For years, the first thing I would do upon returning to Beirut was to rush to our neighborhood furn (oven-bakery) and order a man’oosheh with za’atar.. I was deprived of my favorite food all year, that’s why! I wanted to eat it every day, no exception!! The truth is I was also picky about how my man’ooshe was supposed to taste. Local man’ooshe from middle-eastern restaurants in the States did not fully satisfy me.
I wanted a man’ooshe like the ones I had tasted in Deir El-Kamar, in the Shoof. Their dough is almost golden, with specks of wheat. I had brought back some zaatar, a gift from Umm Elias, a mother of six from the village of Fawara in the Shoof. I knew she had picked and dried the zaatar herself and she had made the mix withsumak, zaatar, sesame seeds and some salt. Her zaatar was unbelievably good. It had to be honored.
I decided to bake the man’ooshe on the grill, using a pita dough recipe from Anissa Helou’s book Savory Baking from the mediterranean. I had read about grilling pizzas and figured the same technique could be used with man’ooshe. I also wanted to try a makeshift sajto see if I could make a man’oosheh al-saj, the way it is done in the Shoof and pretty much all over Lebanon.
This recipe is adapted from Mediterranean Street Food by Anissa Helou
To make the dough:
INGREDIENTS: This quantity will make 5 large or 10 medium man’ooshes
- 1 heaping teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar or honey (optional)
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour and 1 1/2 cups organic whole-wheat flour (total:3 1/2 cups)
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 3 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil ( 3 for the dough and 2 for greasing the bowl)
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- Dissolve the yeast and sugar (if using) in 1/4 cup warm water. Place in a warm place to proof.
- Place both flours in a large bowl and mix well with a whisk. OR, place in a standing mixer and mix with the dough hook. Or place in a food processor and pulse to mix.
- 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. Add the proofed yeast and gradually add about 1 cup of warm water. Knead for a few minutes until a sticky ball of dough forms.
- Remove the dough from the bowl or mixer and place on a lightly floured surface.
- Sprinkle the dough with a couple tablespoons of flour and knead, adding more flour, until the dough is smooth and does not stick. This will take 2 to 5 minutes.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for 1 hour in a warm place free of drafts.
To Make the man’ooshe:
- Place the dough into the floured counter. Roll it into a fat sausage and cut into 5 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
- Form the man’oosheh, one at a time, by using a rolling pin and your fingers all around. Leave the remaining balls aside, covered in a moist towel.
- When formed, transfer to a paddle or a wooden board sprinkled with cornmeal (or flour) or a metal cookie sheet.
- Spread the za’atar paste on the man’ooshes, using the back of a spoon and spreading about 1/3 cup of it per man’ooshe.
- Heat up the grill to at least 550F. Let the formed man’ooshe rest on the paddle for 15 minutes or so.
- Place on the grill or saj.
- Bake 5 minutes or so. Remove promptly from the grill and place on the wooden paddle to cool for a few minutes.
- Serve with some tomatoes, quartered, fresh mint, olives, labneh and scallions.
An easy way to provide a warm place for your dough to rise is to boil a pint of water in a large soup pot. Turn off the heat and reverse the lid. Place the bowl with the dough in it on top of that lid and cover it with a towel. The residual heat from the boiling water will help rise the dough for a while, until it has doubled in size.
You can prepare the dough ahead of time and freeze it. Make the dough until it is smooth and not sticky and freeze in ziplock bags. When ready to use, remove and dust with flour. Let it rise at room temperature for a couple of hours. Proceed.
To Make the Za’atar mix:
- Zaatar mix, either homemade or store-bought. If it is bought, taste it first, adjusting the ratio of sumak, salt and sesame seeds to suit your own taste.
- Extra-virgin olive oil. If using 1/2 cup of mix, use the same quantity of olive oil.
- Simply place the za’atar in a small bowl. Add the olive oil and mix.
TO COOK THE MAN’OOSHE ON THE BBQ GRILL
- Heat the BBQ grill until the temperature gets to 550-600F, heating half the burners and leaving the others turned off on one side. Place either a baking stone or a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil on the unlit side of the grill to place the man’ooshe on it.
- Slide the man’oosheh on the side of the grill that it not lit up. Close the grill. Check it after 3 to 5 minutes.
- Remove the man’oosheh when it is golden and crisp around the edges and bubbles have appeared throughout.
TO MAKE IT IN A SKILLET ON A STOVE-TOP
- Preheat either a nonstick skillet or a seasoned cast iron skillet on medium-high heat.
- Place the man’ooshe on the skillet, with the topping of zaatar on top. Cook until the bottom is golden with brownish spots.
- Remove and serve hot or warm or freeze and reheat in a slow oven.
TO MAKE IT ON THE SAJ
- Take the wok and invert it. Oil the surface well.
- Place the rolled out dough on the wok and place it on the grill.
- Check it after one minute. If it looks like it is too hot, reduce the heat or slide it onto the area where the burners are turned off.
- One minute after placing it on the grill, add the za’atar paste on the dough, spreading it all over with a spatula.
- Close the lid and check the man’ooshe after 3 to 5 minutes.
It is also delicious to add some cheese on top. If you are planning to add toppings, I recommend doing so after the man’ooshe has been placed on the grill or on the wok , not before! Leftover man’oosheh can be wrapped in foil and refrigerated or frozen. Defrost in a slow oven for a few minutes.
Children in Lebanon were always urged to eat a man’ooshe with zaatar before an exam. The belief is that zaatar is good for the memory. I don’t know if there is a scientific basis for this.
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