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a-za'tar-ingredients for mix copyNo visit to Lebanon, for me or for anyone elese for that matter, is complete without at least one manqousheh (or manousheh as they say it; most Lebanese people drop the q when they speak), the quintessential Lebanese breakfast. Most people will only eat manaqish (plural of manqousheh) made with their own za’tar and olive oil which they mix at home before taking it to their local baker for him to use with his dough (which by the way is the same as that for pita bread unless you are in the south but this is for another post) to make the manaqish, which are basically pizzas. The most common topping is za’tar but you can also have them topped with cheese or with cheese and za’tar or with kishk (a mixture of burghul and yoghurt that is first fermented then dried then ground very fine). The kishk is normally mixed with diced tomatoes, walnuts, sesame seeds and olive oil. These are the classic toppings but as with pizza you can use any topping you want.

za'tar for sale 2 copyAs some of you know from my previous and other posts, my mother’s local baker is Emile and when I went to visit my mother last week, I went to see him to say that I wanted to take more photographs of him making manaqish and fatayer. His bakery is very simple and he doesn’t normally have much for sale there apart from drinks and a few items that he makes himself such as qawarma but on that day his side counter was stacked with freshly dried za’tar and sumac and new season sesame seeds — late summer and early autumn is mouneh season; mouneh means the preserves made with seasonal produce. I had not seen so much dried za’tar (za’tar is also the Arabic word for thyme) for a very long time. I also hadn’t seen my mother make za’tar for a very long time. So, I bought a huge bag of dried za’tar and a bag each of sumac and sesame seeds for her to make me some to take back to London.

ballouneh-freshly dried za'tar copyMy mother was not happy. Even though the leaves and buds had been taken off the main stalks, there were still a lot of stalks that needed to be picked out — the commercial za’tar will have a lot of these ground with the leaves and buds to bulk the za’tar out; sometimes they introduce worse stuff like wood chips — and she knew she would have to do it at least for as long as I needed to photograph her. To be honest I didn’t help at all but my mother didn’t mind in the end because we ended up with one of the best za’tars she’d ever made. Anyhow, she got to work and cleaned the whole lot of all the stalks and ground the dried za’tar in her food processor which didn’t grind them as fine as if we had taken the za’tar to a mat’haneh (the place where they grind seeds and spices) but it turned out to be a good thing. The final mix had great texture.

za'tar-picking stalks 3 copy

za'tar-ground copyOnce she had ground the za’tar, she set about preparing the mix. She put some ground za’tar in a bowl.

c-za'tar-mixing 2 copyShe added sumac — she didn’t measure but her proportions are two parts ground thyme to one part ground sumac to 1/2 part toasted sesame seeds with salt to taste.

za'tar-mixing-sumac copyShe had to toast the sesame seeds before adding them. Some people use them untoasted but you don’t get the nice nutty flavour without toasting. You can however simplify your life and buy the seeds ready toasted. But if you decide to toast them, make sure you stir them all the time like my mother did and watch them carefully at the end. They will burn in no time!

za'tar-toasting sesame seeds copy

za'tar-toasting sesame seeds 2 copy

za'tar-toasting sesame seeds 4 copyShe added the toasted sesame seeds to the bowl.

d-za'tar-mixing-sesame seeds 2 copyShe then added a little salt and mixed the lot well together.

d-za'tar-mixing-salt 5 copy

za'tar-mixing-final copyAs you can see the za’tar has a little texture which I really liked and we both decided that it was nicer a little coarser. As a result, my mother will be grinding her own za’tar from now on,.

za'tar-new copyThere was one more step before taking the za’tar to Emile and that was to lightly toast the mixture so that it lasts longer. In fact, you can keep za’tar for years as long as it is properly prepared and kept in a hermetically sealed container somewhere that is not too hot nor too light.

za'tar-toasting copyAnd here is Emile’s helper spreading the za’tar and olive oil mixture over their brilliant dough. Both my mother and I like to add a little finely chopped onion to the za’tar mix. It kind of sweetens it a little and adds a little softness.

emile's bakery-manaqish-spreading za'tar copyAnd here are the manaqish baking in the oven and below, you will find a recipe for how to make them which I first published in Mediterranean Street Food

emile's bakery-manaqish copy

Thyme ‘Pizza’

