Spinach Fatayer with Feta

Spinach and Feta Fatayer

London makes quite a few appearances in this blog purely because that’s where I grew up and have, not only my fondest memories, but the most vivid ones. I moved to London at a young age but since I was old enough to be aware and spent my school years there, I have wonderful memories. 

I don’t talk too much about my time in Saudi and only because I have flashes of my time there. I was born in Saudi and though I only lived there for a short time, my memories are happy ones. I have no Middle Eastern ancestry, but happened to be born there because my parents moved a few years beforehand for work.
 
Mostly it was hot, and I believe it still is! But for all the heat, I still played outside in front yard of our house with my sister, enjoyed picnics in the date groves and BBQ’s at the beach. It maybe a sandbox, but it has its own beauty.
 
To accommodate our big family back then (there were 8 of us) my dad ordered a huge 1976 Cadillac Deville straight from the factory in Detroit. I remember the day it arrived, beautiful, silver with red leather and big, boy was it big. It still had the temporary Michigan plates and as a youngster, I was just gob smacked. I have photos which I would’ve loved to share but they’re all back in Houston with my dad. I will remember to get them when I go back later this month.
Spinach and Feta Fatayer
 
The boot of this thing was massive. So massive that when we went on our picnics, my dad would open up the back and all us little kids would climb in and that’s where we ate, sitting in the boot of the Cadillac. I think there’s a photo of that too!
 
I’d just like to say that this car moved with us to England where it was way too big for the little English countryside roads. When we moved to Houston, it travelled with us then too. In fact, I learned to drive in this beloved Cadillac. We finally laid it to rest many years ago but it was my companion for many, many years.
 
Apparently, good food was important to me back then as well. Many of my flashes of memory, are food memories. The juicy rotisserie chicken spinning away at the bakery where my dad would pick up some hot loves of Arabic bread and a chicken for dinner. I can still taste it to this day, moist and tender with a hint of lemony flavour.
 
Spinach and Feta Fatayer
 
The shawarmas are ingrained in my taste buds too; slices of tender chicken or lamb, stuffed inside a warm pita bread with pickles, potatoes, tomatoes and lots of tahini sauce. And let’s not forget the famous lamb and rice kabsa; a whole lamb, spit roasted sitting atop mounds of glistening, golden rice. What made it even more fun was digging into this huge tray of food alongside others, communal style, all pinching off meat with our fingers and shaping a little mound of rice with our right fingers to scoop up to our mouths. Food tastes so much better when fingers are digging in, feeling the food, grasping it and transporting it to the taste buds. 
 
I have vague memories of the family who lived across from our house, they were Arabs and wonderful people. I can’t remember them at all really, but I know there were grown children, sons and daughters. My sister and I would spend time at their home and we were always welcome. We would just walk across to their house unannounced and they would include us in their day and we would sit with them to eat. Their courtyard had an overhead trellis were bunches of grapes hung, dangling from amongst the leaves. I remember this because I was fascinated by how the grapes grew, in masses draping themselves through large leaves. They were incredibly sour and I realise now that they weren’t grown for the fruit but for the vine leaves. Stuffed grape leaves are some of the best things on this planet.
 
Our neighbours to the left were an American family, My very first friend was the boy who lived next door, John. For years and even to this day, my uncle asks about my “boyfriend” John. So, John, if you happen to be reading this and you lived in Saudi in the 70’s next door to a scrawny Indian looking girl, that’s me!
 
Spinach and Feta Fatayer
 
So many wonderful memories of family, friends and food. The best apples and pears I ate were in Saudi, they actually smelled like apples and pears and their fragrance was intoxicating. Even today, when I pick up a pear to buy, I smell it, trying to get a hit of that fragrance I remember. The seafood, the kebabs, the sandwiches….In fact, one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten was at a fancy restaurant there. 
 
Just as we were getting ready to leave Saudi for England, my aunts and uncles moved there and so began a tradition of family members living in Saudi. I had opportunity to return a few more times and I hope I get to go again since Saudi houses two of the most important Islamic holy sites. 
 
My uncle and a few cousins still live there and my brother just returned from Saudi a few months ago. So, even though there is no Middle Eastern blood coursing through our veins, the Middle East is very much a part of our ancestry now.
 
