Mana’eesh and Fatayer With Spinach
Below are two more recipes that remind me of my days growing up in Damascus and, later, visiting Damascus as an adult. I’m not sure if there is any particular reason for this recent nostalgia manifesting itself in recipes, perhaps it is the longing for a hot and dry summer, in such stark contrast to the summer we are having. Or perhaps I am looking to develop the relatively new closeness with Little Boy Green by introducing the flavours I grew up with to him. Or maybe simply because I enjoy the food and miss it.
While the methods and ingredients do not faithfully replicate what I would have had in Damascus, they are nevertheless an evolution and interpretation of a collection of memories. I fondly remember my father taking me around the corner from his office to the local fatayer bakeries and later, as one of a large group of disorderly teenagers, skateboarding to other fatayer bakeries for a cheap and filling bite. Fatayer are little flatbreads/pies filled with either spinach or cheese and a fine example of Syrian fast food. They are not functionally unlike slices of pizza, but wholly different in flavour and concept, and come in a variety of fillings. Mana’eesh are basically what Damascenes call fatayer with a za’atar topping. The word fatayer has its roots in f'tour, breaking the fast or breakfast. Z'aatar, the topping for mana'eesh is generally served at breakfast.
One ingredient that cannot be reproduced in the recipes is the community within which these little treats would have been enjoyed. I do not mean any specific community, but rather any number of people with whom I would have shared the fatayer - friends, family, acquaintances, visitors…
As with all food, these little pies are best when made for and shared with good people you like and care for. If I may, I suggest that these recipes, even if prepared for the first time, be made for bringing people together, not for a special occasion, but as a celebration for community of any description, large or small.
We had these for a light meal with a close friend, and a welcome reminder that our pre-children community of friends and friendly faces is still around and continue to cheer for us from the side lines, even if we do not these days get a chance to see them as often as we’d like. It really encourages us to know this.
We served these with a salad, but the pies could easily be served as part of a larger feast along with other recipes available on our site such as Arabesque, Lemon Cured courgette, Artichoke Truffle Pate & Roasted Aubergine, Baba Ganoush, Oven Roasted Chickpeas, or Aubergine and Buckwheat Stew.
The dough base for this recipe is the same as I use for pizza and bread and uses sprouted whole grain wheat. The recipe is the same if you use regular whole grain flour, but if you are using white flour, then add less water, 350ml instead of 450ml for 500g of flour.
In the filling for the spinach fatayer we use pomegranate molasses. If you are not able to get a hold of some, then substitute with lemon juice and a pinch of sugar, or some balsamic vinegar.
The mana’eesh are topped with Syrian za’atar, a combination of spices and herbs found in the Middle East. While the za’atar mix varies from country to country, the different za’atars are fairly interchangeable and if I did not have some from Damascus, I would happily use what is available.
The salad we served was made with rocket (rucola), tomatoes, mint, parsley and chickpeas in a lemon, garlic and olive oil dressing. For the dressing, I used the juice of one lemon, 2 cloves of garlic crushed in a garlic press, a pinch of salt and enough olive oil to match the amount of lemon juice, added all in a small jar, screwed the jar tight and shook it until the contents were well combined. Easy peasy.
- 500g whole grain flour, we used sprouted wheat
- 450ml water
- 7g yeast (2 tsp)
- 2 X tsp sugar
- 2 X tsp salt
- Mix flour, water, sugar and yeast until a sticky dough forms and then add the salt and continue to knead until a spongy dough forms.
- Use olive oil when kneading, not flour. Oil your hands and the surface you are using well and you should not have too much trouble handling the dough.
- Allow to rise in a dark and warm place for approx. 90 minutes.
- Knock back the dough and divide into two balls.
- Roll out each of the dough balls until 1/2 cm thick.
- olive oil
- The z’aatar to olive oil ratio is 1:1
- Divide the dough into golf ball sized pieces and roll out as thinly as possible, or into a larger sized pie.
- Brush the za’atar mixture onto the dough leaving a small crust.
- Bake in a preheated oven @200C for 10-15min
Spinach Fatayer Filling:
Ingredients: (enough for half of the dough)
- 400g frozen spinach
- 2 X tbsp pomegranate molasses (or 2 X tbsp lemon juice and a pinch of sugar)
- 1 X medium onion
- 25g pine nuts
- 2 X tbsp olive oil
- 1 X tsp salt
- Defrost frozen spinach over a sieve and give it a gentle squeeze to remove some of the water.
- Finely dice and gently saute the onion in the olive oil and salt until soft.
- Remove from heat and stir in the pomegranate molasses and mix well with the defrosted spinach. Taste, and add more salt to suit your taste preferences.
- Divide the dough into golf ball sized pieces and roll out as thinly as possible
- Spoon the spinach mixture onto the dough and top with a few pine nuts.
- Bake in a preheated oven @200C for 10-15min
Much like home made pizza, these tasty treats cannot compete with those fresh out of a stone oven - but they provide a decent alternative when the real thing is hard to come by.