This recipe is originally my great aunt’s – that’s my granddad’s sister-in-law, Khadija, from Jerusalem – and was then passed down to me by my mom. Needless to say, it’s tried and true and has fed many a daughter, son, sister, cousin, etc. I’m delighted to share it with you today.
Zaatar – oregano in Arabic – is ubiquitous at the Middle Eastern table. The oregano is mixed with olive oil as a dip for fresh bread, either on its own or with sesame seeds to make a spice mix. Perhaps most commonly it’s baked into homemade dough to make this mana’eesh, among one of the most popular street and breakfast foods in the region. It’s found in loads of bakeries now. Even food journalist + Masterchef judge Matt Preston took Anthony Bourdain out for a tasty mana’eesh lunch while in Melbourne.
What you’ll notice about the dough is that it uses olive oil, rather than the butter much of the West is accustomed to. In the Middle East oil-based dough is the rule, and it results in a light, crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside pastry. When raw, it’s quite sticky and stretchy. Dipping your fingers in more oil while kneading each pastry round makes it much easier to handle. This also brings out the oil’s flavor.
There’s also a fun old-fashioned trick to getting each mana’eesh the same size: grab a palmful of dough and make a fist around it. Gently squeeze your fist, easing the dough up between your thumb and index finger to make a little ball. Each ball will be exactly the size of your unique hand
You can of course use your favorite store-bought zaatar mix. If you don’t have any, it’s really easy to make at home. Just mix a few equal tablespoons of dried oregano and sesame seeds, plus a dash of sumac for a tangy taste. Add a small drop of olive oil to make a paste, plus a pinch of salt, and it’s ready!
MANA’EESH BI ZAATAR: ZAATAR PASTRIES
For the dough
4 cups flour
2 eggs, at room temp
1 cup water
Pinch of salt
Yeast mixture: 1 tsp yeast + 1/2 tsp sugar + 1/2 cup warm water, mixed and set aside 15 mins
For the zaatar
Equal tbsp (start with 4 tbsp each) dried oregano and sesame seeds
1 tsp sumac
Drop of olive oil, to make a paste
Using your hands, combine the flour and eggs. Slowly add half of the water, and mix until just combined. Add the yeast mixture and rest of the water, then mix once more until incorporated. Cover with a clean, damp cloth and place in a warm spot to rise for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F while making the dough balls. Rub your hands lightly with olive oil. Take a handful of dough and make a fist, squeezing a little ball of dough up between your thumb and index finger. Place on an oiled cookie sheet, and repeat until all dough is used. Dip your fingertips in a bit more olive oil, and pat each sphere flat (they may shrink the first time, just keep flattening them).
In a small bowl, make the zaatar: mix the oregano, sesame seeds, sumac and olive oil into a paste (alternatively use store-bought) . Spread a thin layer of zaatar on each pastry round, and pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and puffed up.
Audio pairing: Jurassic 5, “Canto de Ossanha”