That probably explains my love for all Arabic food. I have grown up eating it, and it is present at every family gathering and it’s one of the first things we cook after Indian.
 
Spinach and Feta Fatayer
 
These delicious spinach fatayer or pies, are common throughout the Middle East and the Levant. My children love them and I always used to buy them because they’re not expensive, and buying them fresh from the bakery they were still warm and so good. Of course, this was in Houston.
 
The Denver stores have them too but they are not warm and fresh out of the oven. I did pick up a couple of bags of spinach pies last time I was at the Middle Eastern store and they were done in a day. I decided to make my own variation with feta. 
 
These were wonderful, warm and soft bread with a lemony filling of spinach and feta. I used part white and part whole wheat, just to make them a bit healthier. I also don’t like my filling overly tart, so I dialled back the lemon a bit, but feel free to increase the lemon (not too much because you don’t want the filling too wet) These lasted about 3 days. They are a great snack and a wonderful picnic or lunch bag idea. 
 
Spinach and Feta Fatayer-6
  

Spinach and Feta Fatayer

Rating 

Prep time: 

Cook time: 

Total time: 

Serves: 16 pies

Soft, fluffy and tangy Middle Eastern spinach and feta pies
Ingredients
  • 2 cups/300g bread flour
  • 2 cups/300g white whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons (or 1 package) yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ cups/355ml warm water
  • FILLING
  • 1lb/455g spinach, fresh or frozen
  • 4 green onions, chopped fine
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • salt, to taste
  • ½ cup Feta cheese
Instructions
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer mix the flours, salt, sugar and the yeast.
  2. Add the olive oil and the warm water, a little at time until a dough forms.
  3. You may need more or less water depending on the flour.
  4. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  5. Place the ball of dough in a greased bowl, cover and place in a warm area.
  6. Allow the dough to double in size, about 90 minutes (45 minutes if high altitude)
  7. While the dough is resting and rising, make the filling.
  8. If using fresh spinach, place the spinach in a microwaveable bowl and microwave for about 5 minutes until soft and wilted.
  9. Or, place in a pan with a drop of water and allow to steam and wilt.
  10. Drain the spinach and squeeze out all the water.
  11. You may need to wrap the spinach in a towel to get out all the excess water.
  12. Once the spinach is dry, chop it into small pieces.
  13. If using frozen, defrost and squeeze out all the water.
  14. Place the dry spinach in a bowl, add the green onions, feta cheese and lemon juice.
  15. Check to taste for salt and lemon juice.
  16. Don't make the filling too wet, it will be hard to seal the pies.
  17. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C
  18. Once the dough has doubled in size. slowly punch down the dough.
  19. Place on a clean counter and knead gently.
  20. Cut the dough into 16 pieces.
  21. Roll out one piece of dough into a 5 inch/13 cm circle.
  22. Drop a rounded tablespoon of filling onto the centre of the dough.
  23. Pull up one side of the dough and seal.
  24. Pull up the other side and make a tri tip seal.
  25. I didn't need any water to seal but if you're having a problem getting the edges to seal, use a bit of water or flour paste to seal.
  26. Keep the pie aside.
  27. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
  28. Place on a couple of cookie sheets and place in he oven
  29. Bake until golden brown and puffy, about 20 minutes.
  30. See warm or room temperature.
  31. They store really well in the fridge for a quick snack or packed lunches.
Notes
You can use all purpose flour for all or part of the flours. White whole wheat is great to use because it is soft but is still a while wheat flour.
This dough makes great pita bread if you decide to make only a few fatayer and a few homemade pita bread.
Just bake the pita bread on a hot pizza stone or a heated cookie sheet.
It has perfect pita pockets!

Spinach and Feta Fatayer

I hope spring or fall is making an appearance in your part of the world. Colorado spring is very much like winter so we really see no difference! Lots and lots of snow signifies spring for us, so I guess spring might very well be here! I haven’t been able to see any new blossoms or buds yet though, but maybe the several inches of snow might possibly be covering them up.

Have a great week!

  1. Love the nostalgia of this post. The great thing about food and history though is that even though South Asian and Middle Eastern culture can often seem so different, because of things like migration and empires etc there are actually quite a few crossovers. I remember being so surprised when I heard that things like Samosa and Jalebi are so popular in the Middle East!

