A woman who cooks, cooks for her family. Their tastes, needs, palates and pleasures are huge influencing factors in the decisions made in the kitchen. At least, it’s the truth in my case. While that can be challenging and is its own reward, I have to admit to having to restrain my happiness, if chance dictates that I am having dinner alone for a night. It means that I, and only I, can make demands. On this night, this plate is all about ME!

Allspice, that liberally used berry in Arab cuisine doesn’t fall favourably on the palates of the members of this household. Except mine. Being the cook and in the minority, I cannot argue too far, too constantly. These wee little pizza like snacks called Sfeeha, are one of my absolute favourites to eat, but after a third attempt at transferring affections to husband and child were unsuccessful, even my stubborness had to give way. They were resurrected once after that, when a cherished friend came to stay for a night. It was a girl’s night in. The Scotsman being away on business and the kids tucked in bed, Miss M and I ploughed our way through Sfeeha and mezze and Turmeric Rice Roast Chicken, with plenty of laughs, dirty fingers and stuffed tummies. That lass practically mauled the Sfeeha, for which I was grateful. Miss M won me for life.

Middle Eastern food is as much about ‘home’ for me as the Indian stuff. And here, these pizza like snacks are available at every bakery round these parts. Sometimes called Mana-eesh/Manakish or Fatayer, they are at heart, a soft, yoghurt based dough, that’s then topped with a spiced lamb mince, or spinach with lip puckering sumac and fat pine nuts, or simply with cheese. For a substantial snack you can get them dinner plate sized. Or like these sweet babies- called Sfeeha in Jordan – they are around 3-4 bite mark. And I adore them. They are related in taste to another favourite, Ara-yes, again spiced lamb mince stuffed into a thin pitta like bread, coated in oil and grilled. Words are insufficient.

There are a lot of flavour levels going on here. The main ones are ground all-spice and cinnamon. That hits your nose first, when you are about to sink your gnashers into it. Then comes the earthiness of the tahina, the sweet-sour tang of pomegranate molasses (grenadine) and the fresh lift of lemon juice. Don’t be tempted to avoid the lemon juice, it is a key ingredient, in lifting and balancing all the strong components. For all that the ingredients sound like they would fight each other, they don’t; coming together in perfect harmony with the waxy bite of pine nuts, the herbal hit of parsley and juicy tomatoes. All resting on a pale, soft, slightly chewy dough that betrays the yoghurt through a tender bite and tangy aftertaste. This little morsel packs a punch.

So, I made a huge batch of these, hoping to freeze some but plans never quite go as they should. Lil Loon is as taken with Sfeeha as I am. I am forced to share, but, since there was enough to go around, I didn’t mind too much.

Making these after a long interval, I am happy to find, that my greed based affection for Sfeeha hasn’t abated, nor was it exaggerated. This is honest, great food and I have Nadia Sawalha‘s fierce Aunty Jamileh to thank for it.

Sfeeha (Middle Eastern Lamb Pizzas

Recipe from Nadia Sawalha’s Stuffed Vine Leaves Saved My Life

For the topping
350g lamb mince
2 teaspoons each ground cinnamon and ground allspice (i add a touch more all spice)
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 handful chopped fresh parsley
2-3 teaspoons pomegranate syrup
1-2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, grated
2 tomatoes, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice.

For the dough
1 teaspoon dried yeast
450g strong bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
125 ml olive oil
175 ml room temperature, natural yoghurt
125 ml warm water

Put all the mince ingredients intoa bowl and mix well until almost a paste. Or you can mix it on a low speed on your stand mixer. Cover and leave in the fridge until you need it. To make the dough, put in the flour, salt, yeast, make a well and add the oil and youghurt and mix on a stand mixer. Add the water a little at a time, as you may need less or more depending on how much the flour absorbs. You are after a soft dough, but not very sticky. Continue kneading for five minutes, until the dough is elastic and smooth.

Leave to rise in the mixer bowl, with oiled clingfilm over the top, in a warm, draught free place, until it has doubled in size, around two hours. Then punch down, knead gently to a ball and leave to rise again for another 20-30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 230 deg C.

Now for assembling; pinch of large walnut sized balls of the dough, flatten and roll a little on a lightly floured surface. This doesn’t have to perfect and don’t roll thinly. Dollop on about 2-3 tablespoons of the mince mix and spread right to the outer edges of the flat, round dough as these shrink a lot on cooking.

Put the sfeeha on a baking tray and place into your oven, for 15-20 minutes, or until the lamb is cooked through. The dough should still be quite pale, with no more than a hint of gold. A green salad like fatoush would go extremely well with the sfeeha.


32 thoughts on “Sfeeha

    1. thePatternedPlate

      If only we could meet again Jean! I would make these for ya. 🙂 The bowl is actually a traditional, peasant chapati bowl! I tend to use it decoratively with candles and the like on my coffee table but it came handy here. (After being thoroughly cleaned I hasten to add!)

