Lebanese man’oushe, za’atar flatbread

My brother Chris was the first to speak to me of the man’oushe. Every time he returned from a trip to Lebanon I wanted to sit him down and discuss, in detail, every bite of food he’d eaten. He was happy to oblige, but nothing he described, even the elaborate meals with family and more family, made his eyes go wide like they did when he talked about the man’oushe. It’s street corner bakery food, he said. You get it wrapped in paper and off you go. They’d stopped on a whim because they were hungry and needed a snack, and it turned out to be the best Lebanese food he’d ever put in his mouth. The flatbread was chewy, but with a crisp exterior. It was blistered (ok, my word, not his) and warm, topped with za’atar or jibneh, filled with tomatoes and lifft and mint and folded over on itself.

I had to stop him. I couldn’t take it.

Breads like this were not unfamiliar to me; I’d had them from the Middle Eastern bakery I frequented in Chicago, and Woody’s back home sold something to this effect. But those were breads far from their ovens; those were breads that came in plastic bags.

No matter how fresh they say the bread is, it’s still bread that you get in a plastic bag. Warm-from-the-oven man’oushe with a chewy-crisp texture is something bread-dreams are made of, something you are only going to get from your own oven over here.

To say my list of must-eat foods on my maiden trip to Lebanon last spring was lengthy is an understatement. So when Day 2 of the trip commenced and I still hadn’t eaten my man’oushe, I began to feel anxious. We started the day with breakfast in the hotel, which was a beautiful breakfast to behold, but not a man’oushe breakfast.

It is striking to me even now that the bread, coated heavily with a mix of za’atar and olive oil, is first and foremost a breakfast food in Lebanon—just not at our hotel. Or perhaps it was on the menu and I didn’t notice it, in favor of the buffet of gorgeous fruits both fresh and dried, the labne and the pastries.

Our first stop that day was American University at Beirut, an oasis in the city surrounded by a stone wall and plenty of security. Stepping through the gates and onto the quad on that sunny morning took my breath away—for the views out over the sea, for the architecture and the massive trees everywhere, for the thoughts of my great uncle, a dean at the school who had kept a correspondence with my father long ago.

But also, and perhaps primarily, I found the students breathtaking. I have never been in a place where most everyone looks like a cousin, or a sister, or…me. And there, through the window of an unreachable student union building, I saw rows and rows of man’oushe waiting for the students to scoop them up to have with their orange juice, sustenance for a day of rigorous study and all of the fun things students do.

By the time we reached our next destination to meet our family in the village of El Mtein, I thought man’oushe would have to be tabled to a Day 3 obsession. Then cousin Chadi suggested an out-of-the-way spot for lunch, up even higher in the hills, a casual spot whose specialty is a very flat, God bless it, man’oushe.

It’s his favorite, he said, his very favorite food to eat. Our bread there was topped with the classic awarma, preserved lamb confit-style; we also had labne and Jibneh on our breads, and alongside there was foul (chickpeas with beans), olives, and the requisite whole tomatoes, cucumbers and mint that are cut up and eaten with everything.

Holy Grail. Holy day. Holy moly, I vowed I would learn that bread one snowy winter’s day up north. Under the guidebook of Barbara Abdeni Massaad, a devotee who wrote and photographed an entire beautiful book about Lebanese man’oushe, I’ve been turning breads out all week long in the kind of feverish excitement that comes with reaching the summit of one’s quest. I had to call Chris downstate and tell him about the chewiness, the blistering beauty, the za’atar warm from the oven.

He had to stop me. He couldn’t take it.



Man’oushe, Za’atar Flatbread

The success of this bread is made that much greater if a baking stone is used in the base of the oven. Alternately, an overturned heavy sheet pan will work. A pizza peel is also particularly helpful for placing the flatbread dough in the oven and removing the bread when it’s finished. A flat sheet pan or an overturned rimmed sheet pan will work as well. The dough can be made, of course, by hand, but I found the dough dramatically more beautiful, softer and stickier (which like pizza dough, is better for flatbread) made in the food processor fitted with the metal blade. This recipe is based on Barbara Abdeni Massaad’s Man’oushe. Makes 4 loaves.

2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 ¼ cups lukewarm water (90-100 degrees)
1 teaspoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon neutral oil (vegetable, canola)
½ cup za’atar (I add extra sesame seeds to mine)
½ cup olive oil

Garnishes (tomatoes, picked turnips, mint, arugula, labne, etc.)