    Fatayer is one of those things that I always, always, always keep on meaning to make but keep getting put off because I always assume using yeast makes it a long process. I will get round to it though!!
    Abida recently posted..Peanut Butter CookiesMy Profile

  2. Spinach and feta is always such a winning combination. These little pastry pockets look delicious, Nazneen. I love reading your recollections of times spent in different places. I have lots of fond memories of growing up in London, too (I miss it all the time. Australia is wonderful but places of origin always have a spot in your heart).
    The lamb filling sounds gorgeous too xx
    laurasmess recently posted..Spring Pea, Asparagus and Strawberry SaladMy Profile

  3. Nazneen….first of all, your beautiful photography ALWAYS pulls me in. I can just about smell these gorgeous fatayer. Feta, spinach. lemon….all layered in a warm, wonderful crust. I think I will put these on my baking bucket list this year! : )
    Anne@FromMySweetHeart recently posted..Whole Orange & Almond CakeMy Profile

  4. Isn’t it great to be able to recreate a dish that you were fond of since you were a kid? Looks like you’ve outdone what you’ve been buying at bakeries!!

    Julie & Alesah
    Gourmet Getaways xx
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  5. You have such interesting cultural roots. Being Indian, have you ever lived in India? That family car sounds amazing and how fabulous it stayed in your family for so many years and it certainly traveled the globe with you. I’m a little weary of ever going to Saudi as a guy I know has recently had to go there for work and he’s given accommodation in a hotel where when he looks out the window, he’s looking on the site where they chop off people’s limbs and heads – not the wisest of tourist attractions! And I’ve heard women can’t drive cars or talk to men without the threat of being arrested. I’m sure it was a very different place back in the 70’s xx
    Hotly Spiced recently posted..Someone Call a PlumberMy Profile

    • Thanks Charlie! Saudi Arabia gets a bad rap but for the most part, the people aren’t unhappy. They are rich, they go on expensive vacations, own just about anything you could want and for Saudi nationals, pretty much all schools, colleges, health care is free and paid for by the Royal family and no taxes. Foreigners don’t mind the huge paychecks either.

  6. Eeeek I’m so glad you posted this! I LOVE spinach fatayer! I personally haven’t had great luck making it because the recipes that I’ve tried have either been too sour (due to pomegranate molasses) or the pastry has ended up bursting.
    These look and sound both delicious and sturdy. Can’t wait to give these a shot!
    Quick question- can I freeze these before baking? I’m thinking about making a batch and freezing for Ramadan. If I do freeze them, do I bake them thawed or straight from the freezer?
    Henna recently posted..Chocolate Cake (and a little update)My Profile

    • Thanks Henna. I think they might be better if you froze then once they were baked. Then just pull them out of the freezer snd either defrost or bake them frozen for 10-15 minutes. Since they have a spinach filling, freezing them unbaked may prove s soggy mess. Also, they need to rise a little behind being baked and that’s what would add so much sogginess. Ok, that’s a long answer! But you get it right?!

  7. Oh Nazneen, you’ve reminded me of the good old days in Saudi Arabia.. I was born there too but stayed there till I was only 2 years old.. then we’ve returned there only to spend summer vacations.. I remember when we were first introduced to this kid of fatayer from our Palestinian neighbor oooooh that tart taste of spinach drives me crazy.. I’m used to make this with the 10 minutes dough- which I love so much- and for those who like it tart like I do they can use sumac instead of lemon juice … yours are so beautiful and I bet delish too.
    Amira recently posted..Okra torteMy Profile

    • Thanks Amira, you know, you reminded me that I forgot to add a note about sumac and pomegranate molasses! That they can be used as well. I like mine a bit tart, not too tart.

  8. Most of my memories involve food in one way or another, Nazneen! These delicious bites are all the better with all the memories that go along with it. I love the sound of the soft, warm bread surrounding the spinach filling. That has got to taste out of this world amazing warm from the oven!
    Monica recently posted..Churros with vanilla-sugar and chocolate sauceMy Profile

    • Mine too!! Food and music I find are the two that have such great association. When I hear certain songs, especially those that were out around my pregnancies and morning sickness, I immediately start feeling nauseous when I hear them! It’s crazy bd then food memories…wow, the best ones!

