Little lamb pies with yoghurt cheese and pomegranate (sfiha of Baalbeck)

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As you all know by now,  The Cook Book Guru this month is featuring Saha by Greg and Lucy Malouf.  At the beginning of the month, I went through and tagged a number of recipes, including this one.

I was keen to make this recipe because we recently watched an episode of Shane Delia’s Spice Journey where he visited Baalbeck.  In the show, he took a number of ingredients to the local butcher who chopped and mixed them with meat for the filling. He then took this meat mixture to the local baker who made the little pies for him.  This episode reminded me of our visit to Baalbeck, which was filled with drama.

We arrived in Zahle, a town on the edge of the Bekaa Valley, with the sole intention of going to Baalbeck to see its magnificent Roman ruins.  Our first request, when we arrived at the hotel (the only one in town), was for a taxi driver to take us to Baalbeck.  Little did we know what a problematic request this was.  The hotelier was on the phone for quite a while before she was able to confirm a taxi driver would take us to Baalbeck but he would only wait one hour.  At the time (and unbeknown to us), Hezbollah had been helping the Syrian government out by sending a few bombs the Syrian rebels way so the rebels were sending retaliatory fire back over the Lebanese border to Baalbeck.

Ignorance is a virture, as Oscar Wilde so famously said.

Our taxi trip there took us through the lovely Bekaa Valley and past horrid camps that poor Syrian refugees called “home”.  The trip was accompanied by periodic calls over loud speakers for the faithful to take up arms.

When we arrived, we were the only tourists in what is a world famous tourist site.  Because we only had one hour, we whizzed through a site that you would want to take a day to see.  Whilst we were there, we heard machine gun fire not so far away which was all very disconcerting, to say the least.

When we returned to the car, our driver was carrying a cardboard box of Sfiha of Baalbeck – these wonderful little lamb pies.  On the way back to our hotel, he detoured and dropped them off at his home.  Clearly, he was not going to let a trip to Baalbeck go unmarked.  As Greg and Lucy Malouf state, “These little pies from Baalbeck are renowned across Lebanon.”

I have made this dough many times.   For a while, it was my go to pizza dough base recipe.  The yoghurt gives the dough a lovely chew.  I highly recommend it.

I have also made the lamb filling for another recipe in Saha, minced lamb pizza, which is the same base and same filling but little pizzas instead of little pies.  I must say I wasn’t that impressed with the pizzas.  The lamb is spread very thinly over the base, making it very dry when they are is baked.  By forming the dough into little pies, the meat was cooked to perfection and remained very moist.  It was like eating lovely, moist, lamb meatballs in a bread base – delightful.  The labneh and pomegranate molasses added to the complexity of flavours.  Very nice indeed.

You will note from the photo that my pies are very rustic.  This was taking a leaf out of Shane Delia’s book.  He said, after watching the Baalbeck baker, that this was the way to go.  This sentiment was reinforced by the fact that I took a photo of the best eight, then ate them for dinner, only to discover later I didn’t like that photo so what you have is a  photo of the second eight.  Oh, well!!

 Dough:

  • 310g bread flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ tsp sugar
  • 1 tbs* dried yeast
  • 50ml warm water
  • 150g natural yoghurt
  • 3 tbs* olive oil

*These are 15mil tablespoons

Lamb filling:

  • 250g minced lamb
  • 1 tomato, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 small purple onion, finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 red chilli, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses
  • salt and black pepper

To serve:

  •  labneh  (natural yoghurt, drained in a cloth for a number of hours)
  •  pomegranate molasses

Method:

To make the dough:

  1. Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water.
  2. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt.
  3. In another small bowl, whisk together the yoghurt and olive oil.
  4. Pour the yeast and the yoghurt mixture into the flour.
  5. Knead the dough.  You can knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes, or in a mixer for 5 minutes or in a food processor for 1 minute.  I went for the last option.
  6. Lightly oil a bowl and put the dough into the bowl.  Cover in plastic wrap and leave for two hours.
  7. After an hour or so, put a tile or pizza stone in your oven and preheat your oven to 250°C.

To make the lamb filling:

  1. Using a large knife, chop and mix everything together until well combined.  (Don’t be tempted to use a food processor.  It will make it too pasty.)
  2. Season with salt and pepper.


To Assemble:

  1. Dust a rolling pin with flour, then roll the dough out as thinly as you can.
  2. Cut it into 16 rounds, each about 10cm in diameter.
  3. Place a spoonful of minced lamb filling in the centre of each round.
  4. Moisten the edges of the pastry with a little water, then pinch the corners together to form the traditional shape.
  5. Turn your oven down to 200°C.
  6. Bake the pies for 10 minutes. (I put mine on a tray which I then placed on the hot tile.)

To Serve:

Put a dollop of labneh onto each pie, along with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.

Pierre De Ronsard, looking stunning

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I am back in Perth.  I did my back in and Jules acquired a limp, so he was off to the vet and I was off to the masseur and chiropractor.  Normally this would make for a grumpy Glenda, but when I arrived to see this beautiful sight, my spirits lifted.  I quickly grabbed the camera and snapped away.  I need not have acted so swiftly.  It is even more beautiful now. Continue reading

Once is enough …

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This month, The Cookbook Guru is featuring Saha by Greg and Lucy Malouf.  One great thing about trying out recipes for the Cookbook Guru is you get to do a post even when the recipe is a dud. Normally, if a recipe is a dud, I write next to it, “Once is enough” and move on.  But the Cookbook Guru wants us to critique recipes in the featured cookbook.

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Ma’ahani (Spicy Lebanese sausages with pine nuts)

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This month, The Cook Book Guru is featuring Saha by Greg and Lucy Malouf.  Saha was published in 2005.  It was my first truly magnificent cookbook.  It is a travelogue- cum-cookbook of Lebanon and Syria, with wonderful glossy photos.  I remember receiving it as a gift and just loving it.  I treated it with great reverence for a long time, gently turning over the pages so as not to mar it.  Since my trip to Lebanon, I have revisited the book many times, marvelling at the fact that I have been to a number of the places mentioned. Continue reading

I went to Ikea …

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Those of you who know me will appreciate that is a big statement.  For those who don’t, I hate Ikea.  I have been a few times and I am yet to come out without throwing a tantrum.  I know it is a personality flaw that I have to bear.  I hate being told what to do and I particularly hate being herded, like cattle, through displays that they want me to pass just to get to one little item I may be interested in.  I have sworn, at least twice, that I will never go again… but still I venture. Continue reading

Sesame Honey Wheat Loaf

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I wanted to make something a little different from the two loaves I make all the time (crusty semolina and pain au levain with mixed sour dough starters) so I went looking in my cookbooks.  This recipe fits the bill in that it includes butter and honey.  It is amazing what a difference these small additions make – the crust and crumb are both soft.  The end result is much like a sandwich loaf.  This loaf also has sesame seeds mixed into the dough and sprinkled on top. Continue reading