I have become quite fond of this Bedouin lady, Nujud, who roams the streets of Beirut with her knapsack hawking her wild herbs; I can hear her from four stories up “khobbeyzeh w zaatar!” she repeats in her direct and farm-like intonation. I hurry down and get some fresh, wild, zaatar; it is growing aplenty now all over the mountains. Oregano, home-grown or store-bought will do (it is closer in taste to wild zaatar than thyme). These rolls are a classic in mountain villages, especially in the Chouf Mountains where zaatar is abundant.
3 cups semolina flour (can replace with cornmeal or regular flour)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour (can switch to semolina or cornmeal)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tablespoon instant dry yeast, dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water with the sugar
1/4 tsp mahlab (optional)
1 cup olive oil
3 cups (3 ounces) fresh zaatar or oregano, washed and air-dried
1 1/2 cup warm water
1. Place the semolina, flour, salt and mahlab (if using) in a mixing bowl; mix to combine and add the olive oil. Mix to combine then add the zaatar or oregano leaves. Finally, add the proofed yeast and enough warm water to get a moist but compact dough. Leave it to the rest a few hours or overnight.
2. Scoop out walnut-sized balls of dough and place in mini-muffin tins or on a baking sheet lined with paper. Bake in a preheated 400F oven for about 10 minutes until golden and dry. Cool and serve. Store in a tightly closed box for up to a week.
NOTE: These bites are super crunchy; if you would rather eat soft and chewy ones, switch to regular flour and a bit of semolina instead.