!

    • JOUMANA ACCAD says:

      @Recipe Ideas WOW, I was just reading a recipe in Anissa Helou’s book where rice is added to the meatballs and although she was skeptical initially that the rice would cook, she said the rice adds more moisture and it turns out great! Serendipity.

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