Sunday, February 17, 2013

Assyrian Spinach Pies


I had one of each. Our first son, Clem, was a mother’s dream: he ate everything. From the moment our pediatrician gave us the nod, allowing us to feed him petits pots, puréed baby food, we offered him tastes of everything. Propped up on my lap or in his high chair, husband would push a fingertip smeared with fresh goat cheese, chocolate pudding, soufflé both savory and sweet, gravy, dips and sauces and everything and anything we adults happened to be eating at the moment.
As soon as Clem graduated to more complex foods, we handed him lemon wedges, garlic cloves, thin slices of spicy merguez and he happily tasted, sucked and gobbled it all up. As he grew, Clem was truly a happy eater. He may not have been drawn to fruit, sticking to banana and strawberries with the occasional pear, and may have turned up his nose at fish and seafood, but everything else was a go, no matter how exotic, no matter the ingredients. He adored vegetables, whether raw, sautéed, roasted, baked or simmered. Ratatouille, baba ganoush, couscous heady with carrots, zucchini and pumpkin, stews, gratins, salads, well…anything. What a joy to cook for this boy! What a pleasure to accompany him to a restaurant. A happy, adventurous, generous eater.

And then there was Simon. Yes, I had one of each.

I remember the day that Simon stopped eating. Clamped those 2-year-old rosebud lips shut and that was that. White rice, pasta “in bianco” or with a plain red sauce, swordfish quickly grilled pfshhh pfshhh and placed in front of him with the merest drizzle of olive oil. Oh, fried he would eat and pizza received a nod of the head, even fruit of any color was accepted, but vegetables were henceforth relegated to the back burner and someone else’s plate. From there on out, one had to be very creative indeed to get this sweet little boy with the angel’s face to eat. He was incredibly wary, picking apart each dish with the patience, concentration and skill of a surgeon. He noticed the microscopic specks of carrots in my carrot cake; he spied and questioned the flecks of green in my zucchini cupcakes. To this day, young adult that he is, he stares at whatever food I place on his plate, whether savory or sweet, with suspicion. He eyes me with cynicism and distrust, finally asking, eyes narrow slits, lips pressed together, “what did you put in it?” My “Nothing!” does nothing to reassure him and often he simply responds with “I’m sure you put something I don’t eat in there….”

* sigh * It breaks a mother’s heart.

Yet…. Yet… I have succeeded twice or thrice, patting myself proudly on the back for pulling one over…. um, making my child eat a vegetable. A generous grating of freshly Parmesan over steamed broccoli was the first surprise. But shhhhhh don’t breath, don’t make a noise, don’t point anything out or make a stink or the spell might be broken. Do not under any circumstance make him think that you won! Just bite your tongue and carry on, mom.

And spinach. Well, feta works wonders, like magic it is! Spanikopita, Spinach-Feta Triangles in their crunchy phyllo shell. And this.

Assyrian Spinach Pies are more than just spinach in a marvellous, tender yeast dough triangle. Plenty of feta cheese gives it that salty, tangy kick; pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries sweeten it up. Chopped nuts, lemon juice and bits of caramelized onion make for a flavorful hand pie. And every boy – and their mother – quite happy. Serve with a salad, a glass of wine and dinner is served.

Assyrian Spinach Pies are the February Bread Baking Babes’ challenge. Our Babe and Kitchen of the Month Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups had us bake these marvelous savory Syrian Sabanrhiyat pies. I followed the recipe, only changing the pomegranate seeds with chopped dried cranberries, the walnuts for pecans (I had planned to use pine nuts but the cupboard was bare) and cardamom for the mahleb. I changed the procedure just a little and it turned out a great dough, easy to work with even when rolled out very thin, light and fluffy when baked. It is a little fiddly and fussy to form the triangles around the slippery dough as bits of spinach, feta and berry try to escape between your fingers, but it is easier than you can imagine. And the results are worth the time and one I’ll make again. Even your finicky eater will eat his spinach.

Visit all the Babes and see how their Assyrian Spinach Pies turned out! If you would like to bake with us as a Bread Baking Buddy, visit Tanna’s post and find out how!