In a large bowl or the bowl of a food processor, combine the flours and salt. Whisk together if making by hand; pulse a few times if using the processor.

Proof the yeast in a small bowl. Mix the yeast and sugar together, then slowly add ¼ cup of the lukewarm water while stirring to combine. Set aside for 15 minutes until the yeast is foamy.

Add the yeast mixture and the tablespoon of oil to the flour mixture. Mixing by hand, or with the food processor running, slowly pour in the remaining cup of warm water. Mix until combined and knead, if by hand, for 10 minutes until the dough is soft and elastic. If using the processor, run for a full minute after the water is added. The dough will form a ball and turn in the bowl as the machine runs.

Set the dough to rise by placing the dough in a bowl that is completely but lightly oiled, and turn the dough so it is entirely coated with oil too. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel and place in a warm spot (I put it in the turned-off oven that’s been just barely warmed) until doubled in size, 1 ½-2 hours.

Deflate the dough by removing it from the bowl and pulling off four evenly sized balls of dough. Set the balls on a lightly floured surface and coat lightly with more flour. Cover with the plastic wrap and kitchen towel and rise for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven. Place the baking stone or overturned sheet pan (it’s overturned so the edges won’t get in the way of placing and removing the dough) in the bottom of the oven. Remove the racks or line them at the top of the oven. Heat the oven to 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Convection baking is ideal here, if possible. If you’re using convection, set the oven temperature to 425 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the za’atar and the oil, stirring well. Set aside.

Roll out the dough: lightly flour the work surface, the rolling pin, and the peel (or another overturned sheet pan to be used as a peel like a huge spatula). The flour acts as ball bearings for the dough to keep it from sticking to surfaces. Place one ball of dough on the floured surface and press down on it with the palm of your hand. The key to getting the dough rolled flat and round is to keep it moving, which means turning it frequently throughout the rolling process and adding more flour lightly to the work surface as you go. Roll the dough from the center of the circle to the edge a couple of times, then rotate it, and roll again, repeating until the dough is round and ¼ -inch thick.

Spread 3 teaspoons of the za’atar mixture on the dough using the back of the spoon or your fingertips to get an even, thick spread. Leave a ½ -inch rim around the edge. Slide the peel under the dough, using two hands (to avoid misshaping the round) to pull the dough onto the floured peel. Place on the baking stone in the oven and bake for 7-10 minutes.

You’ll want to keep the oven light on to watch the bubbling baking show.

When the bread is golden brown at the edges, remove from the oven to a baking rack and cool for a few minutes. The za’atar topping may seem oily when it’s still hot but it will dry and taste just right. Repeat the process with each of the four balls of dough.

Eat the man’oushe as it is, torn off and eaten with the garnishes. Or top the bread with garnishes, fold over, and eat it like that.

Print this recipe here.

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46 Responses to Lebanese man’oushe, za’atar flatbread

  1. Karine says:

    Thanks for sharing the recipe. Have been looking for it. Great pictures. They capture well the story.

  2. Aaron deMello says:

    Beautiful, so beautiful (said in Beiruti accent!)!! I need to buy this lady’s book, sounds awesome. Well done, Maureen!

  3. Love love love za’atar bread! And yes, for breakfast!

  4. Jo Ann MacKenzie says:

    You are so cute! You tell and great story and I just loved “holy moly”. And sounds soooo delicious! On my list now — what is the bakery in Chicago since that is closer than Lebanon for me? Much love, J

  5. Gretchen Andeel says:

    Help me here. The bottom of my oven is where the heating coils are. Do I set the stone directly on them or should I set a rack as low as possible and put the stone on that? How do these reheat? They are beautiful! Thanks! ga

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Thanks Gretchen, good questions. You’ll set the stone on the rack, but you may have to put it up a little from the coils or else it could get too hot and burn your bread. Try a slightly lower temp with the oven, given that the heat source will be directly below your stone (375). The breads reheat beautifully at 350 or under the broiler, as I did today for breakfast…

  6. What a wonderful post! You awakened a desire to go immediately to Beirut and eat . . . continuously. Thanks for sharing both this story and the beautiful accompanying photographs.

  7. Jim Abood says:

    Wow Maureen! Awesome entry and recipe! Look forward to making this!

