In the Levant (so I’ve heard), people take their own za’atar to the local baker, where it is mixed with olive oil, then smeared onto flatbread dough and baked for a few minutes until crispy brown but with a lovely softness inside. These manakish (or man’ousheh in the singular) are very good for breakfast.
Za’atar is both a herb of the thyme family (origanum syriacum) and an intensely fragrant blend of the same herb mixed with (typically) sesame seeds, sumac and salt. Sometimes spices are added, and chickpeas are combined in some areas. Widely popular across the Middle East, the exact composition varies according to local preference and family tradition.
Za’atar is addictive and complex. I now have three pots of the stuff on my kitchen work surface and inspired by my new #CookForSyria cookbook (with a look at an old favourite – Moro), I decide to try my own manakish.
Into a cup of water, I tip a couple of teaspoons of yeast with ½ teaspoon of sugar. After a stir, I let it be for a few minutes.
Then I put three cups of strong white flour into a bowl with a teaspoon of salt, add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and work it through.
I make a well in the middle, pour in the water mix, and pull it together before turning it onto a floured surface to knead for 10 minutes. I have to dust in some more flour because my mix is crumbly, then trickle in a little water to rebalance it before the dough turns into an elastic, but not too sticky ball.
The dough goes into a lightly oiled bowl, and sits under a tea towel for about an hour until it’s plump and (almost) doubled in size.
Then it’s time to divide it into eight smaller balls and roll out – nice and thin (maybe 3-5mm thick). The circles don’t need to be perfect.
I mix each of my three za’atars with olive oil to form pastes: one, two, three.
I make slight indents in the rounds of dough with my fingers, for the za’atar pastes to settle into (about a tablespoon on each).
And wait while they cook for about 10 minutes (at 200°C).
Yum. It’s Levantine pizza.
We’re eating ours with super easy to make Moutabal (aubergine dip). All it takes is a whole aubergine, Greek yoghurt, garlic, tahini and a squeeze of lemon juice. The exact recipe can be found on p. 44 of the #CookForSyria cookbook, and it’s by Sama Meibar. Try it sprinkled with sumac.
Of course, you can eat manakish with anything you like – yoghurt, hummus, halloumi …
And there are other manakish toppings – minced lamb (labneh), cheese (jibneh), maybe diced tomatoes and onions. But adding za’atar is a simple way of making something truly and deeply wonderful.
I would welcome any tips on making manakish, and especially any info on za’atar – stories, memories, or where you source yours. Thank you.