Bake My Day – Karen
Bread Baking Babe Bibliothécaire – Katie
blog from OUR kitchen – Elizabeth
Feeding my enthusiasms – Elle
girlichef – Heather
Lucullian Delights - Ilva
Living in the Kitchen with Puppies – Natashya
My Kitchen In Half Cups – Tanna
Notitie Van Lien – Lien
Paulchens Foodblog – Astrid
Provecho Peru – Gretchen

Happy 5 year anniversary, Bread Baking Babes!

I will be sharing the Assyrian Spinach Pies with Susan of Wild Yeast for Yeastspotting!

Assyrian Spinach Pies
Adapted from the original recipe from A Baker's Odyssey: Celebrating Time-Honored Recipes From America's Rich Immigrant Heritage by Greg Patent

Yield: 24

For the dough:

2 1/4 tsps (8 g) active dry yeast
2 cups (500 ml) warm water (105° to 115°F)
1/2 tsp ground mahlab or cardamom
5 cups (675 – 700 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
2 Tbs granulated sugar or granulated light brown sugar
2 tsps salt
1/3 cup (85 ml) olive oil

For the filling:
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound (500 g) cleaned baby spinach, squeezed dry and coarsely chopped
1 cup (4 oz, 110 – 115 g) chopped walnuts or pecans coarsely chopped or pine nuts
1/3 – 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried craneberries
1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 4 ounces/110 g) or fresh goat cheese
1/3 cup (85 ml) lemon juice
2 Tbs olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Olive oil for brushing
Plain yogurt or dip for serving

Prepare the dough:

In a small bowl, measure out 1 teaspoon of the granulated sugar and add the dry yeast. Add ¼ cup (60 – 65 ml) of the warm water and let rest for about 10 minutes until the yeast is dissolved and the liquid foamy.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, remaining sugar, the salt and the ground mahleb or cardamom and stir just to combine. Once the yeast is frothy add it to the flour mixture. Add the remaining 1 ¾ cup (about 435 ml) warm water and the olive oil to the bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and the dough gathers into a mass. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead vigorously for 6 minutes until soft and elastic, flouring the work surface as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. This is a very soft dough and will still be slightly sticky at the end of the 6 minutes kneading. Place the kneaded dough in a large, clean and oiled (olive oil) mixing bowl, turning the ball of dough to coat with oil. Cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel and let the dough rise until it has doubled in size, from 1 to 1 ½ hours. When the dough is pressed with a finger, the depression will remain once the finger is removed.

Scrape the risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 24 pieces (a scant 2 ounces/ 56 g). Shape into balls, arrange on the floured work surface and cover loosely with the plastic and the kitchen towel. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Prepare the filling:

While the balls of dough are resting, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Put the chopped spinach into a large mixing bowl. Add the nuts, the chopped dried cranberries, the crumbled feta, the lemon juice and drizzle with 1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss. Pepper to taste and toss again. Taste again and salt as needed, keeping in mind that the cheese is salty.

Prepare the pies:

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and place the oven rack in the center position of the oven. Line 2 large cookie or baking sheets with cooking parchment. Have extra parchment ready for more cookie sheets if needed.

Shape the pies: roll each ball of dough into a thin 6-inch (15 cm) circle, flouring the dough and work surface lightly as necessary to prevent sticking. Pile about ¼ - 1/3 cup of the filling, loosely measured, onto the center of each circle, leaving about 1 inch of dough exposed all around. Brush the exposed dough lightly with water. Shape each into a triangle (think Hamentaschen): imagining the circle to be a clock, lift up the edges of dough at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions to cover the top part of the filling and pinch firmly to seal, going all the way to 12 o’clock. Lift the 6 o’clock position of dough to meet in the center and pinch the two edges firmly to seal, using one finger to push the spinach and filling back inside. The seams will look like an inverted Y. Set the pie on one of the prepared sheets. Working quickly, form 7 more pies, placing them on the cookie sheet with a little space between them.

Line up the pies on the lined baking sheets; brush each pie lightly with olive oil or half olive oil-half melted butter. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until golden top and bottom.

Remove from the oven to cooling racks.

Serve warm or at room temperature (or take on a picnic!) with Greek yogurt, red or green salsa, or your favorite avocado dip.

