Vote for my Shawerma Tuna Flavour for a chance to win AED 15,000

Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Old and forgotten story of Sohoor - Arabic Spinach Pastries (Moajanat Sabanekh)

Spinach Pastries bring appetite to any Buffet, and make for a perfect Sohoor option

"Be slow to fall into a friendship, but when you are in, continue firm and constant."   - Socrates

Let me tell you a little story about an old old tradition, that seems to have gotten lost in the folds of history. A story about generosity and giving selflessly. One about community, which was always brought to the forefront throughout Ramadan and during the early hours of the morning. Let me tell you the true, old and forgotten story of Suhoor.
I rememeber being very young, back at a time when in the city of Amman there used to be what we call 'Msaher'. Msaher is the guy who goes around the streets of a neighbourhood an hour before Sunrise prayer, calling out to the sleeping people to wake up and eat before the prayer is out and the fasting starts. The same voice everyday, goes around the streets, with a drum in hand, in a selfless act, in an act of kindness, calling out and beating on the drum to wake you to have a bite. I mean, who wants to wake up so early and walk around sleep ridden streets only to wake people to eat and pray? I remember that if I did not hear the guy, which was very seldom, mum or dad would gently wake us to have breakfast together. Although I was too young at that time to fast, and I didn't; at our home we still gathered at the table to eat together. I remember I used to get very excited about waking up, only because mum would have a table of delicious simple foods spread out for us to eat. At those times, things were simple. It was Ramadan, people ate, prayed fasted and did good to others for nothing in return. Those were days when food was given out in Ramadan to those in need. Times, when a bakery would be open for Suhoor to give out bread for free, although ironically people could afford it back then! Times when the community was a friend, making sure its members are taken care of. In my very humble understanding, I find that those were days when we had beautiful traditions that made ours a very distinct culture and a very unique community. And what I remember the most, is that food was delicious! 
Recipe was requested and I didn't have
the time to make these for photos
so went with a sketch instead lol

I always find myself thinking about the Msaher every Ramadan. I think of the guy who used to walk our streets, and think of how he could be doing. I also find myself thinking about why this tradition hardly exists any more?! Suhhor these days is mostly a Buffet in a hotel, or the equivalent of a coffee morning! Even at home, it seems everyone is either living in another country or having a quick sandwich before they sleep. Options are always good and change is always fine, but the Msaher tradition was profound! It should have never died, it was beautiful!

My mum's table is always busy with good food. She always has stuff in the freezer, ready to take out when needed. And she would always have freshly made foods which she would place at the table with a grin on her face like: "Surprise!". Then of course, there's the leftover fatteh, hummus, mutabal, tabouleh... Gosh, to think that was a breakfast! Only in Ramadan :)

One of the many delights we used to enjoy for Suhoor is Spinach pastries; Ah! What can I say about these soft, chewy, salty, spinachy parcels with the sour tones from the lemon and Sumac? What can I say, other than I ate them like they were going to disappear from the face of earth! I popped one after another, and dipped them in yogurt, then had them plain and then realised, I had too much! They are that good :)
I had planned to post this recipe during Ramadan, because I ate lots of these during Ramadan. I have received many requests for these pastries recipe, especially by the very sweet ladies @Jamie Cooks, and @SarahM. So I have sped up the post and decided to post it now although I never got to make them for photos to show you exactly how the pastry is folded. This explains why I have gone for a very humble sketch just to demonstrate how the pastry is shaped. Now I ain't LeoDaVinci sketch material, but you will get the drift I hope. With that said, I found the sketch to be in spirit of the theme, as it looks like a thing from the past lol, handmade and not rendered on some 3D programme lool. So read on and enjoy...