  8. Diane Nassir (My maternal grandmother was an Abowd) says:

    Maureen, just had to have za’atar bread this morning–used sliced sourdough bread in place of homemade Syrian bread–has some of the same properties–is chewy–but still NOT the same–but it worked

  9. Jody Namey Atty says:

    Wonderful article & beautiful pictures…as always!! Now I’m hungry!!!

  10. nancy says:

    where will i find man’oushe in los angeles? please . . .

  11. Hi Maureen, you made me laugh when you wrote about the students at the AUB looking like your relatives or you! I really enjoyed this post because I could definitely relate to the man’ooshe passion. I had it for years while living outside Lebanon but now that I am in Lebanon my passion for man’ooshe has been replaced by a passion for kaak; more on that later. Did you have a chance to taste Abu Arab’s kaak or the kaak in Basta while you were here?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Joumana, I’m working on kaak right now! Wonderful. I had great kaak in homes in Lebanon but didn’t have either of the ones you mentioned.

  12. Ronnie Moses says:

    Maureen, everytime I get an email from your site it makes my mouth water for some of the delicuous home middle eastern cooking that I grew up on…..now I’ll have to go to the local Middle Eastern supply store and get needed items to make some of the dishes noted in your website……..keep up the good cooking…………….Thanks for such a mouth watering back home cooking site…………..

    Ronnie….in Southeast Texas…….

  13. Cathy O'C says:

    Wonderful post, Maureen. What is za’atar, and can I get it at Al Khyam on Kedzie, do you think? –Cathy

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Thank you Cathy–za’atar is a spice mix of roasted thyme, sumac and sesame seeds (read more here) that you can get at Al-Khyam!

  14. I love just about all kinds of flatbread. I am so excited to see that you posted this recipe. I’m very intrigued that it uses cake flour. I will definitely give it a try soon (I’ve been craving flatbread for a few weeks now).

    • Janel, the cake flour and the intensive mixing in the food processor work together to help control the “breadiness” of the crumb and give the bread it’s irresistible chew. Very clever method!

  15. Jerry Wakeen says:

    Wow, lots of activity today.
    My senior relatives only put the Za-atar on what they called a talame, which was the same dough they used for the large thin bread but made about a half inch thick with the Za-atar on top. This looks thinner and I can see where the chewy crisp texture would come from. Our talames came with and without Za-atar and were thick enough to use like pocket bread but had to be slit open with a knife. Great article and lots of good photos. Will forward this info on to my brother who still experiments with making his own bread with an old gas stove that came from my grandmother’s home.

    Funnny that you say they look like you and so on. Years ago I met a distant cousin in Washington DC, they were over here from Beirut on a grant to study our tax system. My uncle had warned (and ordered) me to treat him like “family”. I wondered how I would recognize him. When I walked into the hotel where he was staying and saw this fellow sitting on a couch in the lobby….THERE WAS NO DOUBT! :)

    Thanks for the article.

  16. Simply a wonderful article, with beautiful pictures. Thank you Maureen.

  17. Ed Habib says:

    Looks wonderful. I have never had turnip on it. I will have to try. Whenever I make dough to make man’ooshe my kids always want me to make it with sweet sumsum (sesame seeds) instead of za’atar .

  18. Geri Kalush Conklin says:

    I’m planning on making Syrian bread and kaak this coming week and now after reading this I’ve got to add za’atar to that. This may be a straight 24hr project….put on the coffee. Can’t wait to get started.
    Thanks for all your wonderful words, you bring back memories and your readers share so many things that parallel my life as well. I always feel warm and fuzzy after reading your posts and slightly sad for those long ago days. I hope I can create the same feeling for my grandchildren. ♨

  19. Geri Kalush Conklin says:

    Let me clarify, the warm fuzzy part for the grands……not sad, lol.

  20. enas says:

    Yummy that is a very delicous man2eesh …

    • Sara says:

      I came here via the post on the kitchn on za’atar where I was drooling over that bread–how excited was I to see the recipe here!? Can’t wait to make it.

      • Maureen Abood says:

        Sara, thank you and welcome. Three Clever Sisters–how…clever! Let me know how you like the man’oushe (it’s SO good)!