Leftover pies can be easily frozen. Place the try in the freezer until the pies are frozen and then transfer to heavy-duty, resealable plastic freezer bags for up to one month. To reheat, thaw the pies and then place on a lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350°F (180°C) oven for 10 minutes.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

It is so difficult to cook for persnickety people... Poor you! thanksfully, P. eats everything I present him and never complains.

Those pies look amazing! That is a irresistible speciality I love.



Sarah said...

These look wonderful. They remind me a bit of the Palestinian fatayer though they are made without walnuts. As for picky eaters- two of my sons don't like hummus! that is rather embarrassing considering we live in the Middle East.

Elizabeth said...

How beautiful, Jamie! The outer layer looks so light and airy and the inner filling looks brilliant - I really like the way that the feta hold its shape.

Ha! My nephew was a non-eater for years. He went through a phase from the age of about 3 to 16 or so when he would only eat sliced white bread, processed cheese, green peas (maybe), tomatoes (maybe) and grilled chicken (maybe).

And then he went on tour with his school choir. We think he may have been abducted by aliens on that tour. He now eats EVERYTHING and has turned into an amazing and skilled cook. (He made the best guacamole for us not too long ago.)

Liren said...

There are days when I think I have one of each, as well. But I am certain that I could convince my pickier one with these amazing pies. And if not, well, I'll eat her share :)

Robin O said...

Ohhhh, I want these so badly!
There is a boy I know that might even like these too Jamie!

Terra said...

I was the child that would try everything, and I mean everything. My Sissy was the one that would put her nose up, and gross out at everything. It is funny how there is always one for adventure, and one afraid to just go for it:-) Your Assyrian Spinach pie looks gorgeous, and really sounds delicious! I love the plate the pies are sitting on! Hugs, Terra

Renee Goerger said...

These look like irresistible, tasty little pockets. I'm a spinach and feta freak so I know I would love them. I also think the addition of the dried fruit is inspired. Bet they would be good with a little ground lamb too....print.

Renee Goerger said...

These look like irresistible, tasty little pockets. I'm a spinach and feta freak so I know I would love them. I also think the addition of the dried fruit is inspired. Bet they would be good with a little ground lamb too....print.

Lien said...

Love that story about your two boys, it´s so familiar. Love your pictures with those wonderful pies.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

You spend any time with little ones you determine early on there must be an almost universal gene that tells kids green is poison ;-). With two little boys my desperation had me chop up fresh spinach and mix it into the turkey dressing ... Today there can be no turkey dressing without spinach.

I am happy all over that you enjoyed these we sure did. I'm loving all the filling possibilities that the Babes are coming up with.

Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez said...

My daughter is the adventurous eat...she ate salads from her high chair! My boys however, not so much. Now that my oldest is a teen, his palate is expanding, though...I try to ease him into things nonchalantly. That said, I was the only one who ate these. Sigh. Yours turned out lovely. :)

Rambling Tart said...

Spinach pie is one of my favorite things and I love your idea of adding something sweet to it. Delish! :-) I used to be persnickety like Simon - ohhh, I was dreadful :-) - but I've become so adventurous as an adult and I'm loving it. Still don't fancy mushrooms though. :-)

Elle said...

Gorgeous golden triangles...that even a non-veg eater will eat. So interesting how different children are from each other. Glad that your picky son liked these. Happy 5th anniversary Babe!

Nuts about food said...

I have to say I have been pretty lucky with both my children. Thank goodness, because I know it would drive me nuts otherwise. Truth be told, I ate very little as a child, or at least made a scene at every meal. I was forced to eat everything growing up, but it was pure torture. Thankfully that changed now!

ilva said...

Children! Fortunately they change a lot when it comes to eating and become human. Lovely photos!

Meeta K. Wolff said...

So I have one like Clem ... PHEW!! I have to admit it is a lot of fun when they are adventurous and are willing to try/eat everything.

They remind me of fatayer, which I grew up on in the Middle East - Lebanese specialties filled with various fillings. Spinach and feta were my favorites!

Jamie said...

@Meeta: I actually thought of Soeren when I was writing this and how lucky you are to have him to cook for!

@Sarah: Ha that is so surprising! Maybe because hummus is one of the few things both of my sons love!

@Renee: Ah, yes! I have an early blog post with triangles made with spinach and feta and others with a lamb filling! Now I want to try that filling with this bread dough!

