Apologies for the travel hiatus! I thought that I’d have some time in Thailand to put up a post, but it turns out I was too busy shoving food into my mouth. I’m currently in the midst of a convoluted journey back to Florida, which means I probably have enough layover hours to get started…but in my previous experience with this new blog (i.e. Greece), travel posts take triple the time and care to draft; I want to do Thailand justice, so I’ll leave you with this filler post for now.
Well, describing za’atar manakeesh as a ‘filler’ recipe isn’t very fair. Despite the torrential downpour of amazing and unusual foods during the past 20 days, I found myself missing baked bread—one thing that you’d be hard-pressed to find in traditional Thai cuisine. Their main source of carbohydrates is rice (in varying, exciting forms), and ovens were never really a thing, which is often the same case in other Asian cuisines.
I’ve been on a kick with Arab cuisine, and za’atar (زعتر) is the essence if those flavours. The generic term actually refers to a family of Middle Eastern herbs including the genera Origanum, Calamintha, Thymus, Satureja, but most specifically Origanum syriacum (also known as Bible hyssop or Lebanese/Syrian oregano), but today I mean the dry condiment made from regionally varied blends of the previously mentioned dried herbs along with sesame, sumac, and salt. The blend is then used as a versatile dip, flavouring, filling, seasoning, or topping throughout the Middle East. This one is more in the style of a “typical” Lebanese blend, but there’s not much of a right and wrong; tweak the ratios to your tastes, because I guarantee that’s what the most regional households do anyway.
When spread over a dressed baked dough called manakish (مناقيش)—singular man’ousheh (منقوشه)—za’atar can become part of a perfect breakfast. Traditionally baked in communal ovens by Levantine women, it’s eaten like a portable breakfast pizza and can also be found with toppings like cheese, minced lamb, chili, or spinach.
This simple flatbread essentially serves as a canvas for the za’atar. Whole wheat takes to it incredibly well, complimenting the nuttiness of sesame and earthiness of thyme. It’s not a stretch to use whole grains in a chewy flatbread, so I’ll save my breath for the day I have to talk you into a whole wheat croissant recipe.
Whole Wheat Za’atar Manakish
(about ½ cup)
- ¼ cup thyme
- 2 T sumac
- 2 T sesame seeds
- 1 T oregano
- salt, to taste
Place all ingredients into a skillet. Heat gently while stirring to mix all the spices.
- ½ cup lukewarm water
- ¼ t sugar
- 4g (⅛ oz) active dry yeast
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- ½ t salt
- 1 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling
To proof the yeast, combine it with the water and sugar, letting it stand in a warm place for about 10 minutes until foamy.
Meanwhile, combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and work it in with your fingers. Stir in the yeast mixture.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, adding water or flour as needed to get the right consistency. Form into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave the dough to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour until it doubles in size.
Preheat oven to 200ºC/400°F. Place a lightly oiled baking sheet in the oven as it heats.
Knead the dough briefly and divide it into 4 balls, letting them rest again under a damp cloth.
Meanwhile, prepare your za’atar topping ingredients in a small bowl, having already roasted them briefly for a deeper flavour.
On a lightly floured surface, flatten each ball of dough and roll it into a circle 1/8-inch thick and about 7-8 inches in diameter.
Press each circle with your fingertips, making little indentations for all the spices and herbs to stick in. Spread 1 heaping tablespoon of za’atar topping over each round, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until lightly browned and crisp, about 8 minutes.