Flatbread with olive oil and homemade za’atar
Zaatar is the sine qua non of middle eastern cooking. It’s indispensable for its flavour and versatility. Zaatar, meaning thyme in Arabic, refers not to thyme but to a slightly tangy, intensely aromatic spice blend that can be used to flavour many dishes, middle eastern or not. As with all things culinary, there are many versions of zaatar with ingredients ranging from thyme, oregano, minty hyssop, tangy sumac, marjoram and sesame seeds and I have even seen recipes with cumin.
I bring zaatar mixture from my trips to Israel and keep it in sealed jars in the freezer, but comes fall, I set a small jar of zaatar with the bottles of olive oil and sprinkle it on roasted vegetables, grilled bread, eggs and some salads.
Flatbread topped with olive oil and zaatar is a classic middle east bread that I remember my grandmother Esther making in her kitchen overlooking Haifa bay. She would stretch the dough into rounds, let it rise, then poke it with her fingers and drizzle olive oil that would pool into the indentations she created. She would sprinkle the bread liberally with fragrant zaatar and bake it in the oven, filling the kitchen with incredible aromas. I remember standing around her kitchen waiting for the hot, fragrant bread to come out of the oven and into my waiting hands. Aren’t those memories the best?
Today, I too makes flatbread with zaatar now and then, especially when I make pizza. I keep part of the dough for a round or an elongated flatbread with olive oil and zaatar. It’s a nice appetizer cut into sticks or triangles or you can dip into a yogurt. I only make zaatar with my own herbs that I dry and crumble, not the powdery stuff you buy at the store. It’s a good idea to buy a zaatar once to see what the flavour profile is, then you can make your own and vary the proportions to your taste.
2 cups flour plus another half cup as needed.
1 teaspoon coarse seas salt
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tablespoon olive
Place the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple fo times to combine.
Add the yeast and sugar to the warm water and stir lightly.
Let the yeast bubble for a few minutes.
Add the water and one tablespoon oil to the flour and pulse a few times, then let the machine run until the dough begins to gather. If it doesn’t, add the extra flour, a little at a time, until dough begins to gather into a ball.
Remove the dough onto a lightly floured parchment sheet (less cleaning afterwards) and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, a couple of minutes.
Place remaining oil in a bowl and drop the dough into it, rolling it around in the oil.
Cover and let rise until doubles in size. You can poke the dough with you fingers and if it doesn’t bounce back then it’s ready.
Punch the dough down cut in 2 or three pieces. You can freeze some of it at this point, well wrapped.
Roll out the dough into the shape of your choice, round or rectangle and let rise, covered until it puffs up a bit.
Poke it with your fingers (careful not to tear it,
Drizzle with olive oil all over brushing the ends with the oil as well.
Sprinkle liberally with za’atar.
Bake in aa preheated 475-500°F degrees oven until the flatbread is cooked through and golden,
Cut into smaller rectangles or wedges to serve.
1/3 cup freshly dried thyme leaves (not powder)
1/4 cup freshly dried oregano leaves (not powder)
3 teaspoon sumac, ground
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Preferably use fresh herbs that you dried yourself.
You can make the za’atar in a spice grinder, a small food processor or in a mortar and pestle.
Add the ingredients to the processor and pulse a few times until combined.
If you use mortar and pestle add the ingredients one by one, crushing each before adding the next.
Keep refrigerated in a sealed jar or in the freezer.