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Middle Eastern Spinach Turnovers and A Food Gal Giveaway

Forget the old-school cheese balls and tired crostini concoctions.

This Christmas, when I welcome guests with a palate-awakening nosh before dinner it will be with these: “Spinach Turnovers.”

They’re the creation of Faith Gorsky, whose An Edible Mosaic blog I’ve enjoyed poring over for her beautiful photos and enticing recipes. It’s from her new cookbook, “An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair” (Tuttle), of which I recently received a review copy.

Gorsky became immersed in Middle Eastern cuisine when she married her Syrian husband and lived in the Middle East for the first six months of their marriage. The book is filled with specialties she’s learned to cook from her mother-in-law, as well as creations all her own, from “Fried Eggplant with Garlic and Parsley Dressing” to “Spiced Shawarma Chicken Wraps” to “Sesame Fudge.”

Being the carb lover that I am, I’ve always had a soft spot for yeasty, flat Middle Eastern breads, especially ones imbued with spices that take me on a journey the moment I smell or taste them.

These turnovers do take a little work, as you make the dough from scratch. But they freeze beautifully after fully baked, so you can make them ahead of time and tuck them away until you need them.

I even made the dough the night before, forgoing the initial rise in the bowl and just putting it into the fridge. The next day, I took it out and allowed it to come to room temperature and rise for about 2 hours before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

The filling is simply cooked spinach and onion, seasoned with lemon juice, ground coriander and cumin. It’s the dash of sumac that really makes it, imparting a haunting, fruity tang.

Cut out circles from the dough. Place a bit of filling in the center, then fold up the edges to form a pyramid or triangular shape. Brush with olive oil and bake.

The turnovers emerge quite golden. The exteriors are bready soft and the filling is bright, minerally and faintly acidic.

During baking, your turnovers may not stay perfectly sealed. But having the vivid green filling peek out a little just adds a festive touch to this special time of year.

CONTEST: One lucky Food Gal reader will win a copy of Faith Gorsky’s cookbook, “An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flare.” Entries, limited to those in the continental United States, will be accepted through midnight PST Dec. 1. Winner will be announced Dec. 3.

How to win?

Just tell me your favorite Middle Eastern food, ingredient or dish — and why. Best answer wins the cookbook.

Here’s my own response:

“Hands down, it’s meze. I admit it — I love to nosh my way around a meal. Who can blame me when it means you get to taste so many different little bites in one setting? It’s a feast to me whenever I’m lucky enough to sit down to a table laden with all manner of little dishes holding tart pickled veggies, tabbouleh, hummus, dolmas, smoky eggplant spread, thick yogurt enlivened with a squirt of fresh lemon, and tender little meatballs. I got to town on it all and am one happy camper.”

WINNERS OF LAST WEEK’S CONTEST: In the previous Food Gal contest, I asked you to tell me what makes you feel your most wonderful? Winners will receive a coupon for a free 4.3-ounce container of new Pom Poms fresh pomegranate seeds.

Congrats to:

1) Laurel, who wrote, “I volunteer at an extremely large food bank, Senior Gleaners of Sacramento. I feel wonderful when I can check off at least half of my daily to-do list. This isn’t easy because for every task I complete I seem to acquire two more.”

2) Linda F., who wrote, “The smiles and laughs of my children make me feel Pom wonderful!”

Spinach Turnovers  (Fatayer Bil Sabanekh)

(Makes 25 to 35 turnovers)

1 batch Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough (recipe below)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more as necessary for the spinach

1 large onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon sumac

1 pound spinach

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon cumin

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil to oil the baking sheets, countertop, and tops of the turnovers

Fresh lemon wedges (optional, for serving)

Prepare the Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough.

Heat both the oils in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onion and sauté until softened but not browned, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the sumac.

Chop the spinach and remove any large stems; add it to a large pot with 2 cups of water. Cover the pot and cook over high heat until just wilted, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a cheesecloth-lined colander and let it sit until the spinach is cool enough to handle, and then wring the cheesecloth to remove the excess water.

Combine the onion/sumac mixture, drained spinach, lemon juice, salt, coriander, cumin, and black pepper in a large bowl. The spinach should look slightly glossy, if it doesn’t, stir in more canola oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it does. Be careful not to add too much. Taste the spinach; it should taste like a well seasoned salad—if it doesn’t, adjust seasonings (such as lemon juice, salt, pepper, and other spices) accordingly.

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) and lightly brush 2 large baking sheets with olive oil (alternatively, you can line them with parchment paper or silpat liners).

Gently deflate the dough, then divide into 2 equal pieces and shape the pieces into balls; put the balls back into the bowl, cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel, and let sit 5 to 10 minutes. Lightly brush olive oil onto your countertop (or whatever surface you want to use to roll out the dough).

Work with 1 piece of dough at a time and use your hands to gently stretch it out, then use a rolling pin to roll it out to a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Stamp out circles 3 inches in diameter with a round cookie cutter. Scoop about ½ tablespoon of spinach filling onto the center of each piece of dough. Repeat this process with the three remaining balls of dough. Gather the dough scraps into a ball, roll it out, and fill (only re-roll the scraps once to prevent the dough from toughening).

To form the turnovers, fold the dough along line 1-2 up and over onto the center, then do the same for the dough along line 2-3, and finally for line 1-3; pinch the dough together at the seams to seal it. (Alternatively, you can shape them into little pyramids: pull up lines 1-3 and 2-3 and pinch them together to form a seam, then pull up line 1-2 and pinch it together along the sides of the seam you just made to form the two remaining sides.)

Line up the turnovers (seam side up) about 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets and brush a little oil on top of each. Bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets once halfway through cooking. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature with lemon wedges for those who like an even more citrusy taste.

Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough (Ajeen Fatayer)

3½ tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons instant yeast

1½ teaspoons sugar

4 tablespoons warm water

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading

1¼ teaspoons fine salt

¾ cup milk, at room temperature

Brush ½ tablespoon of oil on the inside of a large bowl and set aside.

Mix together the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved.

Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients, and then stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Gradually stir in enough milk to form “shaggy” dough (you may not need all the milk).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes; the dough is done being kneaded when you press a finger into it and the indentation remains.

Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl and roll it gently to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel and let sit until doubled in size, about 1½ hours.

Recipes courtesy of “An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair” by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.

More Appetizer Ideas: Yogurt and Spinach Dip in the Persian Manner

And: Dorie Greenspan’s Sardine Rillettes