        • Sara says:

          Just had some for lunch. Really easy dough to work with and roll out, and of course I love the za’atar. You’re right about it looking so oily right out of the oven and then cooling fine. I actually ran the oven at 475 convection as it was cooking too slow and it worked nicely. Also I made some with smashed chickpeas (since I don’t have enough za’atar)–read in Claudia Roden that it’s a Lebanese Lenten tradition.

  21. Tammi Whittaker says:

    Stopped dead in my tracks when you mentioned Woody’s, are you from East Lansing? Loved, loved Woody’s! Miss my Lebanese friends in Michigan, but think about them when ever I cook from my battered and stained cookbook from St. Joseph”s Melkite church titled “The Art of Lebanese Cooking”. Discovered your blog today via Saveur and am so glad I did!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Tammi, those old church cookbooks are great! And yes, I’m from Lansing…. Thank you for you words, & I look forward to seeing you here!

  22. Connie says:

    I found your website while reading the comments after a story on za’atar on NPR. I would love to expand my baking repertoire by trying to make some manoushe myself. I need some za’atar though. My only local option is one made by Ziyad. Is that any good or should I wait until I can go shopping at a Middle Eastern grocery in Chicago? Thanks for the recipe!

  23. Bill Thomas says:

    Hello Maureen,
    Your description and childlike excitement for man’oushe brought me back to my youth, when my parents and grand parents who were from Lebanon, the village of Gharzouz, made bread on weekends. It also returned me to my wonderful visit to Beiruit and Gharzouz to meet my mother’s relatives. I had the very same reaction you did upon seeing everyone….they LOOK like ME!! I felt so at home as soon as I walked ashore and regret not being able to stay longer – I was a young naval officer making a port visit. I’m very fortunate to be able to have a Lebanese bakery, two in fact, within 20 minutes of my home. Interestingly, they call the man’oushe man’eesh. However one may pronounce it, it’s a bite of home and heritage. I had one fresh from the oven this morning. Thank you for your posting. I hope to read more of your posts.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Thank you Bill for that lovely comment, and what a great story about your visit to Lebanon as a young man!

  24. DesertBunny says:

    WULLAH!!

    Ain’t nothing like zatar bread!!

  25. Linda says:

    Thanks, very simple and easy to prepare recipe. And the same time delicious. Thanks

  26. Lisa says:

    Hi Maureen, Are you able to offer a gluten free man’oushe recipe? Thank you.

  27. Margarita Juan Marcos Issa says:

    Hello, I live in Torrreon,Coahuila, Mexico,
    We alwyas eat Za´tar with bread and olive oil, so when I saw the differents ways we can use the
    za´tar, please tell me how I can get your recipe book
    Thanks in advance and
    Best Regards
    Margarita Juan Marcos Issa
    maguej50@hotmail.com

  28. Ginny Abood Baldini says:

    There is a store in Fishers, Indiana called Al Basha that bakes za’tar bread and it is very good! I buy it almost every time I go there. I love it!

  29. Eitan says:

    Pictures – wow! Such great pictures. Can you provide your settings? Maybe just for the last two? They are the best. Thanks!

  30. Sarah says:

    Hi Maureen, I wrote to you recently about your amazing kneffi recipe… but I have another question about Manaeesh. I noticed you had lived in San Francisco at one point, which is where my daughter and I live now. Can you recommend any places here where we can get really good manaeesh? In Lebanon (Haret Saida), my uncle-in-law owns a local bakery and we got fresh manaeesh, and many other things from him, right around the corner from my in-laws apartment. So, yeah, we got spoiled. Always preferred the cheese to the zataar, but I also enjoyed the combo of the 2! Yes, there was a cheese/zataar combo… sigh… anyway, if you have any recommendations for places here in SF, I would be eternally grateful. Thanks again for your heartfelt recipes, which are so much more than recipes. You are the whole enchilada, pictures, memories, recipes, philosophies… it’s very enlightening and also motivates me to eat/cook/find… Thank you! -Sarah

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Sarah–lucky you, in SF! It’s a wonderful place, but not one that offers much in the way of Lebanese or Middle Eastern cuisine. I think you will find something special, though, at the new Bouli Bar at Boulette’s Larder in the Ferry Building–they make a za’atar “pizza” and have real Middle Eastern flair. I worked at Boulette’s for a couple of months after culinary school making flatbreads; the Bouli Bar with the hearth is new since I left. Thank you for your very kind words, Sarah. Means a lot.

 

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