Ramadan Recipe 9
Feryal's Spinach Pastries
Serve these as an appetiser, a side to soup or for Suhoor. Or you can eat them any time :) These also make a very good lunch box item for your kids. This recipe should make around 60 pastries but feel free to reduce the quantity. 
I got this recipe from my mum, who wrote beside it my aunt's name, which am guessing means its my aunt's recipe... I named it as such anyway :)

You Need
For Pastry
6 cups all purpose flour
1 cup vegetable oil
3 tbsp yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
6 tbsp milk powder
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp salt
enough water to make a slightly sticky dough

For Spinach Filling
2Kg fresh Spinach
500g white onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp Summac
1 tbsp prepared red chili paste (Shata) optional but recommended
1/4 cup lemon Juice
Salt to taste

Start by placing the sugar and yeast in a cup with the warm water. Mix well, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, place the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and milk powder in a large bowl. Stir all to mix well. Add the oil and to the flour mixture and rub between palms to incorporate. Rub until the flour looks like very fine crumbs. Add the yeast mixture and mix with the flour mixture to combine.
Gradually add a little water at a time and mix until you achieve a sticky dough. Don't add too much water, the end result has to be ever so slightly sticky. Knead the dough to reduce stickiness adding more flour if needed.
Once the dough becomes slightly sticky and almost elastic, roll it into a large ball and place in a slightly greased large bowl. Cover and let rest for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling.
Separate the spinach leaves from stems, and roughly chop them. Place them in a fine sieve and wash them thoroughly with water, until all the water comes out clear. Squeeze all the water out of the spinach and place the squeezed dried spinach in a large bowl.
Many people cook the spinach with the onions, but I don't. Instead I sweat the chopped onions in a little bit of olive oil, and then add it to the raw squeezed spinach. I find the texture to be nicer this way, and the taste to be better. Add the half cooked onions to the raw spinach, and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix all together well, until all ingredients are well combined. Taste to check seasoning and readjust if necessary.

This picture is from the Shishbarak post, I am using it for demonstration
Spinach pastries will be thicker
Divide the dough into 6 equal portions. Work with one portion at a time, keeping the rest covered. Roll out on a slightly floured surface, and cut using 3 inch round cookie cutter for minis as in picture, or bigger size as desired. (check out the tips for rolling dough in the making Shishbarak post).

Place a little bit of filling in the centre as shown in sketch 1 above. Don't let the filling touch the edges as they won't seal and will open up. As in sketch 2, lift both left and right sides and bring towards the centre. Pinch the edges together to lock. Your parcel should be looking like sketch 3 now. Lift the bottom part of the dough upwards and pinch with the dough edges to form a triangle as in sketch 4 above. Go around the edges pinching again to make sure they are all locked. Now you have a spinach filled triangle. Repeat the process till all quantity is consumed.

When finished, and ready to bake. Preheat your oven to 370F. Line baking sheets with baking paper, place the spinach pastries on lined sheets. Brush the pastry tops with either egg wash or milk. Bake each sheet for 10-20 minutes depending size. Bake until the bottoms are firm and golden and the tops are slightly browned. Remove from heat and cool on wire rack. Serve warm for best results.

TIP If you are going to freeze some for later use, and want them to taste freshly made, then bake for 3-5 minutes, remove and cool completely, then place in freezer containers separated by parchment or wax paper. Freeze till needed. When ready to bake, take them from freezer and bake in 400F oven for 20 minutes or until done.

Now don't get too excited and go drumming in the streets at 4 AM. People will freak out and you will most probably get in trouble! Read my blog instead before you start your fast, while you nibble on some of these heavenly pastries :) I hope you enjoyed today's post and recipe. Give it a go, and take pictures to share with me for a chance to win with Dima's Kitchen Ramadan Special.

I will be online to answer all your food related questions live on Twitter and Facebook Page everyday from 1 - 3 PM Dubai Time. We can even Skype if you have a group of questions or an emergency in the kitchen. My Skype name is Demzae. I am suggesting menus on twitter, and sides to main that bring out the flavour. So don't miss out and keep the conversation alive, send me what you need, and I will help you out. Also leave me some comments here, you know how I like to hear from you :) you might also win some Giveaways check this link for details on how to enter the giveaway draw :))

Remember to help those in need this Ramadan, there is nothing better than a silent good deed.
Ramadan Kareem