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Spinach & Mushroom Pie 4

Posted on June 14, 2013 by Sahar

Savory pies, or their fancier cousin, quiches, are a great way to use a combination of leftovers, pantry items, and your imagination.  Like with sweet pies, a savory pie can make you use your creativity in new and surprising ways.

Plus, it’s a good, quick meal after a long day at work.

A few tips on making savory pies:

1.  Frozen pie crusts are fine.  That’s what I used in this recipe.  I know some will think it’s cheating, or, at worst, sacrilege, but I think it works perfectly well for this recipe.

2.  Keep the pie crust frozen until just before you’re ready to fill it.  Otherwise, it will become soggy during baking.

3.  Always have whole milk and eggs on hand.  They’ll make the custard, or base, of the pie.  Don’t use 2%, 1%, or skim milk.  They won”t stand up to the heat.

4.  If you’re using a cooked filling in the pie, make sure it’s cooled off before you put it into the crust.  Otherwise, it will begin to melt the crust too early and/or cook the eggs too quickly.

5.  Cheese is always good.

6.  When you bake the pie, take it out of the oven when it has a slight wobble in the center.  Let the pie sit for 10 minutes before cutting.  This will allow the pie to settle and finish setting up in the center without overcooking the eggs,


Now, to the recipe.


The ingredients

The ingredients

A whole nutmeg seed.  Like most spices, it's so much better to buy the whole seed and grate or grind just what you need.

A whole nutmeg seed. Like most spices, it’s so much better to buy the whole seed and grate or grind just what you need.

A grated nutmeg seed.  It smells wonderful, looks really tiger-stripe cool, and lasts a long time.

A grated nutmeg seed. It smells wonderful, looks really tiger-stripe cool, and lasts a long time.

For my money, the perfect nutmeg-grating tool: the mini Microplane.

For my money, the perfect nutmeg-grating tool: the mini Microplane.

The flavoings: fresh rosemary, black pepper, salt, fresh ground nutmeg

The flavorings: fresh rosemary, black pepper, salt, fresh grated nutmeg


2 tbsp. olive oil

1 c. sliced mushrooms

1 c. spinach, chopped (if you’re using baby spinach, don’t worry about chopping)

1 c. whole milk or half-and-half

3 eggs

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. rosemary, chopped

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 c. shredded Gruyère cheese

1 ea. frozen 9-inch pie shell


1.  Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat  to 425F.  Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with foil (this is to transport the pie to and from the oven).  Tear a long piece of foil in half lengthwise; fold each piece in half again lengthwise.  You will use these to wrap the edges of the crust before you add the filling. (The foil will keep the edges of the crust from burning in the oven.)

2.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over rmedium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt, and saute until they soften, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Sauteing the mushrooms.

Sauteing the mushrooms.

Add the spinach and cook until it just begins to wilt.

Adding the spinach. In this example, I actually used a spinach-arugula salad mix.  It worked very well.

Adding the spinach. In this example, I actually used a spinach-arugula salad mix. It worked very well.

Remove the skillet from the heat and let the mixture cool. (To cool the filling faster, take it out of the pan and  spread it onto a plate.)

3.  In a large measuring cup or medium bowl, mix together the eggs, milk or half-and-half, rosemary, nutmeg, and salt & pepper.  Set aside.  This is the custard mixture.

The custard mixture.

The custard mixture.

4.  Take the pie crust out of the freezer and place it on the baking sheet.  Take your two reserved pieces of foil and wrap them around the outer edge of the pie crust.  There will be some overlap.  Be sure the foil doesn’t go down the sides of the crust where the filling will be.

The wrapped pie shell.

The wrapped pie shell.

5.  Line the bottom of the crust with the grated Gruyère.

Mmm... Gruyere.

Mmm… Gruyère.

Next, spread the spinach-mushroom mixture as evenly as possible over the cheese.

Layer #2.

Layer #2.

Lastly, slowly over the custard to fill the pie.

Pour the custard mixture over slowly so it has a chance to soak into the spaces around the cheese and vegetables.

Pour the custard mixture over slowly so it has a chance to soak into the spaces around the cheese and vegetables.

Ready for the oven.  Be sure to put it in immediately after filling the crust.

Ready for the oven. Be sure to put it in immediately after filling the crust.