    • Thanks Ash! The picnics were pretty awesome, I loved going to the date and almond groves back then. I made 16 and they all got eaten within 3 days…which is pretty good, I was expecting them to last only 2!

  9. What a beautiful post! Your dad must have been in the oil business! We had to live in Houston, too. Hated that place! Love your recipe – you’re very talented. And by the way, AOL is finally not placing your emails in my spam folder any longer!
    Mimi recently posted..Cambozola SauceMy Profile

    • Thanks Mimi! No, my dad wasn’t in the oil business! He did many things actually but in the end he was a business man. He worked with the royal family in Saudi before we left for England. I’m so glad you’re getting my emails now! I had to go through hoops and do monkey tricks to get my emails to reach everyone’s inboxes 🙂 Thank you for stopping by!!

  10. Nazneen – I loved hearing about your time in Saudi and the big, red-upholstered Cadillac! I hope John is reading and that you find him someday. Maybe he is writing a food blog, too, about this memories of the food and the Indian girl next door. These little hand pies look amazing – a perfect weekend project for me! I want to try them soon. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful memories. xo, David
    David recently posted..My Culinary Coming of AgeMy Profile

  11. Even though you have spent a short time in Saudi your memories are fresh and wonderful. It was great reading about them. I am loving these cute little pies and spinach and feta are a rocking combination any time. They look a teeny bit like samosas..I have to look for them in the Middle Eastern eateries..I wonder why I have never come across them!
    Here Autumn is still very much like summer. I am happy as long as the stone fruits are there:-)
    Sugar et al. recently posted..Rhubarb Cake With Pomegranate And Rosemary ButtercreamMy Profile

  12. Reading about your memories was fabulous 🙂 One of my favourite things to daydream about are old times!
    Delicious filling, warming and so addictive!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru
    Choc Chip Uru recently posted..Food PornMy Profile

    • Thanks Asiya! I haven’t made the cheese pies but have made the bread. Did you use the Arabic cheese, like nabulsi or Akkawi? Maybe that’s the difference?

  13. Oh Nazneen – your recollection of your brief time in Saudi brought back memories (for me) of my time in Abu Dhabi – specially when you talked about shawarmas! I remeber their intoxicating smells on just about every corner! I am off meat for lent and just reminiscing about those shawarmas is stirring up a huge craving! Good thing that your pictures are of these vegetarian spinach stuffed fatayer! Your dough looks so good!
    Shashi at RunninSrilankan recently posted..Beet & Bean DipMy Profile

    • It was fun as a child but I hated driving that thing! It was just so big and looking out the front.. Goodness… The front end went on forever!! These are easy to make, maybe Mrs KR would like to have a go?

  14. When we lived in Nottingham, there was a fellow we would occasionally see driving a big American Chevy truck, extended cab and all. We used to marvel at it wondering how he got down those narrow English roads through the villages that were sprinkled every couple of miles. Your father’s Cadillac was probably just as legendary amongst the village folk where you lived.. This is a delicious looking recipe, just my kind of thing.
    Karen Harris recently posted..Something From Nothing #31: One Pot Spaghetti Parma RosaMy Profile

    • I cannot tell you how many times we had to back down a country lane because a car couldn’t go past us! It was quite amusing. I loved the car but not so much when I was driving it! Thanks Karen!!

  15. When I was working in Melbourne, my office was down the road from the A1 Bakery which is a huge Lebanese wholesaler/bakery. I’d go in on a Monday morning and buy a box of 5 of their spinach and feta triangles, take one for breakfast and the rest went in the freezer for my breakfast for the rest of week. Every morning, I’d get in and put a frozen one straight into the sandwich maker and it would defrost and toast up perfectly. You’ve just transported me right back there.
    I’m so making these this week.
    Nancy | Plus Ate Six recently posted..{In My Kitchen} March 2015My Profile

    • Those bakeries are the best, aren’t they? I think I could live in one and survive on all the different kinds of bread! I hope they turn out well for you! xx

    • Thank you, GG. The spinach filling, an Arabic cheese filling and lamb filling are traditional, but of course, you can fill them with anything. They are delicious!