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A zesty flatbread with a Middle Eastern twist!

July 12, 2011

Back in 1997, I visited the town of Ramallah in the West Back to do volunteer work. I stayed at a Catholic convent, which also happened to be an orphanage. Every morning I would smell the nutty and fragrant za’atar spice, baking on fresh homemade bread called mana’eesh. To this day when mana’eesh are baking in the oven, I get memories of those sweet nuns who made me feel at home. Sometimes I am in the mood for this savory pastry but don’t have time to make the homemade dough, so I use either ready made store bought dough or even refrigerated biscuits. If you do choose the store bought option, make sure the ingredients are all familiar to you—hydrogenated fats are an absolute no-no in the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern diet. If I am in a time crunch, I buy the biscuit dough from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Their ready made pizza dough also works beautifully with this recipe, but you must divide the dough into golf ball size and make sure you roll them out as much as possible to ensure crispiness. Za’atar is a zesty blend of spices that is staple in the Arab world, a combination of oregano, savory, thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds. You can make buy this spice ready made from a local  Middle Eastern grocery store or online, and you can also make your own. My upcoming cookbook will have the simplest, tastiest recipe for Za’atar  and bread dough 🙂 This spice lasts for months if refrigerated. Za’atar is a miracle blend of spices with medicinal properties. Arab students love to eat Za’atar before exams for an extra sharp mind, and my dear aunt lived to be almost 100 years old with a daily diet of za’atar for breakfast. You can get creative with these flatbreads, adding different types of cheeses or vegetables like chopped tomatoes–sahtein! (which means to good health!)  Here is my video tutorial to get you started:

Mana’eesh (Za’atar flatbreads)

 Makes 24

Preheat the oven at 400 degrees

¼ cup za’atar spice

Biscuit dough, ready made pizza dough, or my recipe for bread dough

½ cup of olive oil

Feta cheese (optional)

Olive oil spray for pan

Zesty flatbread featuring Za'atar and feta cheese--pure yumminess!

Separate dough into 3 inch balls. Roll out and press with fingers until the dough is quite thin and oblong or round in shape. You want these to be very crispy, so the thinner the dough, the crispier the mana’eesh will be. If using biscuit dough use the same method, and roll or press the dough down to a flat shape. Take the za’atar spice, and stir in the olive oil. You want the consistency of a thin pancake batter. Generally around 1/2 cup of olive oil should achieve this consistency, but can use less if want to save on calories and fat. Sprinkle with feta cheese if you like. Grease two baking sheet with more olive oil, or olive oil spray and place the Mana’eesh on the sheets. Bake for 10 minutes or until the crust is nice and browned.

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