6.  Place the pie in the oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean and there is a very slight wobble in the center of the pie.  Let the pie stand for about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

How can you resist this?

How can you resist this?


Nice lunch or a light dinner. Either way, you can't go wrong.

Nice lunch or a light dinner. Either way, you can’t go wrong.



Mole Verde 5

Posted on October 09, 2012 by Sahar

I love mole. For me, it’s another one of those comfort foods that always make me happy. It’s also one of the great things about growing up in a state where the Mexican influence in food is so prevelant.

 One of the origin myths of mole has the nuns of Convent Santa Rosa in the 16th Century anticipating a visit from the Archbishop.  They were a rather impoverished convent and had nothing to serve him.  In their panic, they cooked together what they could find – seeds, chocolate, day-old bread, nuts – and cooked it for hours into a sweet, thick sauce.  They added the only meat they had, an old turkey, and served it to the Archbishop.  He loved it.


Little did the nuns of Santa Rosa know, they invented the National Dish of Mexico.  While it is mostly prepared for the holidays, it can be eaten any time of year.

All moles are very time consuming, labor intensive, and require many ingredients. Some sources state that some moles have as many as 100 ingredients, but that’s almost certainly an exaggeration (but, who knows). However, 30 ingredients isn’t unheard of, and some mole recipes can list 10 different varieties of chiles. Other ingredients can include: peanuts, almonds, fried bread, plantains, lard, sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, and cloves.

It is said there are seven types of mole:

Mole Poblano – The most popular of mole sauces used today is mole poblano. It is what is considered the “national dish” of Mexico throughout the world. mole poblano originated in the state of Puebla and is made up of more than 20 different ingredients. The main ingredients are chili peppers and chocolate (which gives mole poblano its distinctive flavor and dark color). It has a slight sweetness to it.

Mole Negro (black)  –  While the region of Oaxaca is considered “the land of the seven moles,” its main mole is mole negro. This version of mole  is darker than the traditional mole poblano, but has the same rich flavor. Mole negro is known for being the most difficult mole sauces to make, due to its large ingredient list that contains chili peppers, chocolate, onions, garlic, seeds, spices, nuts and hoja santa. Hoja santa is a plant that gives mole negro is distinctive flavor and color.

  It is also generally sweeter than Mole Poblano.

Mole Verde (green) – Mole verde originated in the region of Oaxaca and gets its name from its green color. This color is achieved by using toasted pumpkin seeds, romaine lettuce, cilantro and tomatillos. Mole verde is has a milder flavor than most of the other mole sauces, and is popular in dishes that contain chicken.

Rojo (red) – Can be made from guajillo chiles, ancho chiles, pecans, tomatoes, peanuts, chocolate, garlic, onions and spices.

  It has a medium-heat depending on the amount and types of chiles used.

Mole Amarillo (yellow) Made from ancho chiles, guajillo chiles, tomatillos, spices, cilantro, and the aromatic herb hoja santa.

Mole de cacahuate (peanut) –  Made from peanuts and chiles.
Mole chichilo is made from pasilla chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, spices and masa harina.

Mole coloradito (red Oaxacan) – Made from ancho chiles, almonds, tomatoes, seeds, bananas and spices.

(information sources:;;

One of these days, I’m going to make all of these.

Now, on to the recipe:


The ingredients


Mole Verde is a pipian-style mole from Puebla.  The ingredients are all fresh, there’s no chocolate, and there are seeds (usually pumpkin) in the sauce.

3 lbs. chicken

Chicken broth or water

1/2 c. pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds, unsalted)

2 tsp. cumin seeds

2 tsp. Mexican oregano (I used dried)

1 1/2 tsp. Marjoram (I used dried)

Salt & pepper to taste

1 med white onion, peeled, stem end left on, cut into 1/4’s

4 lg. garlic cloves, peeled, stem end cut off

3 jalapenos

3 poblano peppers

8 tomatillos, papery skin removed and rinsed

1 c. packed spinach leaves

1 bunch clantro, large stem ends trimmed off

1/2 c. chopped parsley


1.  Place the chicken pieces into a large pot with just enough chicken broth or water to cover.  Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, turn the heat down to medium-low and let the chicken simmer until done.  Remove the chicken from the broth and set aside until cool enough to handle and shred.  Discard the skin and bones (unless you want to save the bones for stock).

