“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” Cicero
Getting out of the car with my bags of groceries to start today’s project I was forced to wait for a funeral procession to pass by before I was able to cross the street from my parked car. I am not joking. Never in my life have I seen such a sight on a side street, ever! The timing was uncanny. I watched the long black hearse with enclosed coffin slowly and I mean slowly pass by me, the closely following procession of cars with their headlights on in the brightness of day, the leading officer on a motorcycle, all moving as one image as if in a dream. Inside my head I could hear my inner voice saying “this is truly fascinating, feel I am being played with.” It was a real moment and then as quickly as it unfolded, suddenly it was over, leaving me all alone, staring and stunned into the motionless landscape.
Now back in the land of the living and all alone in my private room, I am delighted to discover the variety and utter deliciousness of the eastern Mediterranean region. Sumac is a key ingredient for these recipes and inspiration for the title of the book. Today’s recipe is from a collection called mezze which is a style of dining made up of small plates meant to stimulate your appetite. But unlike appetizers, mezze often make up an entire meal, combining both cold and hot, both vegetarian and meat options. I like the idea very much.
This recipe, I will confess, was a little fussy. I struggled with the pastry. It wasn’t pliable and I had to add more water knowing it would make the dough tough but what else can a cook do? Start all over? Nah. Not on a hot humid July day with no air conditioning and the oven already up to 400F. Everything, that is worth anything, takes struggle and sacrifice. So here I am, pretty sweaty and happy to be, I might add.
Pastry: 2-2.5 cups of self rising flour, 6 tablespoons cold unsalted cubed butter, 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/3 cup of yogurt, 1 large egg yolk, 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
Filling: 12 ounces ground lamb, 1 cup coarsely cut pine nuts, 1 Granny Smith apple cored, peeled and grated, 4 finely chopped shallots, 2 garlic cloves minced, 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon of Pomegranate molasses, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, sea salt, ground pepper, 8 ounces of fresh spinach stems removed.
To make the pastry:
Pulse the flour, butter and salt to coarse crumbs in a food processor. Add the yogurt, egg yolk, 2 tablespoons of cold water and cumin seeds and pulse again. Turn the mixture into a bowl and knead into a smooth dough. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To make the filling:
Combine the lamb, pine nuts, apple, garlic, shallots, cilantro, pomegranate molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in a bowl, season to taste, Meanwhile bring a saucepan of water to boil and blanch the spinach for 1 minute. Drain immediately, let cool and squeeze dry. Chop coarsely, add to the meat and combine.
To cook the pastries:
Preheat oven to 400F. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Divide the pastry into 3 pieces. Roll each into a 1/8 inch thickness and cut into approximately 3 inch circles. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle and pull up the 4 edges of the pastry to create a square and pinch corners closed, Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Mix a beaten egg in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of water. Brush the pastries with the egg mixture and bake 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.