I don't think I realized that esfiha (or sfiha), this staple of Brazilian fast food and children's birthday parties, was a food of Lebanese origin until much, much later in life. Growing up in São Paulo I was always a fan of these small pockets of golden brown dough, adorned simply with ground beef or cheese, and for me always - a generous squeeze of lime. They are often described as Lebanese pizza which is a bit simplistic but gets the idea across.
Most importantly the popularity of esfihas in Brazil - where a chain called Habib's is the second largest fast food chain in the country - tells a compelling immigrant food story, which is why I thought it would be the perfect contribution to Labnoon's Virtual Midsummer Potluck for Peace.
Esfiha's popularity in Brazil is a reminder that there are other countries in the world populated mostly by immigrants, where people with different beliefs and different skin colors eat, work, breathe and live their lives side-by-side. And although Brazil is far from perfect (if you want to feel good about the political situation in the US, just read about Brazilian politics someday 🙄) one thing that I think has been done right is the integration of the past few generations of these immigrant communities into the fabric of Brazilian identity. Not to say that there isn't discrimination or prejudice but if you were born in Brazil, no one will deny your Brazilianness.
Brazil has the largest populations of African, Italian, Japanese, and Lebanese descendants out of their origin countries and the second largest German contingent. So whether your skin is pale and freckled or a deep coffee brown - you are Brazilian. And in São Paulo where I grew up this was especially evident in the 'Brazilian' food you ate everyday. You might start the day with tapioca pancakes, which are made of the manioc root consumed by the indigenous people of Brazil. And then for lunch (especially if it's a Wednesday) you might have feijoada stew and collard greens, influenced by West African cuisine brought over with the slaves. For happy hour the drink of choice is often an ice cold chopp lager, served with a side of kibe (a Lebanese meat croquette) and some Portuguese linguiça sausage. Late at night after you hit the bars, the drunk food of choice will be found at one of the various temakerias - serving up Japanese hand rolls until the wee hours of the morning. Much like the city itself it is a bit chaotic and yet there is beauty in this crazy mix of cultures too.
Beef Sfihas (Esfihas de Carne)
Makes 20 - 30 small esfihas
- 1/2 teaspoon of dry active yeast
- 1/2 cup of lukewarm milk
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/4 cup of AP flour
- 200 grams of ground beef, raw (80-85% lean)
- 1 tomato, diced finely
- 1/2 onion, diced finely
- 1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar or pomegranate molasses
- 1/4 cup of parsley, very finely chopped
- 1/4 cup of mint, very finely chopped
- 1/4 cup of cumin
- 1/4 cup of paprika
- 1/4 tsp of black pepper
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 2-3 limes
- Add the yeast to a bowl with the warm milk and the sugar and mix well. Let the mixture sit for 5-8 minutes until it begins to bubble.
- After, add the yeast and milk mixture to a bowl with the flour, sugar, salt, and olive oil. Mix well until you have a dough and then knead the dough by hand or using the dough hook in a mixture until it is smooth and elastic. About 10 minutes by hand and 3-5 minutes on the mixer. Set aside and let rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.
- For the meat mixture, mix all the ingredients together until well incorporated. Store in the fridge until ready to assemble the sfihas.
- Once the dough is risen, pre-heat the oven to 425F.
- While the oven is pre-heating tear off walnut sized balls and use your hands flatten them into little circles on a well-floured surface. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling into the center of the circle. Now pinch together the circle at three equally spaced points to create a triangle.
- Place on a parchment paper or silicone lined baking sheet, about 1 inch apart and bake for 18-20 minutes until the dough is well-browned and the meat is cooked.
- Let cool a bit but eat while still warm with lime squeezed over them.
So that is how a traditional Lebanese snack is one of the 'Brazilian' foods this Chinese, Portuguese, French and Native Brazilian girl misses the most. As someone who has been an immigrant twice over and has lived in three countries that are primarily populated by immigrants (Brazil, Canada and the US) I can confidently say that there is little to fear from those coming to our country from elsewhere, especially those escaping violence or persecution. They bring little else but their hopes, their dreams, and sometimes - pretty great recipes for meat pies.
Head over to Labnoon's blog to read more about the #VirtualMidsummerPicnic4Peace and to see all the participants! I am especially loving: Earl Grey and Blueberry Pie, Strawberry Scones with Orange Blossom Cream, Sriracha Scotch Eggs, Moroccan Date Stuffed Cookies, Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts, Halo Halo, Roasted Beet Quiche, and this Strawberry Almond Skillet Cake.