Spinach fatayer are a kind spinach hand pie with simple ingredients yet plenty of flavor. Fatayer can also have other fillings but this vegan version is particularly popular in Lebanon and I can completely understand why. Perfect as part of a mezze meal, as a snack or any excuse you like.
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There's something about little pastries and pies that feels snacky and indulgent, no matter when you have it or what is in it. Maybe it's that there's that hidden filling inside, or that they take a little more work than just putting things together. Who knows (or is it just me?)
Whether I'm alone in that thought or not, there's still plenty to enjoy in these tasty bites. You don't need a whole lot of ingredients, and they are surprisingly healthy too. Yes, they need a little time but they are really easier than you might think.
What are the origins of fatayer?
The name fatayer is Arabic for "pastry" and the name of this version, "fatayer sabanekh", simply means "spinach pastry". The exact origins of these little pastries is unclear, though. Some say Lebanon while others suggest elsewhere in the region.
What seems most likely is that they originated in Lebanon, where they remain extremely popular, and then spread around the Ottoman empire including Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Palestine.
As with so many pastries, you will find these with a few different fillings. Spinach, meat and cheese are some of the most popular traditional fillings, all relatively simple. While this triangle shape is the most typical for the spinach version, you will find fatayer in other shapes as well.
What goes in spinach fatayer?
As I mentioned these don't need many ingredients, but they come together in such a lovely way.
- A yeasted dough with a touch of olive oil - while you could use ready-made pizza dough to speed things along, I highly recommend making your own dough here for a truly authentic flavor.
- Spinach - the star! Well, maybe I should say the bulk, as you need a lot, as spinach really compresses down. You can use either fresh or frozen spinach for this - personally I prefer fresh but as you have.
- Onion - you don't need much, just enough to add a little texture without the flavor taking over.
- Sumac - this really gives the filling it's flavor. If you are not familiar with this spice, it is a ground berry popular in a number of Levantine dishes, including most famously in the dressing for fattoush salad. It's also the main seasoning in Palestinian musakhan, sumac chicken. It has a lovely citrus-like flavor.
- Pomegranate molasses and lemon juice - these aren't in all versions, but when used they also add a little extra tangy flavor.
- Optional pine nuts - these are also not in all versions, but I like them for the contrasting texture. As with the onion, you don't need many as they are not the focus.
The end result is a lovely combination of flavors and textures that also works well with a broad range of other dishes, too. You can enjoy them with dips, alongside salads and mezze dishes such as salads, kibbeh and other pastries.
Squeeze that spinach!
One of the key things to make these turn out successfully is to squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the spinach. Spinach retains a lot of liquid and this can make the dough soggy. If you are using fresh spinach, chopping it up then adding salt helps to bring the liquid out.
Then, whether using fresh or frozen spinach, squeeze it really well. Then move it around and squeeze it some more. You can squeeze by hand but using some cheesecloth really helps to get more liquid out as you can twist it tightly. You'll be surprised quite how much comes out!
How to form fatayer
These might look tricky, but they are a lot easier than you might think to bring together. After dividing the dough equally, you simply flatten or roll a piece out into a circle. Then, top with some filling, making sure you keep it away from the edges.
Then, fold two sides in to join in the middle. If you think of it as two sides of a triangle as you are doing this, I think it somehow works better. That last part of the circle you didn't fold in will become the last side of your triangle in just a minute.
Then, you pinch together those two sides so they are joined all the way towards the middle. Next, fold in the third side, pinch it in the middle to join the other sides then seal up the two open joins. Press the dough together well so that it doesn't open up during baking.
Remember, the dough will expand as it bakes, so you want the dough well-sealed. Also, you don't want the dough too tight around the filling. You don't want it full of air either, but it is fine to be gently loose.
Make ahead and re-heating tips
You can prepare the filling for these ahead of time and refrigerate it for up to a day, ready to use. Just wait until right before using to add the lemon juice to save the mixture being too wet.
In terms of the dough, as I mention above you can substitute ready-made pizza dough to make these if you are short on time. But homemade is definitely worth it, if you can. You can let the dough rise a little more slowly in the fridge, if that suits your schedule better. Just make sure it gets at least 30 minutes at room temperature at the end and still doubles in size.
