Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fatayer for Breakfast

A variety of fatayer
One of my favorite things to eat, I have discovered is fatayer (often pronounced feteer or fata-er). Fatayer literally means pastry in Arabic. They are savory pockets of dough and are usually filled with a variety of things, the most popular of all being spinach (sabanekh). Other fillings include cheese (jubn) such as feta or halloumi, chicken (djaaj), meat - usually ground beef or lamb (laham), potato (batata) and a mixture of soft fresh Arabic cheese made from yogurt called labneh, and za'atar. Za'atar is an Arabic herb and spice blend, which can include thyme, fennel, cumin, sumac and sesame seeds, all which are ground together. Other herbs and spices can be included according to different geographic regions.

These turnovers can be baked or fried, the baked ones more commonly available here. Here in the Middle East they are usually eaten as a snack or light lunch, though I prefer them for breakfast. My personal favorite is the egg and cheese (bil jubn wa baydh) fatayer. They remind me of the breakfast egg and cheese bagels one can get in many coffee shops in New York. They are also relatively inexpensive, costing about 3 riyals apiece.

The origin of the fatayer are a bit cloudy, with the Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians and Egyptians all claiming it to have originated from them. Since I usually purchase them from Turkish restaurants they must have Turkish roots as well. They may also be a distant cousin of the Greek spinach turnovers called spanakopita.

Fatayer are very light yet filling. If made properly they are delicious, though in the beginning I ate a few which were just awful; bland, doughy and tasteless. I had given up on them for a while, but I spotted them on the menu at a small and insanely popular Turkish restaurant called Turkey Central. There are many Turkish establishments here; their kebabs are arguably the best I have eaten, and since they are inexpensive and extremely child friendly we frequent them often. Upon noticing them I thought, if all the other items on the menu are so good, let’s give the fatayer another chance.

They came unceremoniously on a plastic tray. The soft pillowy dough was baked until golden. Their tops were brushed with clarified butter (ghee) and sprinkled with sesame seeds. I had ordered a variety of fillings, cheese, eggs, lightly spiced chicken and lamb, and not one disappointed. I had found fatayer nirvana; they were doubtlessly the best I had eaten. There was plenty left over, so I had a few for breakfast the next morning. Now I sometimes purchase them solely for this, my infrequent indulgence.

The following is a recipe for spinach fatayer. Though the recipe gives instructions on how to make the dough, pre-made purchased bread dough, fresh or frozen, also works well.

Spinach Fatayer

For dough:
2 pounds (6 cups) all-purpose flour
1 envelope yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water with 1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup warmed milk
1 cup warm water

For filling:
4 bunches spinach, washed and chopped
Salt, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 onion, finely grated
1 tablespoon sumac (available at Middle Eastern stores), optional

To make dough: Combine ingredients in a food processor until a stiff dough results. Add more warm water if needed. Let rise in a covered bowl for about 2 hours. Punch down dough and let rest for another hour until it rises again. Cut dough into 2-inch pieces and roll into balls. Place on an oiled pan and cover with a towel. Let dough rest for another 30 minutes.

To make filling: Wash and chop spinach. Sprinkle with salt to cause wilting. Squeeze water from spinach with your hands. Add oil, lemon, salt, onion and sumac if using.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Use a rolling pin to roll each ball into a flat circle. Place 1 tablespoon spinach filling in the center. Pinch ends to meet in the middle to create a triangular shape. Let pies rest 15 minutes. Coat pan with oil and bake pies for 15 minutes or until browned.

Can be served warm or at room temperature. Makes 24.
Recipe courtesy of Blanche and Vera Araj from the San Jose Mercury News

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Doha Jewelry and Watch Exhibition

Doha Jewelry and Watch Exhibition
The 5th annual Doha Jewelry and Watch Exhibition was held from February 12-17, 2008. This was the largest expo of its kind in the Gulf States. The event had coincided with the wedding season here and the much enthusiastically celebrated Valentines Day (by the way I hope you all had a happy youm al hub!).

We went with our 2 younger children in tow. N is getting to the age where she is beginning to appreciate the finer things in life, and was looking forward to spending some quality time with her mom. Security guards however, stopped us at the entrance and we were told ‘No baby’. We were both disappointed, but K insisted that since we had come this far, I should take a look. I eventually went alone, which felt strange since I did not see female shoppers by themselves, though I did see many groups of women. The event was attended mostly by Qatari’s along with a few expats; at least this was my observation the day I had attended.