Helene Dsouza said...

hm your second son sounds like my husband. It's a cooking challenge each time right? I don't recall ever having spinach pies, they look cute and very presentable. =)

Lana@Never Enough Thyme said...

Ah, yes. I had a finicky eater, too. And she has grown up to be a fairly finicky adult eater. Her daughter, on the other hand, is not afraid to try anything! A pure joy to cook for that child.

A Canadian Foodie said...

This is my kind of treat! I love the Bread Baking Babies series... but too busy making cheese now. Still baking bread - but not writing about it. BTW - I WILL make it to a Plate2Page... just not this round.
It looks exceptional. I do have to have my own sleeping accommodations, though....(asthma and a night cougher)

Lisa said...

I adore Spanakopita, and pretty much most anything wrapped in phyllo, sweet or savory. You don't want to get me near me at a Greek festival! That said, I've never tried the Assyrian version in a yeast dough, but it looks wonderful! I loved the story about Clem the adventurous and Simon the less adventurous. This is currently happening with Z and A. 'Z' will try anything..'A' will not. He cries when presented with any vegetable, sprinkled with cheese or not, and pushes it away. It was the same with me and my sister as kids. She only ate sweets, I tried everything (future food freak, who knew?) xo

Amanda said...

My own children seem to have become more fussy with age. The eldest would eat everything, but now is so fussy I don't even try to cater for her. If she won't eat what is on the table, she goes without.
These pies look delicious and have given me inspiration for dinner tonight, thanks Jamie!

Kate | Food Babbles said...

Oh how I can relate, my 3-year-old lives on only greek yogurt and cheerios, not much else. My husband, his palate is not much more refined than Madelyn's. Two peas in a pod. They wouldn't likely eat these but I will surely love them and cannot wait to make them.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Isn't it funny how one sibling will go for food while another won't? :) No matter what age, I would adore these delicious portable pies! :D

Baking Soda said...

Oh leave it to her to make gorgeous pies, take beauty pics and such great story to share... Wonderful Jamie!!
(and yes, there's one of each in my family as well. One that crawled to the bowl of olives thinking they were raisins. Tasted shook his head: no raisins. Nodded. Good. The other sniffs his food, watchful eyes on his family for snickers and secret smiles, prods with his fork and takes a tentative bite. Or not.)
Happy these pies did well!

katiez said...

My son won't eat potatoes... Chips, yes, but that's hardly healthy... And very few cooked vegetables. He would get his own plate of raw veggies. Love your pies!

Cake Duchess said...

I have one that will eat olives to sardines and one that is little more picky. These pies are something that they would both agree on for certain. I wouldn't mind a couple either;)

Elizabeth said...

I was sure that I had commented already!

Your pies look perfect! of course, they do.

I love the description of your boy with his lips pressed together refusing to eat something strange.

It reminds me of my nephew who, when he turned 4 or so, would only eat pre-sliced white bread, butter, plain grilled chicken breast (no skin), green peas and processed cheese. He suddenly saw the light when he was 16 and went on tour with his school choir. He now eats everything.

I too hated all vegetables when I was a child. Especially spinach. Now, I love spinach. Especially these pies. They're so good, aren't they?

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

Beautiful! I love that you used cardamom - that would have been very tasty!

Jeanne said...

Hahaha - I've always said cheese is The Great Enabler and it seems I was right! I only started eating green salads when my mom added grated cheese; and yes, I only started eating spinach when adding feta to it became popular! Love this recipe - looks like the perfect weekend lunch :)

Jeanette said...

It is so funny how different each child's tastebuds can be. My oldest is the pickiest eater, and the other three will try virtually anything I put in front of them. Fortunately, as my oldest gets exposed to more food now that he's in college, he has started to try new foods and found he actually likes more foods than he realized. These spinach pies look so good!

Mairi @ Toast said...

Spinach & feta anything a match made in heaven! The fussiest eater in our family now is my Mum...I sometimes gently remind her, as she told me, it is polite to eat what is put in front of one & be thankful!!! How times have changed as I will eat just about anything :)

crumbsoflove said...

ah, those picky eaters. When they grow up and eat EVERYTHING, you will be able to tease them about these days. Though, your pies look so delicious I can't believe anyone could not want one


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