A woman who cooks, cooks for her family. Their tastes, needs, palates and pleasures are huge influencing factors in the decisions made in the kitchen. At least, it’s the truth in my case. While that can be challenging and is its own reward, I have to admit to having to restrain my happiness, if chance dictates that I am having dinner alone for a night. It means that I, and only I, can make demands. On this night, this plate is all about ME!
Allspice, that liberally used berry in Arab cuisine doesn’t fall favourably on the palates of the members of this household. Except mine. Being the cook and in the minority, I cannot argue too far, too constantly. These wee little pizza like snacks called Sfeeha, are one of my absolute favourites to eat, but after a third attempt at transferring affections to husband and child were unsuccessful, even my stubborness had to give way. They were resurrected once after that, when a cherished friend came to stay for a night. It was a girl’s night in. The Scotsman being away on business and the kids tucked in bed, Miss M and I ploughed our way through Sfeeha and mezze and Turmeric Rice Roast Chicken, with plenty of laughs, dirty fingers and stuffed tummies. That lass practically mauled the Sfeeha, for which I was grateful. Miss M won me for life.
Middle Eastern food is as much about ‘home’ for me as the Indian stuff. And here, these pizza like snacks are available at every bakery round these parts. Sometimes called Mana-eesh/Manakish or Fatayer, they are at heart, a soft, yoghurt based dough, that’s then topped with a spiced lamb mince, or spinach with lip puckering sumac and fat pine nuts, or simply with cheese. For a substantial snack you can get them dinner plate sized. Or like these sweet babies- called Sfeeha in Jordan – they are around 3-4 bite mark. And I adore them. They are related in taste to another favourite, Ara-yes, again spiced lamb mince stuffed into a thin pitta like bread, coated in oil and grilled. Words are insufficient.
There are a lot of flavour levels going on here. The main ones are ground all-spice and cinnamon. That hits your nose first, when you are about to sink your gnashers into it. Then comes the earthiness of the tahina, the sweet-sour tang of pomegranate molasses (grenadine) and the fresh lift of lemon juice. Don’t be tempted to avoid the lemon juice, it is a key ingredient, in lifting and balancing all the strong components. For all that the ingredients sound like they would fight each other, they don’t; coming together in perfect harmony with the waxy bite of pine nuts, the herbal hit of parsley and juicy tomatoes. All resting on a pale, soft, slightly chewy dough that betrays the yoghurt through a tender bite and tangy aftertaste. This little morsel packs a punch.
So, I made a huge batch of these, hoping to freeze some but plans never quite go as they should. Lil Loon is as taken with Sfeeha as I am. I am forced to share, but, since there was enough to go around, I didn’t mind too much.
Making these after a long interval, I am happy to find, that my greed based affection for Sfeeha hasn’t abated, nor was it exaggerated. This is honest, great food and I have Nadia Sawalha‘s fierce Aunty Jamileh to thank for it.
To view and print recipe, click here