Some traditions should be sacrosanct not because they perpetuate perfection but because they represent years of love, family bonds and connections. A close friend has for the past 16 years upheld her tradition of making a Thanksgiving dinner for friends. The size of the dinner parties has ranged from 10-30 people. She started this tradition as student (having moved from Colorado to study in London). When she first started the traditional elements of the dinner were relatively unknown. The hunt for items such as cranberries and pumpkin pulp was laborious and one that required dogged perseverance.
Over the years, Thanksgiving dinners saw many spills and thrills; long distance friends reunited with old friends and reminisce into the small hours, vegetarians turn into meat-eaters, wedding proposals, and more recently announcement of new babies. There have been times when reason shouted out to declare this as unmanageable and unnecessary but she continued and her friends are very thankful that she did.
My contribution has always included making canapés, the quality and standard of which has evolved over the years. This year I decided that I too should proudly present my traditions and so I made a Syrian/Lebanese style savoury pastry called fatayer with a tahini dip. Savoury pastries in the Eastern Mediterranean are diverse and vary in shape size and filling. I chose fatayers as I wanted the challenge of creating the traditional star shape.
I took the ingredients list for the dough from a Moro cookbook because having used it for large numbers I knew it worked really well but the method, fillings and finish is my own.
Makes 48 small fatayers
440g of strong white bread flour
200ml of tepid water
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of dried yeast
- For the dough mix in the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the olive oil and then add the water gradually as different flours will take slightly different amounts of water. The dough shouldn’t stick.
- I knead the dough until it is soft and then leave it to rest.
10 tablespoons of boiling water
5 tablespoons of tahini paste
1 tablespoon of good olive oil
1 small garlic glove crushed with seasalt
1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses (optional)
- Crush the garlic in a pestle and mortar with enough salt to absorb its juices. Scrape into a bowl.
- Add the tahini paste (make sure you stir the tahini in the jar as the oil settles on the top).
- Add the boiling water gradually and stir. The consistency should be of single cream.
- Add the juice of a lemon.
- I then poured the tahini into two bowls, one for the lamb fatayers and one for the spinach fatayers. For the lamb fatayers I drizzled on some pomegranate molasses.
Spinach and goats cheese filling
400g of frozen spinach
120g of good quality dried figs
100g of mild soft goats cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Tablespoon of olive oil
I used figs from Kalamata.The smell of frying dried figs rivals the magnificence of the smell of freshly baked bread. I always find that frozen spinach is easier to handle in fillings where you need to keep the dough from getting soggy e.g. spanakopita.
- Chop the figs in small pieces and fry in the olive oil on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the spinach. Once the spinach is soft add the goats cheese and stir in. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
400g of lamb mince
35g of pinenuts
2 tablespoons of chopped flat lead parsley
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 tablespoon of sumac
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
- Toast the pinenuts by placing in a non-stick frying pan and heating until the nuts go brown very lightly. Set aside.
- Finely dice the shallots and fry in olive oil. When translucent add the lamb. When the lamb is brown drain as much of the fat as possible.
- Return to the heat, add the tomato puree and stir in thoroughly to ensure that there are no lumps of puree.
- Add the parsley, pinenuts, sumac and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Preparing the Fatayers
2 tablespoons of nigella seeds
2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
1 beaten egg
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to grease an oven tray
- Preheat the oven to 230◦C / 450F / Gas 8 and prepare an oven tray with a gently oiled greaseproof paper.
- Roll out the dough on a floured surface to 3mm thickness.
- Cut using a 10 cm diameter ring and place on a plate making sure you flour each layer to avoid sticking.
- Cover the plate with a very damp cloth to avoid drying out.
- Shaping the fatayers is demonstrated perfectly by Chef Kamal below . It takes a little practice, by the 4th one a method is soon developed and the end result is worth it.
- This recipe is for smaller fatayers and so one tablespoon of filling should be more than sufficient. Once the fatayers have been prepared brush with egg wash and sprinkle the nigella seeds on the lamb ones and the sesame seeds on the spinach ones.
- Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. When removed from the oven allow to cool on a rack or serve immediately.
- They are best served warm with the tahini dip.