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Messing with Tradition

Written by Estie Feigenbaum on Wednesday, 06 November 2013. Posted in Food Mood

How not okay is it to mess around with tradition? In food, that is. I just baked a revised version of Sambousak, Syrian buttery cheese filled pastries, and I feel kind of guilty. It's like serving sushi instead of gefilte fish (well, we do do that sometimes) or fruit soup instead of chicken soup Friday night (I only did that during "that summer in Israel when the A/C was dripping water and no air"). Okay, okay, so maybe I'm not so traditional. This time though I'm feeling extra guilty because I'm messing around with someone else's tradition, as in the whole Syrian community (I'm not.) My one redeeming factor is that the idea was suggested by none other then Poopa Dweck, author of Aromas of Aleppo. If she says I can make pareve sambousak's with spinach or mushrooms, I'm exonerated.
The innovation came about when I attended a cooking class by Poopa, hosted by Strivright (an auditory oral school in Flatbush.) Ever since I went to Camp Shira in seventh grade I've been pining for some Syrian goodies. I mean, what was camp cholent compared to lachmah b'agine and kibbeh? Mind you, it was only served for the Syrian girls, you just had to have the right friends...
So when I read an ad for the class, I was really excited. And it was really fun! Poopa was so enthusiastic about everything we made that I was eager to try some on my own. I am annoyingly hooked on finding new Shabbos side dish ideas so Poopa came up with the open faced spinach or mushroom Sambousak, with a smattering of pine nuts to top it off.
Aren't they beauties?
I tried a few versions, some closed too and those are really delicious as well.
Here is the recipe:


Dough (from Aromas of Aleppo):
2 cups all-purpose flour
1cup smead (semolina/solet in Hebrew)
2 sticks butter/margarine (1/2 lb) at room temperature (very important!)
Dash of kosher salt
2 onions diced
Oil for sautéeing
1 bag frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed out as much as possible
Box of fresh mushrooms, peeled and diced
Pine nuts, whole or chopped


1. To make the dough, mix the flour, smead, butter and salt in a large mixing bowl. (I used a mixer, don't tell!) Be sure to beat the butter first to avoid clumps in the dough mixture. Add 1/2 cup warm water in small measures, allowing the dough to incorporate more of the butter after each addition. Mix well. Dough should be soft and moist. Cover and set aside.
2. To make the filling, sautée the onions until they are very soft and golden. While they are still hot, mix with spinach/mushrooms. If using mushrooms, drain the excess liquid.
3. Preheat the oven to 350F.
4. Divide the dough into thirds. Take one-third and roll into walnut-size balls. With a tortilla press or a rolling pin flatten each ball into a 2-inch round (we used the presses at the class, so fun!) Place about a teaspoon of filling in center, leaving a border of plain dough. Then find a Syrian cook to teach you how to do the twisted edge. If that's not feasible, try to follow this: Hold the pastry in your non-dominant palm. Press the border with your thumb and forefinger and twist inward, slightly to the right (if you're a lefty, to the left.) Press again and do the next twist. Keep going around the circle. I can't tell you what to do when you get back to the starting point because I'm not really sure what I did (I'm not into perfectionism.)
5. You can also fold these in half the traditional way and dip one side in sesame seeds.
6. Place the filled pastries on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom. I sprinkled on the pine nuts toward the end of the baking time (12 minutes or so) because I was scared they would burn.
Let cool and enjoy! I'm warning you, they are slightly addictive. Also, they look really pretty if you do some spinach, some mushroom; like a little burst of color for your table.
PostNote: I just tried one from the fridge, zapped in the microwave for 10 seconds and it was just as good. I still have to see how they rewarm on Shabbos.

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About the Author

Estie Feigenbaum

Estie Feigenbaum loves trying (and tasting!) new and interesting recipes.
She is always on the lookout for something different. She enjoys sharing and writing about her food adventures. 

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