Manaeesh: the Lebanese Pizza
This sphere-shaped, spiced-up flat bread is one of my favorite things to eat. It will do just about any time of day: breakfast, lunch or dinner. Though of Lebanese descent, I did not grow up eating Manaeesh or the tangy spice that tops it, Za’atar. It was my husband that introduced me to this odd but totally addictive blend of spices which include sumac, roasted sesame seeds, marjoram, thyme, oregano and salt.
I wish I could say that everyone I serve this flat bread to loves it but that just would not be true. I always tell the people who scrunch up their noses that it takes a sophisticated palate to appreciate such a fine blend (I never tell them that I was a first-time nose-scruncher myself.) Even some of my own family members have a hard time with Manaeesh because the texture can be tart and a bit grainy. The fact is, however, that Manaeesh is the Middle Eastern version of pizza and is eaten just as often and with just as much enthusiasm.
Manaeesh comes with many different toppings but the most popular are cheese and Za’atar. My mother-in-law, Sonia, adds chopped onions. Other people add tomatoes. In other words, it can be served to your taste. As for the Za’atar, many Middle Easterners keep a shaker of it next to the salt and pepper and sprinkle it on such things as fried eggs, Lebanese thick yogurt and hummus. It makes sense that Manaeesh with Za’atar are an excellent addition to a morning meal or brunch and are always a topic of conversation when served as an hors d’oeuvre.
Before I begin with the recipe, I must tell you that dough and I are not good friends. In fact, dough is my nemesis. After two failed attempts, I finally called my beautiful sister-in-law, Ghada, who gave me a recipe for the most perfect dough I have ever made. She hails from Amman, Jordan and has not only tasted the finest Manaeesh from the local bakers in her neighborhood, but makes an excellent version in her own right. Thank you, Ghada! I was getting ready to throw in the towel.
Manaeesh With Za’atar
3 cups flour
1 cup water (warm)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix the water and yeast and set aside for ten minutes or until frothy. In a mixer, add the flour, sugar and salt. When the yeast is ready, add it to the flour along with the oil and mix it until the dough pulls easily from the sides of the mixing bowl. The dough should be sticky but not so much that it sticks to your fingers and is unworkable. Cover the dough and set it aside for thirty minutes.
1/4 cup sumac
2 tablespoons thyme
1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons marjoram
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a pan, lightly roast sesame seeds until they are light brown. To a mortar, add all spices including sesame seeds and salt and grind them down with a pestle. The consistency should be slightly grainy, not powdery. Add the olive oil and mix to blend the spices.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Once the dough is ready, you can determine what size Manaeesh you’d like to make. They come in all sizes. For this post, I cut the dough into pieces the size of golf balls. Place them on a cookie sheet. With your fingertips, pat down the pieces until they are flat. Nine to twelve should fit per sheet.
Once they have all been flattened, put 1/2 teaspoon of Za’atar in the middle of each piece. With a pastry brush, spread the Za’atar over the dough. Make sure the edges are brushed with the olive oil from the spice mixture so that they become chewy and crunchy. Let them sit for 10 minutes before you put them in the oven so that the olive oil soaks into the dough.
Place them on the bottom shelf of the oven for 15 minutes and on the top shelf for 5 more minutes. The edges should be slightly browned and crispy while the middle is soft and chewy.
For those of you who do not have time to make Za’atar, you can find it already prepared at your local mediterranean market.