One of P’s friends who stays in the UAE played Santa last month by bringing me a huge supply of zaatar, sumac and Middle Eastern cumin seeds. Another friend who made a short trip to Canada gifted us a whole sack of vegan items not available locally. Well, he had asked whether I would like a few things since he was going alone and did not have much luggage and I sent a small list of stuff I have wanted but never found in Indian stores. He probably will never ask me again but he got more when he wrote back, “bus itna hi! Aur kuchh bhi chahiye ho to bol do [Only this much! Ask me for anything else you might want].” He asked for it and he got it. A long list of items ensured that he will never be this generous again! Oh, but he is! However, the sack was filled with chia seeds, cocoa butter, mini tartlet moulds, aluminium free baking powder, nutritional yeast and so many other things that it will fill up at least four more lines of this page if I were to go on! I have been wanting to bake a lot of things ever since the massive pile up, but too much of ingredients became a cause of confusion as I just could not decide which item should be given priority.
Jr.P solved it momentarily in his usual practical, foodie thinking ways. “Well, it is ages since we had manakeesh (we had had it in Bangalore at Mezzeh just ten days before he said that) so I vote (both hands held high and voice reaching a crescendo) that mummy makes ZAATAR BREAD!” “Daddy, Jr.H, what do you say?”
The next day I went to the mall nearby and as usual spent an hour by the book shop browsing through the latest cook books on the stand. It was by chance that I found a very informative book by Arto Der Haroutunian titled ‘Middle Eastern Cookery’. The book itself is well laid out but there were a lot of non-vegetarian recipes which dissuaded me from picking it up for myself. I looked in it and found a good zaatar bread recipe and some really nice dips. I immediately made a note in my mobile and googled for the recipes as soon as I returned home, because the price of the book was Rs.999/- and I was not prepared to spend that amount and come back with a book filled with non-vegetarian delicacies.
My zaatar bread is a spin off from a recipe I cannot recall where I found. Since the dough felt very pliable and easy to roll I pinched off two tennis sized balls of dough and rolled them thin and then cut them with a cookie cutter into one inch cookies. I tried and found that we also had perfect mini pitas. A dip of hummus bi tahini and some tahniniyeh completed our Middle Eastern lunch menu that afternoon.
What’s with the name?
Man’oushe bi za’tar basically translates into a bread topped with zaatar (a spice mixture made of dried thyme, dried sumac berries, roasted wheat berries (optional) and toasted sesame seeds. The zaatar is mixed in olive oil and spread on a thin pizza and baked in an oven. It is a Middle Eastern pizza. The zaatar paste has a marked astringent taste imparted by the sumac berries. My son has come to the conclusion that the mixture we have has more sumac than needed as it is sour as compared to the breads we have had at Lebanese restaurants. If you haven’t had this pizza, I believe you have really missed out on something wonderful for the palate. I haven’t been able to source zaatar in Mumbai city but recently I found a small box (50g) available for a mighty Rs.80/-, at the Uppercrust Food and Wine show held at World Trade Center, Mumbai! A rather steep price to pay but think of it, you can make it home and share amongst five of you without spending five times the amount in a fancy restaurant.
Hummus bi tahini is a dip that gets over by itself if left around for more than five minutes, unguarded! I always make lots thinking I will have a handy dip and then when I need it, it is all gone. My daughter uses it generously spiced with zaatar, rice bread and roti. It is basically a paste made of cooked chickpeas spiced with roasted sesame seed paste, cumin seeds, lemon juice for acidity and heat in the form of garlic and cayenne pepper. A generous stream of olive oil makes it more flavourful.
Tahiniyeh is another Lebanese dip made from roasted sesame seeds. I am not too fond of it but made it to complete the perfect picture. The lights weren’t low, there was no hookah to smoke and the belly dancers were missing but the palate tickled for more of the simple fare!
Yield: Two 5″ pizza base, and about 15 to 20 mini pitas – breads. A small bowl of hummus bi tahini and a very small bowl of tahiniyeh
For the Man’oushe dough (I used half of this recipe):
All Purpose Flour – 6 cups
Salt – 1 tsp.
Sugar – 1 tbsp.
Mahlab – 1/3 tsp. (I omitted this)
Dry yeast – 2 tbsp.
Water – 2 cups
Milk (I used soy milk) – 0.75 cup
Zaatar spice mixed with some olive oil
Place flour, salt and sugar together. Stir to mix. I dry blended in a mixer.
Mix the yeast in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water and set aside till frothy.
Add the yeast mixture, milk and rest of the water in a well in the center of the dough mixture and bring together. Knead to form a sticky dough. The original recipe says the dough will be sticky but mine was just right to touch.
Cover and rest till doubled, about an hour, depending on the room temperature.
Divide into 8 balls and dust with flour. Rest for 30minutes.
Roll into mini pizzas about half inch thick. Place two breads side by side in a baking tray and sit for 15 minutes.
Pre heat oven to 150C. Spread zaatar paste on the breads and bake till puffed very lightly brown, about 15 – 20 minutes for the first batch. The rest take slightly less time. Keep an eye on the breads the first time as the time taken may vary for different ovens. Don’t let it go toasty brown or it will also turn hard. The bottoms should sound hollow when tapped and turn a nice brown. Serve hot with hummus and tahiniyeh or with any other dip.
For the mini pitas:
I baked two pizzas and rolled the rest of the balls into thin circles about 8″ in diameter.
Cut several one inch pitas using a cookie cutter. Pop in after the pizzas are baked keeping the temperature at 150C. After one minute invert all the pitas and bake. Within a minute they will all blow up into neat puffs. Remove and serve hot with the dips.
These make easy and quick appetizers for parties. You can make the dough in advance and refrigerate after wrapping in cling film.
For the Tahiniyeh:
1/2 cup tahini (lightly roasted sesame seeds)
lemon juice – 1/2 cup
Water – 1 cup
Garlic, minced – 1
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste.
Olive oil as needed to make it creamy
Combine the above ingredients to a smooth paste in a blender. Adjust consistency to that of creamy sauce and adjust seasoning.
For the Hummus bi tahini:
Cooked chickpeas – 1 cup
Tahini (use paste from above recipe) – 1 tbsp.
Fresh thyme leaves or coriander leaves or parsley – 1 tbsp.
Cumin seeds – 1/4 tsp.
Lemon juice – to taste, about 2 tbsps.
Water – About 2 tbsp. (use liquid reserved from cooked chickpeas)
Salt, cayenne pepper and olive oil to adjust consistency
Olive oil – 1 tbsp.
First blend all ingredients except chickpeas. When smooth add chickpeas and blend again till smooth. Adjust seasoning. Drizzle a tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil and stir through. If you want to, garnish with drops of olive oil.
You can replace thyme. I find it good in just about anything!
Have a tasty Lebanese platter!
This blog gives a lovely insight into Lebanese food. Please take a look.
I am submitting this bread to Susan’s weekly yeast spotting event.