My 17 year old daughter wandered into the kitchen mid field as I was preparing these Assyrian Spinach Pies and peered into the bowl of sparking pomegranate seeds.
"Mmmm, what's this?"
I answered, "Pomegranate seeds."
"You've never bought these before."
"Actually, you used to take a container of them to kindergarten. You loved them"
"Really!", comes the stunned reply.
"Yep, just like your brother was the only kid in preschool with blue vein cheese sandwiches."
What happened to me! A new mother starts with such enthusiasm. Introducing new tastes and food sensations to their oh-so-accepting offspring then some how the decline starts. I think I'll blame school. I mean, truly how many kindergarten children enjoy pomegranate seeds for a snack? And how many preschoolers tuck into blue vein cheese sandwiches?
In my home town most lunch boxes consist of the usual sandwich with a not very imaginative filling, maybe cheese, ham or salami but often Vegemite. There might be a packaged cake or biscuit bar. And of course, the obligatory apple, which never gets eaten but just goes back and forth every day until it gets thrown out at the end of the week. As much as schools try to implement good food choices, peer group pressure is pretty hard to beat.
I saw Jamie Oliver on Australian Masterchef during the week and the first thing I thought about was his amazing energy and persistence in changing the stereotype of school foods. I'd love to think that everyone who saw his programs filmed in Britain and the U.S. are convinced that packaged and fast food will never be better than home cooked. And it doesn't have to be hard.
My children are growing up and my daughter has very adventurous taste buds and my 14 year old son...well... his taste buds are developing - we're looking up. Has Jamie succeeded and are lunchboxes and school canteen menus changing? I'll let you answer that.
This recipe actually doesn't have much to do with a lunchbox or quick and nutritional food except that they are just as delicious cold and could be included in that proverbial healthy lunchbox. From A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent, these pies were quite delicious. I have given you my quantities because the original recipe called for a pound of spinach leaves and made 24 large pies -I didn't have a pound of spinach leaves and, in any case, I didn't want 24 large pies!
Oh, yes and by the way I found the mahlab seeds at this fabulous online spice store!
Assyrian Spinach Pies
Makes 24 large pies
1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon ground mahlab
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus more as needed
1 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons (40 mls) extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
5 1/2 oz (160g) packet baby spinach
1/2 cup (2 oz) chopped walnuts
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup (2 oz) feta cheese, crumbled
2 1/2 tablespoons (40ml) lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
plain yogurt to serve
To make the dough, combine 2 tablespoons of the water, the yeast and the mahlab in a small bowl and allow to stand for 10 minutes until bubbling.
Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the remaining water, the olive oil and yeast mixture. Combine with the dough hook slowly then knead on medium speed for about 5 minutes. Remove from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a ball - only a few strokes. Clean and oil the bowl, return the dough to the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Allow to rise 1 1/2 hours.
Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 even pieces, form into balls. Cover with a clean towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 375F/190C. Prepare 2 or 3 trays by lining with non stick baking paper. To shape the pies, roll a ball of dough into a thin 5 inch /12 cm round, flouring the dough as you go so that it doesn't stick. Place a heaped 1/4 cup of filling in the middle of the round. Brush the edges of the dough with water.
Imagining the dough is a clock, gather up the dough joining the edges from the 12 o'clock up to the middle.
Now pick up the dough from the 6 o'clock and bring it to meet the middle so that it covers up the filling. Join the edges.
It should look like an upside down "Y". Place on the lined baking trays. Brush with olive oil.
When they are all prepare bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.
Cool on wire racks and serve warm or at room temperature with yogurt.