Sfiha (Esfiha de Carne) #VirtualMidsummerPotluck4Peace

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.

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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.

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RECIPE:

Beef Sfihas (Esfihas de Carne)

Makes 20 - 30 small esfihas

INGREDIENTS:

DOUGH

  • 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

FILLING

  • 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

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. For the meat mixture, mix all the ingredients together until well incorporated. Store in the fridge until ready to assemble the sfihas.
  4. Once the dough is risen, pre-heat the oven to 425F.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Let cool a bit but eat while still warm with lime squeezed over them.

Adapted from Esfiha de Carne do Arábia and Dirty Kitchen Secrets.

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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. 

Rhubarb & Hazelnut Frangipane Crostata

With nearly everything from strawberries to mangoes available year round coming upon truly seasonal rhubarb feels a bit special. It always feels like the right way to find it is to come across a rogue patch of rhubarb growing in the shade beside a farmhouse, or piled high on a stand in the farmer's market, one end still dusted with sooty black dirt and the other sprouting flat green leaves. However, the only time I have found rhubarb in San Diego is in the shelves of my local Whole Foods, slightly less rustic than what I hoped for. The aseptic stalks can usually be found near other more exotic fare like the daikon or the nopales, arranged neatly, stalks wiped clean and trimmed at the top. That is ok though because after being placed on a soft bed of hazelnut frangipane, blanketed with honey and vanilla, then stuck into a 400F oven until it's tops are nearly caramelized black and the bottoms are a jammy pale pink, they taste just as good.

I was in Paris for the a cold, mostly sunny, but at times rainy, mid-spring week in April. I love how seasonal the cooking  everywhere I ate, with white asparagus and rhubarb making appearances in nearly every menu I came across, nestled in green garlic aioli and coated with breadcrumbs or swirled into rice pudding speckled with vanilla beans (respectively). And most inspiringly, I did finally find my wild pile of rhubarb in a farmer's market in St. Germain. It was nestled in between deep purple beets and white-tipped French radishes, sitting precariously atop heads of bok choy. Sadly I had no kitchen in my teensy hotel room to make use of it so settled for snapping a picture on my iPhone and making my mind up to find rhubarb as soon as I got back home. It worked out ok.

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Crostatas are one of my favorite pie-type desserts, there is no lattice-work or crimping to worry about and in my opinion, a perfect crust-to-filling ratio. And rhubarb and hazelnut are two flavors I ran into a lot during my week in Paris: rhubarb macarons, chocolate hazelnut praline spread on lacey buckwheat crepes, a slice of rhubarb almond tea loaf with my cafe noisette, golden hazelnut pastry cream inside a Paris-brest, and the aforementioned rhubarb rice pudding to name a few. So in a way this crostata is an ode to a perfect spring week in Paris, with sunny days, a bit of rain and a lot of rhubarb.

RECIPE:

RHUBARB & HAZELNUT FRANGIPANE CROSTATA

Makes 1 large crostata

INGREDIENTS:

Rye Crust:

  • 2/3 cup AP flour
  • 2/3 cup rye flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 8 tablespoons of cold butter, cubed
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of ice water
  • 3/4 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar

Hazelnut Frangipane:

  • 1 cup blanched toasted hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons AP flour
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon hazelnut liquor (like Frangelico)

Assembly:

  • 4 large stalks (about 1.5lbs) of rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup of honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of cream or milk

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. To make the crust: Mix together the flours, salt, and sugar together in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter in and process until you have small pea-sized pieces. Add in the apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of the water into the dough. Process until the dough just comes together when pressed. If too dry add the remaining water in, one tablespoon at a time until it comes together. Remove, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for one hour. 
  2. To make the frangipane: Meanwhile, combine hazelnuts and the sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until well ground. Add in all the other ingredients and process until smooth. I like to add some hazelnuts in at the very end for some crunch, but this is up to you.
  3. To make the pie: When you're ready to make the filling and assemble the pie, preheat oven to 400F.
  4. Roll out the pastry dough to a ~1/4 inch thick rectangle on a non-stick mat for easy transfer. Spread the hazelnut frangipane over the surface of the pie, leaving about 1.5 inches of uncovered crust at the edges to fold over. Layer the chopped rhubarb over the top of the hazelnut frangipane. 
  5. Mix the honey with the vanilla paste and generously brush over the rhubarb. Whisk the egg with cream for an egg wash and brush the edges of the crust with it. Top the crust with demerara sugar.
  6. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the rhubarb looks caramelized on top. At 15 minutes, quickly remove the pie from the oven to brush more vanilla honey over the rhubarb. Note to check the pie at 25 minutes and if the rhubarb is already looking quite dark on top, cover it with foil to prevent it from scorching too much.
  7. Best served with crème anglaise (I made mine with hazelnut milk, which explains why it has a more brownish tint).

Hazelnut frangipane recipe adapted from Martha Stewart, and rye crust from Yossy Arefi via Food52.

I like adding the creme anglaise to the pie but if you are feeling a bit lazy a generous layer of mascarpone mixed with brown sugar squeezed in between the hazelnut frangipane and the rhubarb is equally nice. Or for the lazy and mascarpone-less, there is always a scoop of ice cream. Best eaten warm out of oven, naturally.