Nothing made me happier as a child than to see a couple of sfeehas in my lunchbox. For Arabs, sfeehas reign supreme over traditional cheese pizza. Sfeeha, or Sfiha, is a round miniature meat pie, made in a myriad of ways depending on the region. In the Bethlehem region of Palestine, where my mother grew up, they add tahini to the ground lamb, which adds a rich and nutty flavor. In parts of Syria they add peppers and tomatoes to the meat for added sweetness. In the Balbaak region of Lebanon, where this dish is renowned, they add pomegranate molasses, and spices like cinnamon and sumac. Many cooks top the sfeehas with chopped tomato and toasted pine nuts for added sweetness and crunch.
Flatbreads like sfeeha have existed in the Fertile Crescent since prehistoric times. Traditionally they were baked on hot stones or a metal sajj plate, or in an underground oven called the taboon. Arabs in medieval times developed sfeeha, and its popularity spread across the Ottoman Empire. In the 20th century, Lebanese and Syrian immigrants introduced this delicacy all the way to Brazil, where today these pies are an ubiquitous and popular fast food.
Arab cooks tend to make massive batches of sfeefa, up to 5 dozen or more for appetizers at parties. But even if there is no special occasion, they like make large batches to freeze, then toast portioned amounts throughout the week for quick meals. They figure go big or go home, they can take time to make, so might as well make a lot so everybody gets their fill!
Popular accompaniments to sfeeha include hummus or labneh cheese for dipping. While ground lamb is the traditional choice in this recipe, you can use beef or any meat substitute you wish. Arab cooks that have settled in the United States often use shortcuts like using ready made pizza or biscuit dough with excellent results in far less time.
To see the technique on how to make this treat, check out our new video below:
- 1 Pita bread recipe: https://feastinthemiddleeast.com/2020/07/08/homemade-pita-bread-khobiz-arabe/ or store bought pizza dough
- 1 pound ground lamb meat (or ground beef, chicken, or turkey if you wish)
- 2 Tbsp butter or ghee
- 1 onion, chopped finely
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (optional)
- ½ cup minced parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dash lemon pepper
- Juice of ½ a lemon (or whole lemon if you prefer a more tart taste)
- 3 Tbsp tahini paste
- ½ cup toasted pine nuts
- 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped (optional)
Prepare the pita bread dough and set aside, or use store bought pizza dough. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the garlic, onions, parsley and ground meat. Add allspice, salt to taste, lemon pepper, and combine with hands until well incorporated. Heat a skillet and add the 2 tbsp ghee–then add the meat and parley mixture to the pan. Sauté for about 10 minutes, until the meat is nicely separated and just cooked (it will cook more in the oven). Combine the tahini and lemon juice, and add to the meat mixture. Add optional pomegranate molasses, and combine until well incorporated. Butter two large cookie sheets. Separate dough into about about 14 3 inch balls. Flatten each one with oiled hands to a circle about 4 inches in diameter. Place about a tablespoon of the meat mixture on each disk, and spread around leaving about 1/4 inch of dough around the outer rim. As a variation you can top the meat pies with seeded chopped tomatoes. Top each one with a sprinkle of pine nuts. Press the tomatoes and nuts firmly so it will stay in place while baking. Bake in the oven for about 12 minutes or until the edges are browned. You can serve these with hummus for dipping.