2.  Heat a heavy skillet on high.  Dry roast the pepitas and cumin seeds.  Stir frequently to keep them from burning.  As soon as the pepitas begin to brown and pop and the cumin seeds begin to have a fragrance pour the seeds onto a plate and let cool.

Dry roasting the pepitas and cumin seeds.

Using a coffee grinder (one that you use only for spices), grind the seeds into a powder.  You’ll need to do this in batches.

The ground seeds. They smell great. Really.

3.  Have a bowl covered with plastic or a large zip bag nearby.  Dry roast the jalapenos and poblanos in the skillet on all sides until the skin is blackened and blistered.  It’s OK if the skin isn’t blistered evenly and there’s still some green.  (Alternately, don’t leave the chiles on the heat for too long or they’ll turn gray.  At that point, you’ve gone too far.)

Dry roasting the chiles and garlic.

Dry roasting the poblanos.

Place the chiles in the bowl and cover or place in the bag and seal.  Allow the chiles to steam to loosen their skins.  Leave until cool enough to handle.

4.  Continue dry roasting with the onion (cut off the stem end after you’ve roasted the onion), garlic, and tomatillos.  Again, you just want to have some black spots.  Make sure you don’t overcook the tomatillos.  You don’t want them to come apart in the skillet.

Roasting the onion.

Roasting the tomatillos.

5.  Remove the chiles from the bag or bowl and peel off as much of the charred skin as you can.

The peeled chiles. Ready for seeding.

Remove the stems and seeds from the poblanos and the stems from the jalapenos.  Depending on how mild or spicy you would like the mole, keep or remove as many of the seeds and membranes from the jalapenos as you like.

5.  Add the oregano, marjoram, salt, pepper, onion, garlic, jalapenos, spinach, cilantro, and parsley to 4 cups of the chicken broth.  Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and let the mixture cool slightly before pureeing.

The ingredients cooking away.

7.  Meanwhile, if you haven’t done so already, shred the chicken.  Discard the skin.  Discard or save the bones for stock.

8.  Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add the ground pepitas and cumin.  Add 1/2 cup of the stock and make a paste.  Take the skillet off the heat and set aside.

9.  In a food processor or blender in batches, or with a stick blender in the pot, puree the broth and vegetables until as smooth as you prefer.  Place the pot back on the stove over medium-high heat and add the paste into the mole mixture.  Mix well.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes.  The mole will thicken slightly.  Taste for seasoning.

10.  Add the chicken back into the mole and cook another 5 minutes to heat the chicken through.  Serve with rice and tortillas.


Note:  I somehow lost some of the photos I took while I was making this dish.  However, you can see the finished mole here:

Yes. I did a TV spot.  And I was very nervous.

If you would like to see even more mole recipes and even some cajeta cheesecake, I’ll be teaching this class on Friday, October 19 at Central Market North Lamar.






Arabic Style Savory Pies 6

Posted on September 30, 2012 by Sahar

Just about every cuisine in the world has it’s own version of savory pies.  The Latin World has empanadas; Austrailia has Meat Pies;  Great Britain has Pasties and Scotch Pies; India has Pakora.

And, in the Middle East, they have Fatayer (فطاير), Sfeeha (صفيحة), and Sambousek (سمبوسك).  They can be eaten as mezze or as part of a main meal (the way I like to do it).


A Primer:

Fatayer are baked triangle-shaped pies that are usually filled with cheese or spinach.

Sfeeha are open-faced pies usually with a meat topping, but other ingredients can be used as well.

Sambousek are essentially half-moon shaped pies that can either be baked or fried.  They usually have meat or cheese filling.

And they are all delicious.


For my post, I’ve made the Fatayer and Sambousek.  I used spinach in the Fatayer and lamb in the Sambousek.  No frying, though.

And now, on to the recipes.

