Book Club: The Language of Baklava

My husband goes to LA every month for a weekend-long training. While he's gone, I usually spend my time cleaning, playing with our dogs, and of course, cooking. I also like to prepare a yummy special meal for when he returns on Sunday. I was in the mood to try something different this weekend, and the need to write a blog post for my book club seemed like the perfect opportunity.

This month, we read The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber. It is a lovely, vibrantly written book about the author's life: being the daughter of a Jordanian man and an American woman and her experiences living in Jordan as a child and as an adult, told in the language of food. I love Mediterranean-style cuisine, but don't cook it nearly as much as I should. I love it because it is centuries-old, family focused, and is a true utilization of local ingredients. What I like about Diana's book is that she mingles American-style recipes with Jordanian ones; a true representation of her life.

In choosing a recipe, I wanted to make something that I was unlike anything I had made, or even had, before. I skipped over the baba ganouj, the homemade pita, the baklava, and others (even though they sounded delicious) and made spinach-stuffed fetayer. These little triangles of soft, salty dough are filled with a mixture of spinach, onion, pine nuts, lemon juice, and sumac. I had never cooked with sumac before, but was able to find it at a local specialty grocer. It is a deep purple color and at first smell reminded me of salt and vinegar potato chips. It gives the filling a beautiful purple hue and a salty, sweet, slightly sour scent, and a light, almost vinegar-y taste. I'm excited to find other places to utilize this previously unknown spice.

Take your time with the dough. It is yeast-based, so it will require rising time as well as kneading time. I opted to not use a stand mixer with a dough hook, and instead do it all by hand. Be sure to slowly incorporate the flour at the end, as you do not want it to be too try, but not too sticky either. This is the benefit of hand mixing and kneading; you'll be able to find the perfect balance. When the dough is ready to be rolled, it is soft, smooth, and stretchy.

Brushed with olive oil and baked to a golden brown, these little pouches were the perfect start to our meal. Our dinner was "Bud's special rice for special company" (a basmati rice with toasted pine nuts and cinnamon) and "distract the neighbors grilled chicken,"* made from locally raised chicken, skewered and grilled (yes, I've started to eat some meat again), accompanied with skewers of grilled local veggies. It was a delicious way to welcome my husband home, and a great way to end the weekend.


Spinach-Stuffed Fetayer
Makes 12

1 package yeast
1 c warm water
1 tsp cane sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 c olive oil
3 - 4 c unbleached flour

1 pound fresh organic spinach, washed, drained, and chopped
2 medium onions, minced
5 tbsp olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c toasted pine nuts
3 tsp ground sumac

In a large bowl, stir the yeast into the water. Add the sugar, and let sit for a few minutes. Stir in the salt and oil, then add the flour in small batches, continuing until the dough isn't sticky. Turn onto a floured board and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place the dough in a large greased bowl and cover it with a towel. Let the dough rise in a warm kitchen for about 1 hour; the dough should be double in size.Punch it down and let it rise again, about 30 minutes.

Next, prepare the filling. In a medium frying pan, saute the spinach, onions, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, pine nuts, and sumac on medium heat until onions are soft. Remove from heat and set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Pinch off small handfuls of dough, shape and roll so that each piece is a 5x5-inch square, about 1/4-inch thick.

Working quickly, place about 2 tablespoons of filling inside one corner of the dough square and fold the opposite corner over to this so the dough forms a triangle. Pinch the ends together, sealing in the spinach mixture. Brush the remaining olive oil over the top of each fetayer. Bake on a greased baking sheet (or use non-stick mat) for about 15-20 minutes, or until the dough is browned.

From The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber, page 261-262.

*These recipes are also from her book; you'll have to read it to get them!


  1. Sumac's my favorite seasoning but somehow I've never combined it with spinach. Off to try it rightaway :)

  2. Nice photo....sounds great.

  3. These look and sound really yummy, I love that you went for a dish so unfamiliar. There is always something liberating about that experience especially when it actually works out!