You are best to bake these right when they are made rather than freezing first both to save the dough rising too much and the filling making the dough soggy. But you can freeze them after baking.
Simply ensure they have come to room temperature, then either wrap individually or lay in a single layer on parchment. Once frozen, you can transfer to a freezer bag. Then let them defrost in the fridge before using (or warming).
You can also simply store leftover baked pastries at room temperature for a day or two, although they are certainly at their best on the day they are made.
You can serve these at room temperature but I like them best still warm from baking, or, as next best option, lightly re-heated. Simply place them in a low oven (around 250F/120C) for a few minutes until the pastry feels warm but isn't darkening.
Spinach fatayer may only use a simple set of ingredients, but the end result has a lovely flavor and they are so wonderfully versatile. Even better, they are vegan and a great way to get in some greens. So enjoy some as a snack, as part of a mezze meal or whatever excuse you want to find soon.
Try these with some other Levantine dishes:
- Hummus with lamb (hummus kawarma)
- Manakish (Lebanese za'atar flatbread)
- Roasted eggplant with tahini
- Vegetarian Turkish dolma
- Chickpea fatteh (pita chips topped with seasoned yogurt, chickpeas & toasted nuts)
- Plus get more Middle Eastern recipes and snack recipes, both savory and sweet, in the archives.
- 1 ½ cups all purpose flour all purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon instant yeast
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ⅓ cup warm water may need 1 - 2 tablespoon more, as needed
- 8 oz spinach can use fresh or frozen, 225g
- ½ onion or ¼ if large
- ¼ teaspoon salt plus an additional ¼ tsp, approx, if using fresh spinach
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon Lebanese seven spice optional
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- ½ tablespoon pomegranate molasses
- ½ tablespoon pine nuts optional
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Place the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a bowl and mix together. Add the oil and ⅓ cup water and mix into a smooth dough. You will probably need a little more water, so add more gradually, as needed. If it is still dry and some of the flour is not incorporated, add a little more water. It should come together as a ball but also not be wet.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for around 3 - 5 minutes until any stickiness has gone and it is smooth. Bring the dough together in a ball. You can also mix the ingredients and knead in a stand mixer (knead for around 2 - 3 minutes).
- Lightly oil a clean bowl, place the ball of dough in it and cover with cling wrap. Leave in a warm room temperature place for around 2 hours until the dough has doubled in size.
- Meanwhile, mix together the filling. If using fresh spinach, roughly chop the leaves and place in a colander, sprinkling a little salt over the leaves as you go and leave to sit 10 minutes. Then, squeeze the spinach really well to remove the liquid - you can do this by hand but using a clean cloth or cheesecloth works well to help. If using frozen spinach, you can skip the salt and just squeeze really well.
- Finely chop the onion and add it to the drained spinach. Add in the salt, pepper, sumac, Lebanese seven spice, if using, and pomegranate molasses. Add pine nuts, if you want to include, and mix everything well then set aside.
- Once the dough has risen, knock it back and remove from the bowl. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and roll each into a ball, folding the dough back on itself to be smooth on top.
- Preheat the oven to 425F/220C.
- Take one piece of the dough and either roll out with a rolling pin or use your hands to flatten it out into a circle, around 6 - 7 inches in diameter. Add the lemon juice into the filling mixture right before using and stir through. Place some of the spinach filling, around 2 tablespoons, in the middle of the dough.
- Pinch together two sides of the dough over the filling so that you form a point on one side (see pictures) Press together along the join. Then, take the remaining part of dough and bring it into the middle, pinch together, then join up both sides to form a triangular shape. Try to avoid having too much air inside the dough but also make sure it is not over-filled. Carefully transfer to a lightly-oiled baking sheet (photo shows lined with silicone mat but oiled is better to be crisper on base).
- Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and filling. If you like, you can brush the outside of the fatayer with a little olive oil or egg wash before baking, but you can also leave as they are. (Egg wash will mean no longer vegan.)
- Bake for around 12 - 15 minutes until lightly golden on the outside. It's worth transferring to a cooling rack soon after removing from the oven to avoid the base becoming soft. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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I first shared this spinach fatayer (Lebanese spinach pastry) recipe on Curious Cuisiniere where I am a contributor.