Sabeye b’Lebeh: Cheese-Filled Pastries

These are not difficult, but they are time-consuming; you have to methodically hand-fold each triangle out of a strip of phyllo dough. But once they are done, you can freeze and enjoy them at a later date. Because the rose water syrup should be ice-cold when served over Syrian pastries, it must be prepared five to six hours ahead of time or the night before to allow enough time to chill in the refrigerator. Rose water is available at Middle Eastern markets. Serves 15 to 20 (about 81 phyllo triangles).

Sabeyeh b’Lebeh (Phyllo Triangles with Sweet Ricotta Filling)

1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup Cream of Rice cereal
2 tablespoons sugar
One 15-ounce container (about 2 cups) whole-milk ricotta cheese
1–1/2 Tablespoons rose water
1/2 lb. phyllo dough (half of a 1-pound box), thawed according to package directions
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
6 Tablespoons vegetable oil
Ground cinnamon
Cold rose-water syrup (see below)

  1. Bring the milk to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. Add the cereal and mix well with a spoon. Remove from the heat, add the sugar and stir for 30 seconds to dissolve. Cover and let stand for 3 minutes, allowing the cereal to thicken.
  2. Place the ricotta and rose water in a large bowl and combine well with the cereal mixture. Set aside.
  3. Unroll the phyllo dough on a countertop and gently smooth out with dry hands. With a kitchen scissors or very sharp knife, cut the phyllo in half widthwise along the short end. Reroll one half and securely wrap in a plastic bag, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil (phyllo will keep up to 1 week in the refrigerator; do not refreeze).
  4. Cut the remaining half lengthwise into 3 equal strips 3 inches wide and about 12 inches long. Place the strips on top of each other to form one stack and cover with a damp towel to keep moist.
  5. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees for 15 minutes. Combine the butter and oil.
  6. Working with one strip of dough at a time, gently peel off a single layer of phyllo and place it vertically before you on a clean work surface. Re-cover the stack of phyllo with a damp towel. Using a pastry brush, coat the entire strip lightly with the butter-oil mixture.
  7. In the bottom left corner, about half an inch from the left and bottom, place 1 teaspoon of the ricotta filling. Fold the bottom right corner over the filling to the leftmost side to form your first triangle shape. Continue to fold the triangle onto itself until you reach the end, brushing with the butter-oil mixture if the phyllo appears dry and cracks while folding.
  8. Brush the surface and loose edge with the butter-oil mixture. (You may freeze the triangles at this point for up to 3 weeks by gently placing them in a large tin or tightly sealed plastic container in layers, separated by plastic wrap or wax paper. The frozen triangles can be placed directly in the oven.) Place the triangles on an ungreased baking sheet about 1 inch apart.
  9. Bake until slightly brown and crisp, 12-15 minutes (15-20 minutes for frozen triangles). Serve warm or at room temperature on a large platter, sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with syrup. These will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days. Reheat in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes before serving.

Rose-Water Syrup
3/4 cup cold water
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons rose water
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

  1. Combine the water and sugar in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a bubbling simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally (the liquid will thicken slightly). Remove from heat. Immediately stir in the rose water and lemon juice.
  2. Let cool slightly, then pour into a glass jar. Refrigerate for at least 5 hours or overnight until completely chilled. Serve very cold in a pitcher or drizzled over various desserts in this chapter. This syrup will remain fresh in a jar in the refrigerator for months.

From Jennifer Felicia Abadi, A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes from Grandma Fritzie’s Kitchen (Boston: Harvard Common Press, 2002); used with permission.

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