It’s almost a decade ago, a large Armenian-Lebanese family comes together over food and plenty of it at that. The table is crowded with dishes and plates, but only one takes centre stage: Fatayer.
Fatayer (plural of ‘Fatire’), are Lebanese pies - sometimes considered dumplings - stuffed with meat, cheese, spinach or other creative fillings. Commonly favoured as a side dish, in Antonios’ household they are the main show and it’s easy to understand why: the soft textured dough hugs the filling and releases its intense flavours with every bite, transforming each Fatire into a wrapped present for the mouth – a perfect celebration for large gatherings.
But for some time now, these delicious pies have come to taste like freedom. Between the traded stories and the passing of Fatayer, Antonios is Armenian, Lebanese and gay. They know about the gay, it’s ok. The meal continues.
We sit opposite each other on two bar stools with a microphone in the middle, tilting our heads as we maintain eye contact and a good vocal recording distance.
The first time I met Antonios he beamed with vividly coloured clothes. The second time was no different. He wore his smile brightly like he did his orange coat and his big round glasses perched high up, almost at the root of his nose. Much like his appearance, his knowledge fascinates me, as does his story.
‘Fatayer were always a family staple’ he tells me, unlike his attraction to boys, which he first noticed at the young age of ten. It all started with an innocent love letter. Antonios did not know that a boy who harbours feelings for another boy or man, was considered gay. Being gay was not ok… he didn’t know that either. So, he wrote his feelings down and sent them to the man of his affection at his school in Lebanon. What followed was a tragic but unsurprising chronology of events: he was bullied, humiliated then forgotten. A year or so later, the story faded and in the collective memory of the school, Antonios was gay no longer.
In the absence of sexual education at school and a platform in society, I wondered how he learned about sexual orientation. His answer was swift and certain: “porn”, he said. I laugh at the unexpected response. He enlightens me on the almost educational role that porn played in his teenage years.
We giggle a few more times as recounts anecdotes about growing up and his three big coming outs – to God, family and society. He speaks with candour infused with easy humour. His relationship with faith and God makes me smile. Out loud, Antonios told God that he was gay, that he loved him, and that should he be rejected for this revelation, he will continue to love him. Antonios loved God unconditionally. God must have taught him well.
Halfway through he asks me to pause the recording and I do. He bows his head down on my lap. My worried hands rest on him and I ask if he’s ok, reminding him we can pause, stop and erase it all. He sits up and quickly regains his smile and composure. He tells me that he wants people to hear his story, especially the ‘Armenian Lebanese gay male’ people. He recalls the story of the mirror that reflected back a Western identity, the foreign languages he used to come out and of course, food.
I ask if his experience of family over Fatayer changed after he came out. He tells me that food always tastes better when you’re able to be who you are.
To hear his full story listen to the full podcast @ The Lesbanese Cook
The fatayer I made Antonios consisted of two filling types: cheese and spinach. I chose a simple and easy dough recipe. Here it goes!
Prep 45-60 mins
Make 20-30 mins
Total 65-90 mins
Author: The Lesbanese Cook
Yield 6-8 people
For the dough:
- 3 cups of plain flour
- 3 tbsp oil (ideally olive oil)
- 1 cup of water
- 1/2 tsp salt
For the cheese filling:
- 1 1/2 cups of feta cheese
- 1 1/2 cups of ricota cheese
- 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 cup of chopped onions
- 1 tsp salt
For the spinach filling:
- 1 bag (200-250g) of washed spinach, chopped
- 1 cup of chopped onions
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp sumac (optional – if not using, add 1 tsp of lemon juice instead)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- A handful of toasted pine nuts
- Optional 1/2 cup of feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
In a deep bowl, mix the flour and the salt. Make a well in the centre and add the oil to the well then mix it into the flour. Gradually add the water, bringing in the flour as you do and combining the ingredients to form your dough.
Flour your kitchen or work surface well, then transfer the dough and knead it on the floured surface for a few minutes, until it feels smooth. You can add a bit of flour if the texture is still wet. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl and let it rest as you prepare your filling.
For the Cheese Filling: Combine everything together then place it in a sieve over a deep bowl to drain any excess fluid.
For the Spinach Filling: Combine the spinach, onions, salt, olive oil, lemon juice, sumac (if using) together then place it in a sieve over a deep bowl to drain any excess fluid. Add the cheese (if using) and the pine nuts. Mix everything well.
There are two ways to shape the fatayer. The first method: dust a work surface generously with flour Roll portions of the dough into sheets of about 3-5mm thickness. Cut circles of about 10 cm diameter each. Place one to two tbsp of the filling of your choice in the middle of the circle. Imagine each circle having three edges like a triangle. Lift two edges and bring them together from the top down, then lift the third edge up sealing it with the two edges. You should now have a triangle shaped fatire with filling inside.
The second method: If you find the method above too hard, dust a work surface generously with flour Roll portions of the dough into sheets of about 3-5mm thickness, then cut two circles of dough, place the filling in one circle, superimpose the second circle on top of the first one, and seal the edges of the two circles together. Make sure you seal it well so the mixture doesn’t ‘come out…’
Once the oven is ready, brush the fatayer with olive oil then place them on a baking tray lined with a baking sheet, about 2 cm apart as they will expand during cooking. Bake them for about 15-20 mins or until golden. If you’re feeling in the mood you can always deep fry them for a few minutes each. Up to you!
Serve them hot or at room temperature.
Embrace the little presents my friends 🙂