Manaqish bil-Za’tar

There are two types of manaqish bil-za’tar: those baked in the oven and those cooked on the saj (a kind of inverted wok placed over charcoal or in the modern places, a gas fire), the latter being thinner and slightly more crisp. The following recipe is the saj version cooked in a non-stick pan. If you want to bake the manaqish, roll them out a little thicker and bake in a very hot oven. Serves 4

To make the bread dough:

265 g/1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, and more for kneading

1/2 teaspoon easy blend yeast

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the topping:

3 tablespoons za’tar (thyme mixture)

just under 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped (optional)

Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the oil. Work it in with your fingertips until completely absorbed. Gradually add 1/2 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons warm water (some flours need more hydration than others) and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Form into a ball, cover with a wet although not dripping kitchen towel and leave in a warm place for one hour or until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into four equal portions and roll each into a ball. Dip the first piece of dough in flour on both sides, shake off the excess and roll into a thin circle, about 2 1/2 mm/1/10-inch thick. Make a few dimples across the flat dough, pressing hard with the tips of your fingers — this is done to stop the oil from running out during cooking.

Mix the thyme mixture, olive oil and onion if you are using it in a bowl and spread a quarter of the mixture over the circle of dough. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Place a nonstick skillet over medium heat and wait until it is very hot. Cook the za’tar topped dough in the skillet for 3-5 minutes or until the bottom is crisp and lightly golden. You can if you want slide the manousheh under a very hot grill to crisp up the top. Make the rest of the breads and serve hot or tepid, either plain or with a bowl of labneh (strained yogurt) and another of olives. together with fresh mint, tomatoes and cucumbers.

















There is 16 comments on this post

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Your mummy is so elegant!!! Now I understand where you get your sense of style.

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    she is totally lovely and a lot more elegant than me, and totally beautiful. imagine what she was like when she was young! xx

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    When can we go visit your mother!?

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    that would be so cool david. in the spring which is when i am going back?

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Being a visual learner, I love reading a blog post like this. Such detail and wonderful photographs. I feel like I am there in your kitchen standing next to your mama. I am strictly a home cook, but now feel less anxious about making this incredible dish. Thank you!

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    you are welcome jessica 🙂

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Hi Anissa,

    This looks absolutely amazing! My brother’s wife is Jordanian and it’s only when and I visited them in Amman a few years ago that I discovered Za’tar. How is it not a staple everywhere in the world?? I’d never even thought about making it at home… but I’m very tempted to try it! Do you know any good stores in Paris that would sell the ingredients required?

    Thanks so much


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    i doubt you will be able to get the plain thyme in paris. you can get the sumac and sesame seeds but probably not the thyme. your best bet is to ask a lebanese restaurant to recommend lebanese shops. i should start an online service selling these ingredients. will let you know if i do 🙂

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Looking at the photos of your mother cooking is such a pleasure. I see where you get the talent from. And the looks. She is an elegant, beautiful lady.

    I also would love to visit her (and of course, to see you!) 🙂

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    i should organise a trip in the spring and get her to cook for everyone, but as you say victoria we need to meet first 🙂 glad you enjoyed the post and liked my beautiful mom. x

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Love the picture of your Mom, she is just lovely. Wish I looked like her when I cook at my stove! Bookmarking this recipe.

    If I understand correctly that za’tar is another version of thyme, then I certainly understand her reaction to the pile of za’tar you presented for her to clean. If there is one herb I love to grow but hate to clean it is thyme. If anyone knows of an easy way to do this please provide a clue 😉


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    i wrote an article about za’tar a long time ago for the FT but because i went over my quota for the month I couldn’t link to it. just google za’tar + FT and you will find it. no clue as to easy cleaning though 🙂

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    great new always really..and wow your mom is very elegant ..

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Hi Anissa,

    Thanks for this. I’m going to attempt the za’tar mix. I have a bag of sumac berries – a couple of years old now. I’ve been wondering what to do with it. If I put some berries in the spice blender, will it be fit for use in a mix like this?

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    It will be sura but make sure you sift the stones if they don’t get pulverised 🙂

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Thanks, Anissa; great post and a delightful story too. Manaqish are the best! I’ve been lucky enough to have just spent a week in lovely Beirut with friends and I’m missing my daily manoush very much indeed…..

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