In July, we lost a wonderful woman. She is probably where I got my love of hosting and feeding from. She's definitely the person who taught me how to feed and who never made portions too small. My Auntie Nadia was an amazing cook. One of the best I've ever known.
Her recipes were passed down from her mother and they were good, wholesome, traditional recipes. Everything is full of flavour and spice and fresh goodness. If the vegetables were in any way not fresh, they were no good. Every bag of lentils was scoured for the brown one that can't be eaten. Everything, and I mean everything, was mixed by hand. It's the best way to mix evenly and to squeeze out every last bit of flavour.
One thing she used to make a lot of was ftayer - or pastries. Traditionally they are made with either spinach or mince but the dough is so versatile that you could really use it for anything. These are traditional to the Sham region of the Middle East and are very popular in Lebanon in particular. Auntie Nadia would normally make a batch if she knew people were coming over for breakfast (or brunch by the time we actually got there). I've never had nicer spinach pastries than Auntie Nadia made.
Auntie Nadia's Ftayer Sabanekh
For the dough:
50g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
125 ml vegetable oil
250 ml tepid water
For the filling
500g fresh spinach
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp summaq
1 tbsp pine nuts
juice of 1 lemon
50 ml olive oil
salt and pepper
Make the dough first. Sift the four into a bowl with the salt and sugar. Make a well in the middle and pour in the oil. Mix everything together for about 15 minutes until you have a smooth mixture. Gradually add the tepid water - you may not need to use all of it - until you have a soft springy dough (similar to bread dough).
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it for a few seconds. Form it into 2 balls, wrap it in cling film and leave it at room temperature for an hour before using.
Wash the spinach well. Finely chop it and place it in a bowl. Sprinkle the spinach with salt and rub it well with your hands until it's soft. Squeeze out and drain all the excess water as you want a fairly dry mixture. Add the onions, pine nuts, summaq, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix everything well and drain the excess liquid again to get a thick dry stuffing.
Roll out the pastry and cut it into rounds 10cm in diameter. Any smaller and the pastries will tend to fall apart. Put a heaped teaspoon of filling into the middle of each round. Bring up the edges at 3 points to make a triangle. Press the edges firmly to seal. Remember the pastry will expand while cooking.
Place them all on a dusted baking tray or two a couple of centimetres apart. Wash the outside of the pastries with egg and place them in the oven for 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and serve as an appetiser or snack.