  1. {Main St. Cuisine}

    Three cheers for allspice (and turmeric)! I don’t cook with either as much as I’d like. I have never heard of sfeeha, but it looks absolutely delicious…I love the ingredient list. I’m curious on the wooden bowl in your beautiful photos. Any history to it?

    1. thePatternedPlate

      I would love to tell you that it’s a hand me-down with an endearing story behind it but I can’t!! I bought it off a UK website that sell the most basic folk table/kitchen/homeware from Asia (usually) and charge a fair bit for it!

      I do know that its a traditional bowl for chapatis, those flat, thin, wholewheat Indian rotis/breads. I suspect the wood helps keeps the pile of freshly made chapatis warm and helps them to stay soft. It would probably be a bowl made in North India, as rotis are more the staple there, than in the South, where I am from, where the staple is rice.

      Either way, I love this bowl and it came to good use here! I think it makes a lovely, natural but handsome statement on a table heaving with food 🙂

    2. Heather @ SugarDish(Me)

      Allison– did you ever read this post https://thepatternedplate.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/re-re-found-objects/ whereupon our dear friend Caroline made me covet things I can’t have like Moroccan trays and jade colored cake stands? I was also eyeballing that pretty wooden bowl!

      And oh my, Carrie, my friend, the sfeeha looks amazing! I don’t think I could persuade my children to eat this, but it looks like something I should definitely make when my sister comes and she and I hole up in the kitchen. Beee-uuuu-tee-full!

      1. thePatternedPlate

        LOL thanks Heather..and I am sorry for the inducing such covetous thoughts, but I am all about spreading the ‘love’ around haha! And these are wonderful and I do hope you have a chance to make them :-))

  2. NYinRome

    Carrie you got me with your first two opening lines….then the whole paragraph, how true it is! Yes, Nadia’s book is going on the wish list immediately for the next too long waited order on Amazon ;). Your photos here are simple and natural and warm and easy (if you know what I mean)….I like it 😀

    1. thePatternedPlate

      Haha! Yes, I think most mothers, particularly, will identify with the opening lines! And thanks for the compliments NY, am so pleased you like the direction I was going for! I didn’t want the picture getting too busy and distracting from these delicious bites 😉

  3. jobakes

    I’m in love. Truly, madly, deeply. Think I need to get a room, all of my own, and guzzle,’till my heart’s content with wee pillows of lamb loveliness in it! I *will* be making these hunny, especially after getting bit by the arayes bug – would you freeze them after cooking them though hun as I fear it’s not safe to leave me alone with a full batch of these!

  4. Rushi!

    These pics are making me hungry. Wish I could get my hands on the gorgeous wooden bowl and the sfeehas 🙂 Another recipe to add to my must-make list.

  5. Emma @ Sweet Mabel

    Oh my goodness, they look amazing. Wonderful pictures as usual. I’ve printed this recipe and it’s going in my to do file. x

    1. thePatternedPlate

      Oh wow Christy, really? So pleased you did and that you liked it!

      By the way, I was reading your sugar post yesterday. How long my hand hovered over the sugar pot, while making my morning tea, I cannot tell you. Still had it though. Hopeless!

      1. Christy

        They were delish! And unlike you, I was lucky – the man in my house liked them, which is a bonus. (Or not? Less for me. Hmm.) The dough didn’t rise properly, but I think my yeast is a bit old so that’s probably why. After a while I gave up and used it anyway. Worked beautifully. I would usually take photos, but there were none this time as we just ate them all up right out of the oven 🙂 I was stoked for a reason to use my pomegranite mollasses, which said man in house thought was a dumb purchase last year.

        Haha, funny about the sugar. To be honest, I sat watching the “Sugar: the bitter truth” lecture eating marshmallow easter eggs. The irony was not lost on me. Since then I’ve been training myself off orange juice and sugar in my coffee – but I don’t really know what I’m going to do yet. If anything. Sigh – addicted

        1. thePatternedPlate

          YAY!! Love it when a plan comes together! Oh, Christy, use that pomegranate syrup/molasses to make a dressing with honey/agave nectar and olive oil for salads. Or part of a marinade with all spice, garlic for a roast bit of lamb. It’s quite a versatile ingredient actually. Consider it a souring agent, in the manner of lemon juice and consider subbing with it. Obviously not everywhere, but you get the idea 😉

          It’s a conundrum isn’t it? The whole sugar thing. If only fructose could be taken out of normal sugar. I am not quite sure what to do with the information either!

  6. realmeans

    It looks simply delicious, fresh and healthy. Thank you for taking the time to share your stories and recipes. It has inspired me to enrich my palate with new cusine options. I love the presentation very beautiful.

  7. Pingback: Lamb murtobak « Ellice Street Galley Kitchen

  8. Emma @ Sweet Mabel

    I made these at the weekend and they went down a treat! Absolutely delicious and I was suprised by how easy they were to make, thank you for sharing the recipe xx

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