I had gone with the assumption this would be similar to the Jewelry Mart back home, a place I had frequented a few times and which carried items in all price ranges, both designer and costume jewelry, with everything in between. This exhibition was mainly a high end affair. Organizations such as Boucheron, Bulgari, Cartier, and Henry Winston were just a few of the big names present. I saw pearls the size of kumquats and precious stones the size of walnuts (so much for the fruit & nut category). There was a lot of ‘bling’ and eye candy, to say the least. I fell for a pair of diamond and ruby earrings, but upon inspection of the price tag, 650,000.00 riyals, I decided I could (and should) live without them. Most items did not have price tags; I guess they did not want to induce sticker shock. Nonetheless, many pieces were undeniably gorgeous. So, after wandering around for a while, I ultimately left empty handed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Brief Introduction

Arabian Stacking Dolls

I have noticed that I am getting a little more traffic to my blog than the 3 people (my beloved mother and sisters), for whom I had initially created it. So a bit of an introduction is in order. As some of you must have gathered from my previous posts, we are an American family, and have recently moved to Doha, Qatar a little over a year ago. We are a family of 5. We are conservative Muslims, and keeping with the spirit of an election year, liberal Democrats.

Although there were several reasons for this life changing move, the first and foremost was job security. Both my husband and I are professionals in the technology industry. Gone are the days when one would join a company at the onset of their careers, and leave at retirement with a pension or a company contributed 401K, and adequate health insurance to live their retirement in peace. Sadly, laying employees off, no matter how loyal and hard working they may be, has become extremely common in corporate America. Just a few weeks ago the tech giant Yahoo had announced it would lay off 1,000 employees, for ‘the stability of the company’. I am sure the vast majority of these workers are holding their pink slips and worrying about their own stability. So, after much deliberation, we decided to move abroad.

Moving is never an easy task; moving halfway around the world and leaving everything, and most importantly loved ones behind is even more difficult. My eldest child was initially like a fish out of water. But we try to keep him busy and he is settling in, though he has made it very clear he will move back upon completion of high school. We have also adjusted to our lives here and find many things endearing. Though life here, like anywhere else in the world, is not perfect, I prefer to focus on the positive. Here we have attained peace, something which had eluded us for years. Qatar is a rapidly growing country, yet it retains a balance between western style modernization, and its moderate religious and rich cultural roots. It also pays a tremendous amount of importance towards education, which will ensure its future success (here is a recent New York Times article on the Education City). It is also a family oriented country and has much to offer, some of which l try to incorporate in my entries.

The main reason I began to write this blog is to keep my immediate family informed of the many new, interesting, and quirky things unique to Qatar which are a part of our daily lives. By writing this blog I am also documenting my life here, something which I can reflect upon in my later years. So ahlan bikum! I do hope you enjoy what you read here. If you have any suggestions or topics you would like to see, please drop me a line.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sugar Rush

Donuts The newest kid on the junk food block here is Krispy Kreme donuts. The franchise recently opened its first outlet in Doha at the Villagio mall. Here is the article pertaining to this newsworthy item in the local English newspaper, the Gulf Times.

Krispy Kreme is an American franchise, whose claim to fame is their hot, freshly made donuts. All stores have a glass enclosed, built in donut making equipment, so you can see your donut being made on the premises. The donuts are also made from a special secret recipe; hence they are much softer & lighter than the competitors.

The company had aggressively begun advertising weeks before the opening date. A week before they were set to open, K bought a box from work, courtesy of Krispy Kreme. Apparently every employee had received a box. Makes you wonder what their marketing budget was.

The opening date and time were Feb. 1st at 5 pm. The first 25 customers were to receive one dozen donuts free for a week for 1 year. People actually began lining up from 2 am. By 5 pm there was a huge mob. Sanity prevailed and we decided to pass on this great event. We eventually did purchase a box a few days later. Compared to the United States (where you can get a dozen for 6-7 dollars), they are extremely expensive here, 55 riyals for a box of a dozen original glazed donuts. This actually turns out to be a blessing in disguise; we won’t be buying them that often.

Meanwhile, the Krispy Kreme franchise is not doing well in the United States. New store openings are scarce, and its stock prices are plunging. You can, of course, blame Dr. Atkins for this.

The following are the nutritional facts for 1 Original Glazed Donut:

Serving size: 52 gm
Calories: 200
Calories from fat: 100
Total fat: 12 gm
% daily value: 18
Saturated fat: 6 gm
% daily value: 29
Trans fat: 0 gm
Cholesterol: 5 mg
% daily value: 1
Sodium: 95 mg
% daily value: 4
Carbohydrates: 22 gm
% daily value: 7
Dietary fiber: <
% daily value: vitamin a=0; vitamin c=2; calcium=6; iron=4

(Facts courtesy of Krispy Kreme website: