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.

29 thoughts on “Little lamb pies with yoghurt cheese and pomegranate (sfiha of Baalbeck)

  1. What a great story! I think if I’d heard machine gun fire I would have seen it all in about 15 minutes. I’m a wuss when guns are around.

    These pies sound heavenly and to have one in Baalbeck would be terrific.

  2. I’m not at all familiar with these pies but, as a general rule, if there’s lamb in the dish, I’m going to love it. That may have been an anxious trip but you did get a great dish out of it, as well, as a story that will entertain any dinner party. 🙂

  3. Boy oh boy do these look scrumptious. I have to say that taxi driver must have had one heck of a craving to drive into all that! It was quite an adventure you had and I’m glad that it was a safe trip. Too much crazy conflict all over and I do feel so sad for those people. My friend’s father came to America in his 20’s many years ago and at his funeral hundreds do Syrians showed up to pay respects. Apparently he had been quite the freedom fighter and had spent much of his life after immigrating to the States helping refugees find homes here. Not many realized how active he had been until after his death.
    (P.s. I’m still not getting notified of your new posts so I’m going to try ‘follow’ again. Could you just check to see if it’s coming up as a request to verify me. I might be going into some spam folder somewhere. Don’t want to miss any of your posts, I really do enjoy them)

    • Hi Diane, I feel so sorry for the Syrian people too. I just don’t get religion and why it leads to so much suffering. My stats show you started following 2 days 10 hours ago. Am I turning up in your reader? People turn up in my reader even though I don’t get notification emails. I hope all is well your way.

      • I’m glad you mentioned checking the reader. I’ve got blogs listed that I’ve never asked to follow & although I do have yours listed, when I clicked ‘edit’, I see that you were down as sending new posts = off. I’ve changed that to ‘instantly’ so we’ll see if that sticks. I also noticed some others that I had been followed had been turned off too. I think yesterday I got some email from WordPress that they’ve updated the reader so perhaps they’re like Bill Gates & Windows…it’s a matter of enhancements vs. features.

    • I don’t actually think we were in any danger. It was just the circumstances and the fact the machine gun fire put the shits up us, if you appreciate what I mean.

  4. Well, thank goodness you returned safely – sounds a bit hairy.
    I loved the Egyptian pizzas topped with lamb, but like you I found that when I tried to make them, the meat dried out too much so this looks much more better. Have written “lamb” on my shopping list.

  5. Dangerous and disconcerting as your trip was – it certainly makes for more than usually interesting travellers tales, Glenda! Apart from the heartbreak of the conflict itself and the desperation of the refugees – it’s so sad when places of such historic importance are over run by conflict and destruction. However, those little pies look and sound delicious – you were maybe lucky to find a gourmand for a taxi driver!

    • Hi Jan Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Sad is not the word. I feel so much for the Syrian people. Worst still, I don’t even understand what is going on and why – I just see pointless destruction.

  6. Yum. The combination of tasty lamb topped with labneh and pomegranate molasses is very enticing 🙂
    Wonderful story about the taxi driver brave enough to take you to Baalbeck, and perhaps it was the opportunity for a box of a cardboard box of Sfiha of Baalbeck that made it possible 🙂

  7. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    Make sure you check out this wonderful post from Glenda at Passion Fruit Garden, recreating lamb pies from Saha, and talking of her experiences of the real thing from her travels.
    Enjoy,
    Leah

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