In college, I was in Lebanese Club. No, I’m not Lebanese–or any form of Arab, for that matter. My undergrad concentration involved Arabic, and some mutual friends sucked me into Lebanese Club, where I was adopted as the honorary half-Filipino member amidst my new Arab friends (don’t worry, I contributed my own personal ethnic confusions to a UCLA dissertation study on people who identify with cultures other than their own).
A friend of mine in college had a parallel obsession. He explained it well, claiming that because his white people had no culture, he simply opted to adopt another. I’d have to agree. I, personally, identify as half-Filipino because I look Filipino–but I was raised in white “culture.” This involved a number of fun and borrowed traditions, alongside a number of relatively boring European ones and other miscellaneous fascinations. A example of a fun borrowed tradition would be my family’s love of oldies music–most of those artists are black. A boring European tradition would be eating potatoes, like our Irish ancestors, as we discuss how much it sucked that Irish people had to live off of them for so long. Sometimes potatoes are great, but “white” culture didn’t have a thing that swept me off my feet like the beautiful Arabic script or Islamic architecture. And, Catholic school doesn’t teach you a single thing about the Middle East, aside from the fact that the Hebrews were God’s chosen people. So needless to say, the moment I stepped off a plane in Dubai, I was smitten.
Anyway, I’m years removed from my beloved Lebanese Club of Santa Barbara, and I still remember the way they would swoon over mana’eesh, a flat bread from Lebanon that is baked with za’atar, an Arab mixture of herbs. I’ve always wanted to walk down a road in Beirut and buy it right off the street, exactly in the way they described — someday, I will. But for now, I just live out my imagination by making it from scratch and testing it’s authenticity on my friends here in Washington. I’m pretty sure they’ll continue to adopt me into the Arab world, and I will love every minute of it.
WHAT YOU NEED:
Whole Wheat Flat Bread:
1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
2-1//4 cups warm water
1/8 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground sumac
4 tablespoons thyme
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 tablespoons marjoram
4 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
WHAT TO DO:
First, combine the yeast and the sugar with 1/4 cup of the warm water. Stir until completely dissolved, and then let it sit in a large mixing bowl for about five minutes, until the solution becomes frothy. Then stir in the remaining water.
Add in half of the flour and mix into a dough. Then, add the salt and olive oil, begin to knead, and then knead in the rest of the flour. The dough should be relatively soft, but it should also spring back when you poke it (kind of like memory foam). Roll the dough into a ball, and cover in olive oil. Place it back in the bowl, cover with saran wrap, and leave it in a warm place to rise for about two hours.
In the meantime, prepare the za’atar. If your sesame seeds are raw, you will need to roast them — doing so releases the natural oils in the seeds that supply their strong flavor. Heat your sesame seeds in a clean, ungreased, frying pan, on low heat, for about 5 minutes or until the seeds are golden in color. Then, pulse-grind the sesame seeds in a food processor. Combine the rest of the ingredients in the food processor.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. When the dough has finished rising, split it into smaller pieces, and roll to about 1/4 inch in thickness. I used a pint glass to cut round circles of dough, which I then further rolled with a rolling pin down as thin as I could get them without tearing the dough.
Mix the za’atar blend with just enough olive oil to create a thick paste. Then spread about a tablespoon of za’atar onto the small pizza dough we’ve just rolled out. Bake in the oven for about 4-5 minutes. Mana’eesh is traditionally soft, so avoid letting it crisp.
Would be great with some feta — they’re like mini Levantine pizzas. I love them.