The Ingredients

The spices. (L – from top clockwise) Black Pepper, Allspice, Cinnamon, Salt;
(R) Sumac


The pies in these recipes use a yeast dough.  I generally don’t proof my yeast (although I probably should).  I just pay attention to the expiration date on the package and use my yeast quickly.  However, if you want to proof, here’s how you do it:

Fill a measuring cup with 1/4 cup of warm (95F – 105F) water.  Mix in 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, then 1 package of the yeast. (Yeast loves warm temperatures and food.  Hense the warm water and sugar. It’s basically a fermenting process.) Let the yeast dissolve in the water (you may have to do a little stirring to accomplish this).  Set the measuring cup aside in a warm place and let the yeast do its thing.  If it begins to bubble and rise, then it’s good.  If the yeast does nothing, then either your water wasn’t the correct temperature or your yeast was bad.

There is a spice I use for the spinach filling that you may not be familiar with: Sumac.  Sumac can generally be found growing wild throughout the Middle East.  It’s “berry” has a thin skin and flesh surrounding a very hard seed.  These “berries” are ground down to make a powder.  Sumac has a tart, slightly astringent, almost lemony flavor.  Look for sumac that is brick red to dark burgundy  in color and is an even grind.  You want it to have a bright scent.  If it smells like dirt, don’t buy it.  It’s old.

Don’t go and pick berries off a sumac plant if you see one.  It’s most likely “poison sumac”.  Just buy the dried ground in the store.

Sumac is used for Zaatar (a spice mix that also has thyme, sesame seeds, and salt), in kebabs as a seasoning, on vegetables, eggs, in meat dishes.  It’s a ubiquious spice in the Middle East.



Pastry Dough

6 c. all-purpose flour

1 package yeast

1 tbsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1/4 c. olive oil

2 c. warm water (95F – 105F), more if needed


I prefer to mix my pastry dough by hand.  However, if you like to use a mixer or a processor, by all means, do so.

1.  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar.

Dry pastry ingredients

Add the olive oil and mix it in.

Adding the olive oil

Add the water.

Adding the water.


Now, mix throroughly.  You want to have a dough that is slightly sticky.  I’ve found that it’s all right if it isn’t perfectly smooth.  However, you want to work the dough as much as possible without having to add any additional water or flour if you can.

Trust me, it will come together.

(Apologies for the following photos. I didn’t stop to “pose” while Husband was taking them, so they’re a little blurry. But, I think you’ll get the point.)

Mixing the dough.

Mixing the dough. In the beginning there will be a lot of dry compared to wet. Keep working the dough.

The dough is coming together. I haven’t added any additional flour or water.

The dough has come together and the bowl is fairly clean. Which is what you want.

2.  Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. You can do this in the bowl or turn the dough out onto a flat surface. Or, if you’re using a mixer, use the dough hook.

3.  Pour a little additional olive oil to grease the bowl.  Place the dough back in the bowl and rub a little olive oil over the top.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm placce to rise.  About 2 hours.

4.  Meanwhile, make the fillings:


Spinach Filling for Fatayer

1 1/2 lbs. spinach (I like to use baby spinach.  I don’t have to trim the stems or chop it)

1/4 c. sumac, or to taste

1 tbsp. salt or to taste

1/4 c. lemon juice, or to taste

1/4 c. olive oil, more if needed


1.  In a very large bowl, mix all the ingredients together.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.

The spinach filling mixture.

2.  Pour the spinach mixture into a large colander and place the colander over the large bowl.  The spinach will basically (chemically) cook as it sits and release moisture.  The colander allows the excess moisture to drain away.

Toss the spinach occasionally.  Because it’s essentially cooking, it will wilt.

The colander sitting in the bowl. This will allow any moisture to drain off as the spinach sits.

The excess moisture from the spinach mixture after about 2 hours.


And you may ask the questions: Well, why do this in advance then? Why not wait until just before making the pies before mixing the spinach?

Because, wilting the spinach and allowing it to drain will get rid of any tannins in the spinach and will make it easier to fill the pies bacause you don’t have to contend with leaves flying all over the place.


Meat Filling for Sambousek

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (I like to use an 80/20 grind. I find it has more flavor)

1 sm. onion, minced

2 cl. garlic, minced

2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1 tsp. allspice, or to taste

1/2 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste


1.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion has softened, about 3 – 5 minutes.

2.  Add the meat and continue cooking until it is cooked through and there is no pink left.

3.  Add the spices and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Cooking the meat filling.

4.  Put the meat filling into a large strainer or colander and allow any fat to drain off.  Set aside and allow to cool.

The fat after the meat has been drained. Gross, but, there it is.


