From Nonna's Kitchen: Irene's Sambousek

When I was researching different food cultures and traditions, I knew I needed to include some dishes from the Middle East.  Today, a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine is considered commonplace in your average American supermarket.  And, the food is incredibly good.  So, I emailed my friend Mike and asked if he would volunteer is mom for my Nonna project.  I knew Mike grew up as a first generation kid like me so it would be perfect.  I soon received a call from his wonderful mom Irene Sankari.  She was happy to help and came up with a number of dishes we could make together. 



Irene came to the US from Beirut, Lebanon at the age of seven with her parents and settled in Buffalo, New York.  Her mother was Syrian and her father was Egyptian so she grew up in a multicultural home where they spoke French.  Even after moving to the U.S., her mother insisted she study French.  Even today, Irene and her husband speak French at home.

When talking about her transition to the U.S. way of life, Irene explained how when her family first moved to The States, no one even knew what pita bread was, “We had to eat Wonder Bread.”  She remembers traveling to Sahadi’s in Brooklyn to get Middle Eastern specialties like stuffed grape leaves for the holidays.  “Now you can get hummus in 50 different flavors!” she exclaimed.  And she’s right.  We have become such a multicultural melting pot of foods, my children don’t even know the mini hummus cups I pack them in their lunch box is actually exotic eating.  As far as they know, it’s as American as ranch dip.  It’s incredible and we take it for granted.

We did a lot of cooking in Irene’s beautiful Long Island home so I want to share the recipes here in Nonna’s Kitchen.  This recipe is for a lovely appetizer called Sambousek.  Sambousek is a Lebanese pastry filled with meat or cheese.  Many come fried but Irene bakes hers and they are delicious.  I love how easy they are to make and how you can freeze them and pop them in the oven whenever you have some last minute guests.  Think of it as a Lebanese empanada.  Coincidentally enough, Irene spent time living in Mexico City so she used to fill them with Mexican cheeses.  In Lebanon, they are filled with aged kashkaval, a hard, yellow cheese.  Presently, she uses mozzarella and cheddar so any mild cheese will do.  Get creative!



Prep time:         Total time: 

3 cups AP Flour
1 stick butter or margarine, room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and slowly add milk.  A soft ball of dough will form.

8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup cottage cheese
1 egg

  1. Pull a palm sized bit of dough from the bowl and knead with your fingers into a thin circle.  Fill with cheese mixture and fold over.  Crimp edges to form a half moon.

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Sesame seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Place filled dough on greased baking sheet and brush tops with egg wash.  Sprinkle sesame seeds.  Bake for 25 minutes, until tops are golden brown and cheese begins to ooze out a bit.