Is Za’atar Just Middle Eastern Oregano?
Oregano was originally cultivated in Greece. They believed that this herb was created by the Goddess Aphrodite. The word “oregano” comes from the Greek word oros, for “mountain,” and ganos, for “joy” meaning “joy of the mountains". Because the Romans enjoyed the taste and how easy it was to cultivate. Their love of the herb helped spread its use all throughout Europe and Northern Africa. Meanwhile another plant was being harvested along the Mediterranean Sea; Za’atar. Wild Zaatar has a reputable heritage in the Levant/East Mediterranean region, and the Za’atar blend is a non-negotiable on kitchen tables. So, unless the same plant magically fertilized across the Mediterranean, Za’atar and Oregano are quite literally miles apart.
One of the most traditional uses to the blend is for Za’atar flat bread called Manakish. A Lebanese pastry that serves as a very popular on the go breakfast, crispy on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside, and topped with the most aromatic of spice blends - za'atar.
Here’s the recipe!
To prepare the dough, you need:
- 1 heaping teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 and a half cups of organic whole-wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil for the dough
- 1 and a half cups of warm water
How to make it?
First, you need to dissolve the yeast and sugar (if using) in a 1/4 cup of warm water and place in a warm place to proof. Then, place both flours in a large bowl and mix well with a whisk. Add the oil in the middle of the mound of flour and mix with either your fingertips or a dough hook or through the feed tube. After that, add the proofed yeast and gradually add about 1 cup of warm water and knead for few minutes until a sticky ball of dough forms. Now, place the dough on a lightly floured surface then sprinkle it with a couple tablespoons of flour and knead, adding more flour, until it is smooth and does not stick. Finally, you need to cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for one hour in a warm place free of drafts.
To Make the Manakish
First, place the dough into the floured counter, roll it into a fat sausage and cut into 5 pieces and then roll each piece into a ball. Then, form each piece of dough into a manakish by using a rolling pin and your fingers all around. Leave the remaining balls aside, covered in a moist towel. After forming the pieces into manakish, transfer them to a paddle sprinkled with cornmeal (or flour) or a metal cookie sheet. You can now start to spread the za’atar paste on the manakish, using the back of a spoon. Make sure not to spread more than 1/3 cup of the za’atar paste per manakish. Once you spread all the za’atar paste on all the manakish, let them rest on the paddle for 15 minutes or so while making sure to heat up the grill to at least 550F. You can after those 15 minutes start placing the manakish on the grill. Bake each manakish for 5 minutes or so then remove promptly from the grill and place on the paddle to cool for few minutes.
Your manakish are now ready! Make sure to serve them with some tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh mint, olives, yogurt and scallions! Or simply a cup of tea!