Saturday, October 19, 2013

Middle Eastern Spiced Meat Pies, or Sfiha

These Middle Eastern savory meat pies, topped with toasted pine nuts, are a traditional Arabic dish, popular throughout the Levant  (and also in parts of South America, where there is a significant expat Arabic community).  They are small, hand-held "pizzas," made with ground lamb or beef, seasoned with lemony sumac and allspice.  Tahini, pomegranate molasses and lemon juice add a complex flavor and a creamy texture to the meat, and for the more adventurous, a little zing of hot peppers finishes the effect.  Dip the warm pies into plain, sour yogurt, if you want to eat them like an Arab. 

While you can certainly find pizza in Jerusalem (I remember how excited we were in high school when they opened a Sbarros in downtown Jerusalem), these traditional meat pies are our go-to "fast food," quick and easy, especially when you buy them from a bakery or street vendor. 
Like many other foods, these little meat pies have a long history in Palestine.  In the days before bakeries, women kneaded up dough every day, rolled out their flat "pita" bread, stacked these on trays, and then carried these trays of dough to community ovens.  They would top some of the loaves with olive oil and za'atar, to make mana'eesh, or with white cheese, to serve for breakfast.  But if they had some leftover meat, they made these meat pies, called sfiha.  You will find many variations of these meat pies throughout the Middle East, some with crimped edges, some sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, some with extra tomatoes. 

 Palestinians serve trays of sfiha at parties and gatherings, but in most people's homes, sfiha are served with a bowl of lentil soup and some plain yogurt for dipping.  To me, I really can't think of a more comforting or nourishing way to end a day. 

Middle Eastern Spiced Meat Pies, or Sfiha

1 to 1 1/2 lbs dough (sourdough pita dough, or your favorite pizza dough)

1 lb. grassfed ground lamb or beef
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1/2 small onion, finely diced
3 tbsp. green or red pepper, finely diced
1 fresh lemon, juiced
2-3 tbsp. tahini
1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
1 1/2 tsp. sumac
1/2 tsp. allspice
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup minced parsley
Optional:  jalapeno peppers, or hot sauce.
Pine nuts

1.  Brown the meat, breaking up into small pieces with a spoon as it cooks.  Add tomato, peppers, tahini, lemon, and pomegranate molasses, and seasonings.   Cook for five minutes, stirring, until ingredients are softly cooked.  Stir in parsley and hot sauce, if using.

2.  Preheat oven to 375 F.  Roll out your dough into circles on a baking stone or sheet.  Scoop a little meat mixture onto each dough round and press firmly into dough.

3. Bake for ten minutes, then pull from the oven and sprinkle with pine nuts and return to oven.  Bake an additional five minutes, or until pies are browned and cooked through. 

Serve warm with bowls of plain yogurt, for dipping. 


Related Posts: 

*How to Make Yogurt

*Spotlight on Ancient Herbs:  Sumac

*Lemony Lentil Soup, or Shorabat Addas

Shared on: Fat Tuesday, Traditional Tuesdays, Real Food Wednesday, Party Wave Wednesday, Fight Back Friday, Tasty Traditions, Homeacre Hop.


  1. My mom makes this a lot, but her recepie is different. Her family is from Lebanon, and the sfiha are closed to form a trianglular pie, the meat is placed uncooked, to cook with the dough, and it's seasoned with chopped tomatoes and onions, mint and allspice (here called "Arab pepper"). We usually eat with hummus or a salad.

    1. We have those as well, but we call them, "fatayer." We eat them very frequently! But I am still perfecting my technique, so I haven't posted the recipe yet. We fill them with a variety of fillings. Our meat fillings are always precooked, though.

  2. My mother made these often when I was growing up. Her meat was raw, she added vinegar and tahini to the mixture, top it on the dough and then bake, open faced meat pies. They were delicious


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