As I have discovered in the short time I’ve been married, even among the Lebanese there are differences in the ways families make their Lebanese recipes. As my teacher in culinary school used to say: likes and dislikes have a lot to do with expectations.
Take the meat fatayar (pronounced fuh-TIE-yuh). The proper preparation of the meat was a point of difference, a point of…contention?…between my parents. The Abowds, my mother’s family, they cook the meat first. It’s a way of controlling the meaty juices by cooking them off first, so that they don’t steam open the little dough triangle’s seams. Cooking first also means you can crumble the meat properly so it doesn’t clump together when it’s baked in its dough pocket.
The Aboods, no. The Aboods stuff their fatayar with seasoned raw meat, seam-opening be damned for the succulent flavor the meat’s juices impart to the dough as the fatayar bakes.
The metaphor is just too delicious to ignore: the raw and the cooked. Dad’s family puts it all out there, the love and the crazy both. It’s all raw. Mom’s family is more reserved, in a most beautiful way, in a way that suggests everything is neatly cooked, properly cooked, and no seam is going to come undone.
When my Dad was so very sick from the pancreatic cancer that took his life, among the many comforting gifts of food placed before him was a platter of fatayar. They were gorgeous, my friends, not a seam undone in their perfect triangular shapes. Dad’s eyes went big when we brought the platter in, the fatayar enticing his appetite as nothing else really had. He took a bite, and basically threw the fatayar back on the plate. They cooked the meat first, he said with his mouth full of a bite he clearly, dramatically, didn’t want to swallow. He was being funny, and we laughed, but also dead serious.
Recently when I had a visit with cousin Jimmy in Arizona, the Bianco pizza (known to be the finest in the land) I was after got moved to the back burner when we arrived because it was a Sunday, and turns out they’re closed on Sunday. I was irritated, even though I knew we’d get there the next night (obsession breeds I-want-an-oompa-loompa-and-I-want-it-NOOOOOW). Who knew I’d come to thank Chris Bianco for his Sundays off? We arrived to a home-cooked dinner of coosa and crunchy homemade pickles and labneh and olives and just-in-from-Spain marcona almonds. (yes, he’s a special cuzzy). And the showstopper: Jim’s meat fatayar. Dan did a happy dance in his soul. Fatayar over pizza, any day.
The seams on those babies were locked down tight. The flavor, out of this galaxy. Tell me about the meat, I said as Dan devoured what would be an embarrassing quantity anywhere but in a Lebanese home. Jim says coarse ground meat with a little fat is key. That keeps it from clumping since you’d never cook the meat first. Then there’d be no flavor. (Jim is Abood, obviously.)
While I got religion with the coarse grind, raw, for the Lebanese sfeha recipe in my cookbook (can’t wait to share it with you in March!), those are open-faced and I hadn’t tried the raw in my fatayar, for fear of the pies opening up, the meat clumping. That Abowd-influnce, a mother’s influence, had reigned.
I followed Jim’s way here other than grinding the meat myself (he is such a purist). My mom tasted them and took her time chewing, as Abowds do. She didn’t throw it down, no drama. She simply said: Nothing wrong with it. Delicious.
If you’re not grinding the meat yourself (me either!), ask the butcher to grind it coarsely, since it’s not typically available pre-ground. If you can't get coarse ground meat, standard ground meat will do! Fatayar freezes well in a zip lock freezer bag and can be reheated from frozen in a 250 degree oven. Serve fatayar warm or room temperature as an appetizer, or for a meal with a salad. Makes about 24-30 fatayar.
For the dough:
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 cup warm water
- 3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/3 cup canola or other neutral oil, such as safflower
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the filling:
- 1/2 pound coarse ground beef chuck or sirloin, or lamb
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Few grinds black pepper
- 1 small sweet onion, finely diced
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
For the dough:
Proof the yeast by dissolving it in ¼ cup of the warm water with the sugar and letting it activate for about 15 minutes.
Whisk together the flour and salt in a mixer bowl or medium bowl. Create a well in the center and add the oil and proofed yeast mixture. Using a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment or by hand, slowly work the wet ingredients into the dry, adding the remaining 3/4 cup water slowly.
Knead by hand or with the dough hook in the mixer until the dough is very soft, smooth, and tacky/sticky to the touch (but it should not leave dough on your fingers when touched).
In a clean bowl at least twice the size of the dough, lightly coat the dough and the sides of the bowl with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 90 minutes.
To fill, shape, and bake the fatayar:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush two heavy baking sheets with canola oil (fine to line them with foil first for easy cleanup).
Roll the dough out on a dry work surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Gently lift the dough from the edges to allow for contraction. Cut dough into 4-inch rounds. Knead together the scraps, cover with plastic, and set aside.
Fill the rounds of dough by placing a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of each round. Be careful not to let the filling touch the edges of the dough where it will be gathered together and closed. A good way to keep the filling in the center is to lower the spoon with the filling over the center of the dough (parallel to it) and use your fingers to slide the filling off the spoon and into the center of the dough circle—or just use your fingers and no spoon. Place several pine nuts on top of the filling; this method works better than adding the nuts to the filling because it’s easier to be sure each fatayar has enough nuts.
Bring three sides of the dough together in the center over the filling and pinch into a triangle. Close the dough firmly, continuing to shape the fatayar gently as you pinch the seams closed. It's also okay to leave an opening at the top of the fatayar.
Place the fatayar on the baking sheets and generously brush or spray the dough with olive oil. Bake in the middle of the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Repeat the process with the other half of the dough, then with the scraps that have been kneaded together and left to rest for a few minutes before rolling out.