Tasty Palestinian Spinach Pies are Vegan and Fasting Friendly

 

My friend Salwa comes from Beit-jala, a small village just outside Bethlehem on the West Bank of the Jordan River. She came with her husband to Alaska, where they’re raising twin sons far from the violence that has disrupted the West Bank for too many years.

Salwa is an excellent cook. Interviewing Salwa and other church members was the highlight of writing Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska. Tastes Like Home is a fundraiser for Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, a pan-orthodox parish in Anchorage, Alaska.

We’re working hard to raise money for a new church building, necessary because we now hold services in a converted house far too small for our congregation. Weddings and funerals overwhelm our current building and must be held elsewhere. All proceeds from the sale of Tastes Like Home go directly into the Holy Transfiguration Building Fund.

Last month, we sold Tastes Like Home at the Anchorage Museum’s Book Fair. I staffed the booth with help from other church volunteers.

Salwa spent several hours helping out at the Book Fair. When we weren’t talking to customers, we were chatting about food. Salwa said she’d been thinking about bringing Palestinian Spinach Triangles to church the next day for coffee hour.

Palestinian Spinach Pies? My ears perked up. I asked if they were similar to Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pies). Salwa said they were a similar shape, but used pita bread dough instead of filo for the wrapping, so weren’t loaded with butter. She said the filling was spiced with sumac and didn’t include cheese, so was suitable for religious fasting days or vegans.

I grabbed a pen and started taking notes. When I asked what the triangles were called, Salwa said “spinach in pita bread dough;” in Arabic, Sbanekh bil-Ajeen.

On the internet, I discovered a number of recipes similar to Salwa’s Spinach Pies, with names like Lebanese Spinach Pies (Fatayers), Spinach Turnovers (Fatayir bi Sabaanikh), and Savory Spinach Pies (Fataayer bis-sabaanigh). The different spellings are because Arabic, like Greek, isn’t consistently transliterated.

Sumac, the tart seasoning used to flavor Palestinian Spinach Pies, is used throughout the Middle East. It’s the dried and ground red berry of the sumac tree, and is sometimes sold mixed with salt. In cooking, sumac serves the same purpose as lemon or vinegar, but also adds a pleasing, fruity flavor.

In Anchorage, sumac is available at Sagaya and City Market. It is also found at Middle Eastern and gourmet markets or online from many vendors, including The Spice House, World Spice Merchants, and Penzeys.

Palestinian Spinach Pies took longer to make than I’d planned, but largely because it took me awhile to figure out how to shape them. Hopefully, the pictures set out below will make shaping the pies easier. It would be faster and easier to make larger pies than the hors d’oeurves size I made.

I brought the Palestinian Spinach Pies to a New Year’s Eve party, where they disappeared before 9 pm. They’re that good.

Be sure to check out the recipes mentioned in this post:

 

17 Responses to Tasty Palestinian Spinach Pies are Vegan and Fasting Friendly

  1. Bravo laurie! Delicious! I personally prefer my spanakopita without cheese and this sounds divine. A good mixture of flavours.

    Efharisto para polli.

  2. Funny, I prefer my Spanakopita WITH cheese.

    Subtleties and variances are what makes being Greek great,

  3. These look and sound amazing. My mother cooked the whole range of kalitsounia in New Zealand, including the Lenten version. They were always fried, never baked. They were also my favorite kalitsouni; as yet, I haven’t tried to make them myself, because we aren’t as strict as she was concerning our fasting. Maybe it’s because I have children that we fast without restricting our intake of dairy products. Very interesting recipe.

  4. Αρχοντία says:

    You just gave me a great idea! I will use this shape to make sweet breads, stuffed with a mixture of nuts and dried fruit with cinammon and brown sugar.
    Thank you!!

  5. JennDZ - The Leftover Queen says:

    Anything with sumac floats my fancy. I use it in a lot of my dishes – it just gives them that extra special touch.

  6. Those look delicious! I have to confess I’ve never tried sumac – no idea if I can find it around but this recipe got me very curious.

  7. Happy New Year, Laurie.

    Thnk you for the diagram and detailed instructions for folding – I’m all thumbs when it comes to wrapping these things without proper guidance!

  8. Coffee & Vanilla says:

    Those pies look amazing 🙂

  9. Too interesting that you used sumac! I have some from Penzey’s that I ordered for a recipe that I cannot remember right now. Have never used it since then. Good for you for showing us how to fold your pies! Much appreciated and they sound great!

  10. Baking Soda says:

    I love this recipe! One of my boys loves anything involving spinach and combining it with pita dough… sure hit! Thks for the folding pics, I think I am going to need them!

  11. Τίποτα Peter!

    As for me, I like spanakopita whether or not it has cheese – filo and filling works for me every time.

    Maria, I love your New Zealand stories. When I think of fried pites, tyropita is what comes first to mind – one of my favorite things about Easter dinner. Does your mom make here kalitsounia dough with yogurt?

    Αρχοντία, what a great idea to use the shape for sweet breads! I immediately thought of dried apples in your filling, although dried apricots would also be good. I can’t wait to read your recipe!

    Jenn, I agree completely – sumac is a wonderful spice! I like the color it adds, as well as the flavor. It goes really well with caramelized onions.

    Suzana, I’m sure Lisbon must have at least one Middle Eastern store which is bound to have sumac.

    Lucy, I took the time to do the diagram and photos because it took me way, way too long to figure out how to shape these because I didn’t have directions — it was embarassing.

    Margot, they taste good too!

    Winedeb, if you don’t want to take the time to make the pies, just add the sumac to sauteed spinach and onions — it adds really good flavor.

    Baking Soda, I’m with your boys – give me spinach in dough, any kind of dough, and I am happy!

  12. Beautiful little parcels, Laurie. Love the sumac; it’s what makes fatoush great, too.

  13. Mom never used yoghurt in any of her pastry doughs. I prefer the plain type of pastry for all my pies; I never use the THIN filo pastry which needs a lot of butter or oil in between layers. We always eat pies or savories with THICK filo pastry (same stuff, just thicker and crunchier).

  14. Sounds very good. One of my favorite restaurants in Salt Lake has sumac on the table in a shaker. I haven’t cooked with it much, but I love the flavor.

  15. Susan, mmm, I love fattoush too. Sumac is a great spice.

    Maria, you have just hit on one of my irritations about the US — all that is sold here is the thin filo dough and I far prefer the thicker version, and is all I use when I’m in Greece for savory foods, leaving the thin stuff for sweets. I keep hoping that some day we will get more filo choices here, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Kalyn, you should try cooking with it, it’s great. It goes particularly well with things like sauteed onions, greens, and chicken.

  16. Excuse me for commenting so late. I’ve been meaning to look for sumac at the market, having noticed it listed in lots of recipes lately. I was actually searching your site for a recipe for spanakopita but these spinach pies sound absolutely delicious too!

    -Elizabeth

  17. Anonymous says:

    I haven’t had this since I was a child…and I’ve never heard of the spice Sumac. I’ve looked at all of the local markets and at the herb store and no one has it. Is there anything that I can use as a reasonable substitute?

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