Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sfeeha Baalbakieh - Meat Pastries from Baalback

Baalbek (Arabic: بعلبك‎) is a town in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, altitude 1,170 m (3,850 ft), situated east of the Litani River. It is famous for its exquisitely detailed yet monumentally scaled temple ruins of the Roman period, when Baalbek, known as Heliopolis was one of the largest sanctuaries in the Empire. It is Lebanon's greatest Roman treasure, and it can be counted among the wonders of the ancient world. The largest and most noble Roman temples ever built, they are also among the best preserved.

Towering high above the Beqaa plain, their monumental proportions proclaimed the power and wealth of Imperial Rome. The gods worshipped here, the Triad of Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, were grafted onto the indigenous deities of Hadad, Atargatis and a young male god of fertility. Local influences are also seen in the planning and layout of the temples, which vary from the classic Roman design.
Baalbek is home to the annual Baalbeck International Festival. The town is located about 85 km north east of Beirut, and about 75 km north of Damascus. It has a population of approximately 72,000.

Heliopolis, the City of the Sun
When Alexander the Great conquered the Near East in 334 BC, Baalbek was renamed Heliopolis, Helios Greek for sun and Polis Greek for city. The city retained its religious function during Greco-Roman times, when the sanctuary of the Heliopolitan Jupiter-Baal was a pilgrimage site. Trajan's biographer records that the Emperor consulted the oracle there. Trajan inquired of the Heliopolitan Jupiter whether he would return alive from his wars against the Parthians. In reply, the god presented him with a vine shoot cut into pieces. .

I can talk without stop about this majestic City, where I spent most of my childhood years in a small village outside the big town of Baalback, the village is called Fakha - Fruits. this village was famous for its good quality of fruits.
During the first world war, the Ottman Turks invaded Lebanon and Syria, occupied the Country from 1516-1916, they burned towns, farms and lands, and Fakha was burned several times by the Ottman.
Fakha is My mom's home town, where she was born, and raised with her three sisters, two of them already deceased. My grandfather M. Arouk, had a small farm with some sheep and goats, and couple pieces of land where he used to take the cattle's every morning so they can eat and drink water and enjoy the fresh cool air. My grandfather will be picking a basket of fresh figs and grapes to bring back home. This will their breakfast . It was a simple and beautiful life .

I am sharing with you a simple, delicious recipe from the Baalback Region; it’s called Sfeeha Baalbakieh, which means meat pastries from Baalback. Sfeeha used to be prepared by the farmers when they have a freshly cut lamb meat. they will finely chop it with their sharp big knives, add some chopped onions and tomatoes from the garden, and some spices for flavouring. The mix used in stuffing some dough prepared in advance and turned into meat pastries called Sfeeha, as a flat pastries with closed sides pressed together to seal the dough and to keep the juice from running out, also will keep the meat tender and tasty. The farmer's wife would bake the pastries in a wood Tanour Oven similar to Tandoori Oven.

5 cups all purpose flour ( 2 cups will be used for the starter)
1 tbls salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Ten minutes sponge:
4 tsp of instant yeast
2 tbsp sugar
2 cups warm water
2 cups flour
Add the yeast to the warm water, with the sugar and the flour using a wooden spoon, and let it rise , within ten minutes you have a wet starter as a base for your dough.
add the rest of the flour and the salt, the olive oil and mix well to combine a smooth dough.
Cover the dough with a plastic wrap and let it rise and double. Because you used a starter
it will not take long for the dough to double in size . Punch down the dough (Degas) and devide it into small balls the size of a walnut or baseball.
Ingredients for Stuffing:

1/2 kg (16 oz) ground lamb meat , ground beef, or a mix of both
1 kg (32 oz) firm tomatoes, finely chopped, seeds removed
5 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
A dash of ground the following: cayenne red pepper, ground cinnamon, and ground allspice
2 tbls butter diced
2 tbls yoghurt
1 tbls sesame paste (Tahineh)
1 tbls pomegranate molasses
4 tbls fried pine nuts (optional)

Mix the meat with the Chopped Tomatoes, onion and spices. Add yoghurt, sesame paste and pomegranate. Add the fried pine nuts if using. Divide dough into walnut size balls. Roll between hand palms to smooth. Dust your board with some flour and roll out the balls with a rolling pin to form 8 cm diameter circles. Put one tbls of meat mixture in the centre of the dough. Bring the edges up and press to make a square. Arrange meat pastries in a tray with parchment paper. Bake in a moderate heat oven (350° F) for 20-25 minutes or till dough is golden and meat is cooked. Serve hot with yoghurt as a first course, or serve warm as an appetizer.

P.S.: for safety reason, try to cook the meat couple of minutes just to change color and you dont see any red in the meat. Cool before mixing.
Pomegaranate Molasses
The best Meat Pastries , easy to prepare, full of flavours and can be served hot as first course with yogurt and cucumber salad, or warm as an appetizer.

Prepare a sponge for 10 minutes then knead the dough.
Mix everything together
shape the pastries either rounds or squares by closing the four corners

the pastries are ready for the oven