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)
- 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).
- 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.
- 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 .
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