Is is only recently that I have realized how remarkably diverse Lebanese food truly is.
Take this bread. Never had it until this past year; it is a Southern bread and gets distributed in Beirut during the Holy Month of Ramadan in all the stores. One friend in the neighborhood took me to his neighbor; her meshtah, she claimed, had won many raves. She offered to show me how she made hers but had to move quickly back to her home village. I started experimenting; my daughter’s friend Hiba told me: The texture is like a pizza, not sweet, a bit hard, and used to pick up labneh and an olive. The key is the bread is stretched out to look like a flatbread and sprinkled with some sesame seeds when sold in the stores. It has a faint anise flavor.
Found a great recipe for it in Anissa Helou’s book Savory Baking from the Mediterranean, filled with spices and made with whole wheat flour and jreesh (which is a type of semolina). One of these days, I’ll have to head South and bake it with my friend’s neighbor; she uses white flour and bulgur she said. I guess many versions abound.
This is my own version.
1 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup white flour 00 (strong bread flour)
1/2 cup bulgur (fine #1)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp anise powder (or seeds)
2 tsp dry instant yeast
1 Tbsp. oil
1 cup dry toasted sesame seeds
enough water to make a soft dough (about 1 cup warm)
1. Combine the flours, salt, anise powder, yeast, sugar, bulgur in a mixer bowl; add the oil and mix well. Add the water and mix till the dough forms and is smooth and elastic. Transfer to a bowl, coat it in oil and let it rise in a warm place for a couple of hours.
2. De-gas the dough; divide into three parts; stretch each part into a long flatbread, about 12 inches long; sprinkle with sesame seeds; cover with a damp towel; let the flatbreads rest for a while (I left them on the counter for an hour or so). Heat the oven to 220F. Bake for 15 minutes till golden. Cool and serve.
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