Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cooking what I want

Somehow my blogging activity has me thinking about food and cooking. I’ve commented on how hard it can be to cook like a native and how much harder it can be to find the ingredients I need to cook like back home.

Yesterday I got inspired to cook esfihas (triangle spinach pies). The recipe I know comes from my mother, who learned it from her mother, who was born in Lebanon. Here in Brazil the savory, pastry finger food is very popular and the national chain Habib's has turned them into a cheap and delightful fast food.

But if you have ever tried to cook them yourself you know that they are anything but fast to make.

First I made 2.5 lbs of plain white pizza dough in my bread maker. (It took an hour.) While that was coming together I chopped three onions, four cloves of garlic, cleaned three bunches of spinach, and chopped and reconstituted about three quarters of a cup of dried shitake mushrooms (my mother never used dried shitake mushrooms, but we make do with available ingredients). Also, I should have included toasted pine nuts, but these are rare as and priced like gold, so I made due without.
Cooking slowly and for a long period I sautéed the onions with the garlic to release their sweetness. Then I added the mushrooms and spinach, cooking until the spinach was fully wilted. I added salt and pepper to taste and cooked a bit longer, uncovered, to evaporate some of the liquid.

Meanwhile, I crumbled a block of fresh ricotta cheese. After draining the excess liquid from the sautéed onion/spinach mixture I added it to the cheese and mixed thoroughly, adding a few shakes of the secret ingredient: nutmeg (noz-moscada).

Then I separated the prepared dough into a dozen or so balls and let them set a bit to recover from the assault. Each would then be again separated into two smaller portions. I should have just made really small portions from the get go – but my eye is always bigger than my stomach.

Once relaxed and risen a bit more, I took each ball of dough and pressed it into a nice round flat ready for stuffing. (I found using my fingers, pinching and pulling, superior to using a rolling pin.)

Placing a couple tablespoons of filling in the center of the dough I then wet the boundaries of the dough with water and grabbed three points around the circle: 12:00, 4:00, and 8:00, lifting the dough and pinching along the seams formed. Poof – triangle pie.

Placed on a lightly greased cooking sheet in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 or 20 minutes… perfect!

The problem is: too much work for only a couple dozen pies. But when I get the itch – I enjoy scratching it. Delicious.


Elena B. said...

This sounds really tasty, even if it is a lot of work! Have you thought about submitting this recipe to the new blog "Cooking in Brazil" started by Danielle from "Danielle in Brazil"?
I've been lurking and reading your blog for a while now but not sure if I've commented before. Anyway, congrats, I really enjoy reading!

Jim said...

Thanks Elena - glad you are here. I am excited about participating in Danielle's new blog, but I haven't seem many signs of life over there. I posted a question some time ago and am still waiting for a reply. But when it get rolling, you will see me there.