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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Manakeesh with Zaatar and Cheese
(Middle Eastern Flatbread with Thyme and Cheese)

Some of my favorite memories from living in the Middle East involve food. Particularly in Syria where the people were so hospitable and the food was so fresh and delicious.

When walking down the street, you often pass bakeries with a variety of amazing baked goods, including these little mini "pizzas" with a variety of toppings. They are called Manakeesh and they are a typical quick lunch or snack. But you don't just find them in the city. Go for a drive in the country, open your windows and you will smell these delicious flat bread baking in the stone, tandoor type ovens long before you even see them. 

Manakeesh can have a wide variety of toppings and they can be filled and folded over, kind of like a calzone. My favorites are the classic Zaatar with Cheese or the folded over Spinach Manakeesh.  Zaatar is a spice combo involving dried thyme, sesame seeds, salt, and the middle eastern spice, sumac. (Sumac is a spice made from red berries that are ground into a powder. It gives a subtle lemony flavor and is used a lot in middle eastern cooking. If you can't find it, you could substitute some lemon zest.) Alternatively, you could find already mixed Zaater in middle eastern grocery stores. Add some olive oil to form a paste, and eat it with Arabic bread, cheese and olives for a very typical middle eastern breakfast. Or use that paste on top of your Manakeesh!

For the best flavour, I prefer cooking on the grill, but you can easily make these in the oven as well.

Manakeesh with Zaatar and Cheese
Serves 2-4 people

For Dough
2 1/4 tsp Active Dry Yeast
1 cup Warm Water
3 cups Flour (I used 2 cups Whole Wheat, 1 cup All Purpose)
1 tsp Salt

 For Zaatar Topping
1 cup Dried Thyme
1 cup Sumac**
1 tbsp Sesame Seeds
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Large Pinch of Salt

2 cups Grated Mozzarella Cheese (optional)

** If you don't have sumac, I like to substitute some chopped up lemon zest. In this recipe, I would use about 1 lemon's worth of zest.

To Make the Dough:
In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast and warm water and set aside for about 15 minutes until the yeast becomes foamy. Add the flour and salt and knead until the dough is smooth. Form into a ball, cover, and let rise until it doubles (about an hour).

To make Zaatar:
Mix the thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, olive oil and salt in a bowl to form a paste.

Option 1: Assemble and Bake (or see Option 2 if you prefer to Grill)
Once the dough is ready, divide it into 4-6 pieces and roll out or press into a disk shape, like you are making pizza crust. Spread with the zaatar paste and sprinkle with cheese if using.

To cook, bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 5 minutes (best if done on a pre-heated pizza stone.

Option 2: Assemble and Grill
Alternatively, you can grill the manakeesh which is my preferred method. Divide the dough into 4-6 pieces and roll out. Place the plain dough on a medium heat grill for about 3 minutes, until the crust is browned. Flip over on the grill, spread the zaatar and sprinkle with cheese (if using) on the cooked side of the manakeesh. Cover and grill for another 3 minutes or so until the other side of the dough is cooked and the cheese is melted.

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