Sunday, April 20, 2008

Za'atar Manoushi: food of the gods

Za'atar (زعتر) is a wild thyme mixture (blended with some other herbs) from the Middle East - the people who use it the most are the Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, and Jordanians. It comes in many different styles and flavors - meaning every person who makes their own blend customizes it to their preferences, making it more sour, more grassy/green, etc by adding more of the other herbs to the mixture (like oregano, mint, sumac...). Za'atar also has sesame seeds mixed in with it. Ultimately what you do is either mix it with some olive oil to create a liquidy paste, smearing it on a soft, chewy piece of pita bread, or sprinkling some on top of other foods. It's one of the foods that I absolutely cannot live without, and you will never go to the house of an Arab family and not find several jars of it - if you don't find it, clearly they are infidel Arabs and you should leave their house ASAP.

1-3 tbs of za'atar, any kind (you will find different varieties at Middle Eastern stores, bagged according to where it comes from)
1-2 tbs olive oil
1 Package Trader Joe's plain pizza dough
Extra olive oil for the baking sheet

baking sheet; 1 small bowl and spoon

Prep Work:
1) Preheat your oven to 425 or whatever it says on the package. 2) Leave the dough out for at least 20 minutes or so to warm up. 3) Put a few drops of olive oil on your baking sheet and rub it around with your fingers, covering the entire sheet.

Cooking Instructions:
Take the pizza dough and gently stretch it with your hands until it is about the size of the baking sheet. Lay it on the oiled sheet; mix the za'atar with the olive oil (زعتر و زيت) until it forms a paste, albeit a rather liquidy one. If the dough has disobeyed you and shrunk to its original size, teach it a lesson by stretching it out again. Try to stick the edges of the pizza to the edge of the pan so that it stays put. Spread the paste across the dough so it covers its entirety. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the dough has turned slightly golden on the edges. If you prefer a crispier crust, bake it for longer; for a softer crust, bake for less time.

***If you do not have access to pizza dough, you can also spread the za'atar on a piece of pita and toast it in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until it's golden. This method makes it more chip-like, and is the perfect way to dip into labni (or other dips).

You have many options in which you can eat your manoushi: spread or dip it in some labni (yogurt, drained of its water, that is roughly the consistency of cream cheese); slice up cucumbers and tomatoes and make it into a sandwich; add some other types of cheese and roll into a sandwich; the list goes on. Za'atar's versatility, along with its inherent delicious properties, is what makes it one of the best foods in the world.


Anonymous said...

Delicious. I need to make some myself.

Anonymous said...

I like the last sentence of your intro there. So true. ;)