5.  Prepare several large baking sheets (I usually do 4) for prepping and baking.  Line the baking sheets with heavy duty foil (saves on clean-up later) and then line the bottom with parchment paper.  Set the pans aside.

The prepared baking pans

6.  After 2 hours, the dough should be ready for forming.

The dough after the first rising.

Punch down the dough and knead it until it forms a smooth ball.

Punching down the dough to start releasing the excess air. Plus, it’s fun.

Folding the dough over on itself. I’m kneading and releasing the excess air.

The dough after kneading. Almost back down to its original size.


Now, take the dough and pinch off roughly golf ball -sized pieces and shape them into balls.

Pinching off the dough to form smaller balls for the pies.

Take each piece of dough and begin tucking under the edges to form a smooth ball of dough.  Well, as smooth as you can make it.

Forming a ball of dough.

Tucking under the ends.


Lay the balls of dough on one of the baking sheets as you finish them.  I generally keep them about 1″ apart.

Laying the dough on the tray.

Cover the try with plastic wrap and set aside to let the dough rise again.  About 30 minutes.

A finished tray of dough.

The dough 30 minutes later. This is the reason you keep them 1″ apart.

7.  Preheat your oven to 400F.  Have a rack in the center of the oven.

8.  Now, to form the pies.  Lightly flour a flat surface and a rolling pin. (Don’t over-flour.  It will make the dough harder to work with when you form the pies.) Take one of the balls of dough and place it on the board.  Roll out the dough into a roughly 4″ – 5″ circle.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough.

Not exactly round. More like an amoeba shape. But, you get the point.

Fun tip:  I have also used my tortilla press to make the dough circles.  Just line your press with plastic wrap first.


9.  Fill the pies.  For the fatayer, place roughly 2 – 3 tablespoons of the spinach filling in the center of the dough (you’ll basically need to eyeball this measurement).

Placing the spinach on the dough.

The spinach on the dough. I like to spread it out a bit. Make it into, normally, a rough triangle shape.

Now, to form the pies:

Begin by taking the left side of the circle and folding it over at an angle towards the center, forming a partial peak at the top.

Folding over the dough to form the pies.

Take the right side and repeat the process.

Folding over the right side

Fold the bottom side over towards the center, forming the triangle.

The final side folded over.

Now, pinch the seams closed.

Pinching the seams closed.

The finished pie.

Lay your finished pies on a baking sheet.

Many finished pies.

Note:  As you get further down into the colander, you’ll want to squeeze some of the excess moisture out of the spinach.  While the spinach on top may not have as much moisture, gravity is doing its work and drawing the moisture down and, of course, the bottom will have more than the top.


To fill the Sambousek:  Roll the dough out as you would for the Fatayer.

Spoon roughly 2 tablespoons of the meat filling over 1 side of the dough.  Be sure to leave about 1/4″ of dough uncovered on that side for sealing.

Filling the Sambousek.

The meat filling for the Sambousek.

Fold the empty side over the top and cover the filling.

Folding over the dough.

Press and then pinch the seam closed.

Pressing the seam closed.

Pinching the seam closed.

The finished pie.

Lay the finished pie on the baking sheet and continue with the rest of the dough and filling.

Many finished pies.

10.  To bake the pies:  Bake the pies for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.  I like to bake mine for 10 minutes, turn the baking sheet, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Now, especially with the Fatayer, some of the pies may come open during baking.  It happens to me all the time.  Don’t despair. Consider them a cook’s treat.  Also, even though you have do doubt worked diligently to remove as much moisture as possible from the spinach, some will remain.  Occasionally, the moisture will cause the spinach to break through the bottom of the Fatayer.

To remedy this,  either make larger balls of dough when you form them after the first rising (roughly somewhere between golf ball and baseball-sized; the dough for the pies will be thicker, but you will have fewer pies); or, simply roll the dough thicker to make smaller pies.

Otherwise, don’t worry about it. It’ll still taste great.

Hey, it’s homemade.

The finished Fatayer.

The finished Sambousek.


The pies can be eaten either warm or at room temperature.


Enjoy! Sahtein!












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