Spinach fatayer—fatayer sabanegh (فطير السبانخ)—is the most common variety of savoury pastries eaten throughout the Arab region in countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine, and Egypt. They can also be found stuffed with ground meat or cheese and za’atar, often eaten as a light meal or snack. The filling is light and lemony but the enriched, yeasted dough makes them substantial enough as a portable lunch or a Mother’s Day picnic commodity.
The widespread area of consumption guarantees endless regional and personal variations; some fatayer include chopped nuts, some are wrapped up in phyllo dough, some are fried, and others are shaped into spirals. I’ve used big, beautiful, in-season Spinach leaves from Bloomsbury farmer’s market, but purslane, collards, and other wild greens may also be substituted in varying ratios.
Regardless of the greens you use, salting them is important if you want to avoid soggy pastries. By way of osmosis, the salt draws water out of the plant cells’ walls as water molecules seek to restore equilibrium by permeating into the region of higher solute concentration. Don’t be scared off by the sudden onslaught of nerdiness here! Applying elementary science in the kitchen is one of the things that I enjoy most about cooking, and it often makes a final dish more successful. Basically, the salt will coax water out of the veggies and you’ll begin to see a puddle of spinach juices gathering in the bottom of the bowl. A lot of flavour is also extracted in the process, which is why some people swear by eating raw veggies and fruit with a sprinkle of salt. In this case, however, the goal is a practical one. The more water squeezed out before baking, the less there will be leaking out in the oven and saturating the dough.
(makes 5-10, depending on size)
- ¼ cup milk
- ¼ t honey
- ⅓ t yeast
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1 ½ T olive oil
- pinch of salt
- 150g spinach, stemmed and chopped
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- ¼ t black pepper
- 1 T olive oil
- ½ lemon, juice of
- 1 t sumac (optional)
Proof the yeast if necessary, adding to the warm milk (~40ºC/105ºF) and honey.
Prepare dough by mixing oil with flour and adding in the yeast mixture, which should be foamy after a few minutes if the yeast is activated correctly. Add a pinch of salt and knead until dough is soft and elastic. Set aside and cover with a damp towel to let the yeast nibble, the whole wheat soften and the gluten to develop while preparing the filling.
Preheat oven to 230ºC/450ºF.
Add salt and pepper to diced onions and set them aside to soften. Separately, add salt to the spinach and rub the torn leaves with your hands until they begin to wilt. After a few minutes of letting the spinach sweat, drain and squeeze out as much remaining water as you can. Mix with the seasoned onions and add lemon juice to taste.
Begin forming the pastries by rolling out small chunks of dough until very thin. A golfball-sized ball will make a larger fatayer, but you can cut that amount in half if you are looking to make them for finger-food purposes. Add a heaping spoonful of spinach, pinching three edges of the dough together to form a triangle shape. Brush with milk or egg wash if desired.
Bake at 230ºC for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.